Prisoner #1056

An incredible immigrant story from a prominent Canadian Tamil who fled torture and imprisonment, arrived in Canada with $50 in his pocket, then rose from the mailroom to the executive suite of the country’s largest independent asset management company.

Roy Ratnavel’s incredible journey began at age seventeen, when he was seized by government soldiers and interned in a notorious prison camp for no reason other than being born a Tamil. He saw friends die, and was tortured for a few months—until an unlikely encounter allowed him to send a message beyond the prison walls, which led to his release.

Seeing nothing but more danger in his son’s future, Ratnavel’s father sought refuge for his son in Canada, far from the ethnic violence that was consuming Sri Lanka. When the consular immigration officer asked for proof that the boy’s life was at risk in his homeland, Ratnavel simply lifted his shirt to show the man his unhealed scars. It wasn’t long before he was on a plane. His father was shot and killed three days later.

To repay the debt he owed to his hero of a father, Ratnavel was determined to find the bright future that had been envisioned for him. He went to night school, worked three jobs at a time, and lived in a tiny space with seven housemates. Ratnavel persevered, and he hustled. He accepted no charity, even from relatives, but he made the most of the opportunities set in his path, the mentorship offered by those Canadians who recognized his potential, and by his new homeland, a country shaped by openness, tolerance, and a commitment to merit.

Prisoner #1056 is not only a moving immigrant success story and a searing account of surviving unimaginable injustice and trauma—it is an urgent warning that the dark forces of populism that tore apart the once-prosperous island of Sri Lanka can do their ugly work in Western societies too. Passionate, raw, thoughtful, and far-seeing, Prisoner #1056 makes the case that our destiny is in our own hands.