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.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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Time for Canada to take a stand?
Queen's University law professor Sharry Aiken is among a group of Canadian academics lobbying the their government to take stronger measures. Its broad expressions of "grave concern" and what the group believes are tepid calls for a cease-fire are too little, too late, Professor Aiken says.
"Since Canada is home to such a large Tamil diaspora, the country should be playing an active role in ending the conflict. The first thing we need to do is to recognize that Tamil-Canadians are us and the Canadian government should be working to a longer term solution.... At a time when concerted engagement and pressure on the Sri Lankan government by Canada and other like-minded countries may very well have prevented the current crisis, Canada stood by and did nothing."
As protesters rallied on the grounds of the provincial legislature, inside the Ontario government tabled a resolution expressing "deep concern about the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka." The resolution encouraged the federal government to get involved.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he understands why people in Toronto are unhappy about the protests, which have inconvenienced commuters, but added that it's important to recognize the legitimacy of the protestors' concerns.
"We have the responsibility to allow people to express themselves and to dissent in a lawful way, and I think we also share a higher responsibility to find a way to speak out as responsible global citizens in the face of a significant breach of human rights," he noted.
Obama concerned about 'indiscriminate shelling'
Meanwhile, there's been a wave of artillery bombardments across the war zone, killing as many as 1,000 people in the last five days alone, according to Tamil reports. The Sri Lankan government calls such reports "propaganda."
A Red Cross worker was killed Wednesday in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka, the third aid worker killed in six weeks, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The government has cornered the Tamil Tigers on the strip of land and vowed to end the 25-year-old civil war.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for an end to the violence and for steps to alleviate civilian suffering.
The president urged the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and stop using civilians as human shields. He also called on Sri Lanka's government to "stop the indiscriminate shelling" and allow UN humanitarian teams access to the wounded.
Back on the Queen's Park lawns in Toronto, Ms. Vaithiya and her daughter were struggling to have their voices heard above a thousand-strong brass section of car horns.
There was no sorting out whether the fanfare is in support of the Tamil cause or in frustration with traffic gridlock. Either way, the street protests are having their intended effect.
"The government is talking, the media is here and people on the streets are talking. That's what we wanted," Ms. Vaithiya says.