Tamil Canadians react to war's end in Sri Lanka
Published Sunday, May 17, 2009 6:45PM EDT
Tamil Canadians are reacting to the end of a 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka by holding a candlelight vigil outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto in an effort to get international support for their cause.
A crowd of people from Toronto's large Tamil community has been standing outside the Consulate for days, as the Sri Lankan military continued to close in on the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
On Sunday, protesters said now that the rebel group known as the Tamil Tigers have been defeated, international leaders have to set conditions to ensure peace and better treatment for Tamil civilians.
"The Sri Lankan government says they're rescuing civilians but what's happening is that women and children are being put in concentration camps and being raped," alleged 21-year-old Sahab Jesuthasan, one of the main organizers of the protest.
They are demanding that the Sri Lankan government allow the western media into the conflict zone and allow humanitarian aid workers to help the thousands of people who have been injured in the violent clashes.
However, Sinhalese Canadians say their families are the ones who are under constant threat by the Tamil Tigers back home and here in Toronto.
"There are people living here in Toronto who are voiceless," said Mahinda Gunakekera, president of the Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada (SLUNA). "They're afraid to speak their mind because the LTTE will harm their families."
SLUNA has carried out their own protests in the city, though on a much smaller scale. This past week they unfurled a banner over Toronto's Don Valley Parkway condemning the Tamil Tigers.
One Sinhalese woman alleged she was threatened by Tamils during a recent rally.
"After the protest, Tamil people came up to us and they were threatening us," claimed Sashya Karunanayake. "They began to write our licence plate down and we became pretty worried."
Overnight Saturday a fire was lit outside the Buddhist Sinhalese temple in Scarborough. Police say they believe it was arson. SLUNA members say they suspect the blaze may be linked to violence in Sri Lanka, but police have not arrested any suspects.
Youth speak out
Authorities said they are keeping a close eye on political developments overseas and on the protests going on around the city.
Thousands of Tamils rallied in front of the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue throughout the day. Organizers say they will remain there through the evening, holding a candlelight vigil for their friends and families who have died in the war.
Many of those who have attended the rallies over the last few months are students and youth who are speaking on behalf of the adults in their families.
Jesuthasan said youth are the ones who can best get their message across.
"The older community has so much faith in the youth and the youth have to embrace that and do what it takes to get the government to listen to us," he told CTV Toronto.
Nivedha Ramaringham, 16, said she is the one who has insisted on coming to the demonstrations.
"The first thing that comes to our mind is, 'Get up, let's go,'" she said. "It's not like my parents are forcing me or anything."
However, Sri Lanka's consul general told CTV Toronto the message should be about peace and co-existence between the two communities especially when they are living in Canada.
"There's no room for hatred," he said. "Since they live in Canada they should learn from the Canadian spirit.
"This is a multicultural country we should learn from Canada," he added. "Don't bring all these issues and spoil Canada."
With reports from CTV Toronto's Chris Eby and Karlene Nation