The last stand of Sri Lanka's Tamils – in Canada?
Amid reports of a mounting civilian tragedy on the tropical island, Canada's massive Tamil diaspora takes to the streets.
The front pages of Canadian newspapers have been dedicated this week to images of Tamil protesters staking positions on Toronto thoroughfares and bringing city traffic to a halt.Skip to next paragraph
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But Uthaya Vaithiya wishes the Canadian public could see different images: the photographs in her album. It's a family album only in the sense that it documents what her family was but can be never again.
"That's my aunt. And that's my cousin and her daughter beside her,'' she says, her voice barely audible above the chants of an estimated 12,000 demonstrators behind her who swarmed Ontario's provincial legislature Wednesday calling on Canadian officials to pressure the Sri Lankan government into ending a violent conflict where civilians are increasingly caught in the crossfire.
"They're all dead,'' the Toronto mother suddenly gasps, leaning into her teenage daughter, Gharini, who has taken the day off school to join her family in the protest. "Seventeen family members slaughtered in the past few months. Why has the world closed its eyes to this genocide?"
Feeling thwarted in conventional attempts to raise awareness of the growing civilian atrocities in Sri Lanka, Tamil-Canadians have taken the protests to the street. Traffic was snarled around Queen's Park in central Toronto as thousands of protesters brandished signs that showed pictures of the dead and wounded and chanting "Tamil Tigers, freedom fighters."
Yesterday's protest was the second demonstration in the city in less than a week, following days of protests in Ottawa earlier this year. The Canadian rallies have coincided with similar protests in France, Sweden, and Britain. In London on Monday, pro-Tamil demonstrators clashed with police outside Parliament.
From the tropics to the 'Great White North'
Toronto is home to the largest expatriate Tamil community outside Sri Lanka, estimated to be 300,000. Tamils first began flocking to Canada as refugees in the 1980s. The city has not only become a focal point for protests, but it's also a bastion of political and financial support for the Tamil Tigers, the militant group that has led the fight for an independent Tamil nation in Sri Lanka's northern region.
The Canadian government added the Tamil Tigers to its official list of terrorist organizations in 2006 for the group's use of child soldiers and suicide bombers. Thirty-two nations, including the US, also consider the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorists.
Yet many attending yesterday's rally say that Canada should be taking a lead in calling for a cease-fire in a violent conflict the United Nations describes as a "bloodbath."
Protest organizer Ghormy Theva says the Canadian government needs to take stronger measures, including implementing both economic and political sanctions, as well as allowing journalists and aid workers back into the war zone. Canada should also be withdrawing its ambassador to Sri Lanka, Ms. Theva says.