The Tamil community in Canada is alarmed by the callous disregard meted out by the Trudeau government towards the sudden uncertainty caused by the removal of a democratically elected Prime Minister in Sri Lanka by the country’s President.
The 350,000 plus Canadian Tamil community, the largest in size outside of South Asia, has been actively engaged in bringing the human rights issues of their home country to light on the international stage over the past decade or more. May of 2009 saw the end of the 30 year long bloody war between the Tamil separatists and the Sinhala majority Government under the leadership of then President Mahinda Rajapakse. The world watched in pain as Rajapakse used military power to wipe out the separatists.
Human rights groups and humanitarian organizations accused Rajapakse for his disregard for protecting civilians during the war. Over 70,000 innocent civilians were reported dead in the final phase of the war. His government was also accused of corruption and murdering political opponents. Extra-judicial killings and forced abductions were all too common in Sri Lanka.
Maithiripala Sirisena, who was a cabinet minister under Rajapakse, defeated Rajapakse in the presidential elections in 2015. A hope was born for accountability and reconciliation. A small glimmer of hope at least.
Three years into his mandate, Sirisena is accused of dragging his feet on any meaningful work the international community was hoping he would do. Post war Sri Lanka started to see some normalcy due to the absence of war. Disappearances started to reduce, but accountability for the disappeared still remains a pipe dream.
On 26th of October, 2018, Sirisena ousted the sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and appointed Rajapakse as the Prime Minister sending the country into a political turmoil. The appointment of Rajapakse is being challenged as unconstitutional by Sri Lankan parliamentarians and rights activists. Many countries including Canada have issued travel alerts and advisories warning of civil unrest in the country that relies heavily on tourism.
The return of Rajapakse opens up real possibilities of the resurgence of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings to Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile in Canada, the Liberal party ran on holding Sri Lanka accountable for the war atrocities. As part of its platform, one of the primary steps Prime Minister Trudeau promised was to impose travel bans and Sanctions against the individuals of the Sri Lankan military and Government officials who were complicit in the war crimes. Three years into his mandate, Trudeau too has been dragging his feet on any meaningful work the vote rich (loyally Liberal) Tamil community was hoping he would do. Read Here: Liberal Party Three Pillar Engagement on Sri Lanka
Earlier in Trudeau’s term, a Conservative sponsored bill named “The Magnitsky Sanction” was passed with support from all parties. It is now a tool the Government has at its disposal. The tool allows for Canada to put Sanctions on individuals who were complicit in human rights abuses. Their assets could be frozen, they can be added to no-fly lists and essentially brought to justice in their own countries by disabling them from escaping justice.
Tamil leaders and activists groups in Canada are baffled by the Trudeau government’s unwillingness to use the Magnitsky Sanction or another mechanism to exert pressure on Sri Lanka.
May 2019, would mark 10 years since the end of war in Sri Lanka. And October 2019 might present a difficult situation for Trudeau if there is inaction on this file.
In 2009, the Tamil community showed up in thousands at the parliament Hill seeking sour support for their cry for help for their brethren in Sri Lanka. The NDP showed compassion and met with the distraught crowd. 2011 federal election saw a direct result of Jack Layton’s efforts in 2009 in electing the first Tamil MP.
The Tamil community remains a bloc vote even today. It is perhaps a force that is driven by the thirst for justice in their homeland. In over 30 years, the community has established itself in all aspects of Canadian life ranging from the best cooks at the most fanciest restaurants in Toronto to having a rep in the House of Commons; extremely entrepreneurial community that bases its growth on hard work and a thirst for support for their cause.
The last federal election in 2015 saw a Tamil MP elected under the Liberal banner. Three quarters of the term later, it appears even an MP within the Government faces struggles gathering the ears of the decision makers of the Government on a matter of human rights that matters to hundreds of thousands of Tamils in Canada and millions around the world.
Frustrations are mounting in the community. A movement to seek the alternative, the Conservatives, is building momentum in each quarter of the city that boasts of the power of Tamils as contributors to local economy. That, to be fair is every major city and its suburbs in Canada.
*** The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Montamil.ca or its members. ***