Hundreds of T.O. Tamils gather at Queen's Park
Hundreds of Toronto Tamils wearing black spent Tuesday evening on the grounds of Queen's Park, marking the one-year anniversary of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, a war whose final offensive left thousands of people dead.
Organizers anticipated the crowd would grow to thousands of people by 8 p.m. as Toronto's Tamil community rallied in hopes of convincing politicians to order an international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Sri Lankan forces.
"People have lost family members, people have lost their kin," said Darshika Selvasivam, the MC at the event. "It was heartwrenching. Many Torontonians and in the international community sympathized with our cause.
"(But) a lot of the international community remained silent on this," she added. "There was no intervention."
It was one year ago, on May 18, 2009, that the Sri Lankan government declared final victory in the 25-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, by killing Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the group, and capturing the final stretch of rebel-controlled land.
The events ended the Tamils' dream of establishing an independent homeland in Sri Lanka for their ethnic minority.
To mark the anniversary, the Coalition to Stop the War in Sri Lanka (CTSWL) has been holding daily gatherings in front of the U.S. consulate in Toronto every evening in May, as well as prayer services in temples and churches.
Last year, Tamil residents of Toronto held daily protests and vigils, often blocking traffic on University Avenue between the U.S. embassy and Queen's Park. Tensions between the Tamil community and the rest of the city were heightened when thousands of protesters marched onto the Gardiner Expressway, blocking traffic on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares for hours.
There are about 200,000 Tamils living in Toronto.
War crime probe
The CTSWL noted a report released this week by the Brussels-based organization called the International Crisis Group found there were "reasonable grounds" to believe Sri Lankan forces committed war crimes during the final months of the civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels.
The Crisis Group said the last five months of the war -- between January and May 2009 -- saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilians killed, countless more wounded.
They say the Sri Lankan government deliberately blocked food and medical shipments to the rebel territory, and deliberately underestimated the number of civilians trapped inside the area.
The United Nations has said between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed in the entire conflict, but Tamil groups say the true death toll is much higher. Tamils also say tens of thousands of Tamils remain incarcerated in "concentration camps" in the country's northeast.
Sri Lankan government officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment, but in the past, the government has denied committing war crimes.
It has also refused calls to establish international investigations into its conduct of the war, saying it would conduct its own probe into its conduct.
International Crisis Group says that Canada, the United States, India and other countries with significant Sri Lankan populations should insist on a full investigation and impose sanctions on Sri Lanka unless it complies.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Michelle Dube