Home » Underpinnings of Canadian Tamils' power – NewsIn.Asia

Underpinnings of Canadian Tamils' power – NewsIn.Asia


P..K.Balachandran /Daily Mirror

Colombo, January 19: The recent Canadian sanctions against two former Sri Lankan Presidents Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa and two security forces personnel for “gross and systematic human rights violations” show the great clout Tamils of Sri Lankan origin have in Canada.   

The Canadian Tamils’ power stems from three factors: The first is, their large number. Canadian Tamils are said to be the single largest group in the global Lankan Tamil Diaspora and are politically relevant in Canada. The second factor is the huge space given to human rights in Canada’s political culture. And the third is a blindness to the depredations of terrorist groups from developing countries. These are sheltered and given a free run. Canada had given free play to the front organizations of the Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) and the separatist Sikh outfits on its soil even at the cost its relations with Sri Lanka and India.


While the sanctioning of two service personnel who had committed murders was justified, Canada showed no regard for Sri Lankans’ feelings when it sanctioned two former Presidents who had defeated a nihilist and ruthless terrorist outfit, the LTTE, and restored peace in Sri Lanka. By not castigating the LTTE and condemning terrorism, Canada has alienated the majority of Sri Lankans.

However, there were strong domestic reasons for Ottawa to go for sanctions. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry had described these as “domestic compulsions”. The Tamils are in sizeable numbers in Toronto, which gives them great political weight. And for their part, the Tamils have been consistently active over decades in lobbying for the “liberation” of their kinsfolk back home in Sri Lanka.

A paper written by Queen’s University scholar Amarnath Amarasingam for the International Center for Ethnic Studies in 2013 (A History of Tamil Diaspora Politics in Canada: Organisational Dynamics and Negotiated Order, 1978-2013) describes the political development of the Canadian Tamil Diaspora in the context of the progressive intensification of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. 

The Tamil Eelam Society of Canada (TESOC) was formed as early as 1978, following the anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka in 1977. TESOC supported the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) which had called for the independence of the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. TESOC developed a strong relationship with the Canadian government, Amarasingam points out.  

The 1983 anti-Tamil riots swelled the inflow of Tamil refugees into Canada. Tamil organizations sprung up. The Society for the Aid of Ceylon Minorities (SACEM), was formed to include Tamil-speaking Muslims. SACEM focused on health, youth education, and the integration of Tamils with the Canadian mainstream.  But not everybody liked the SACEM’s inclusiveness. According to Amarasingam, in the 2000s, SACEM rarely engaged in political lobbying. In 2008, SACEM became Society for the Aid of Community Empowerment.

A third organization, created in 1986, was the World Tamil Movement (WTM). It was seen as the Canadian arm of the LTTE. In the late-1980s the Tamil Resource Centre (TRC), a small leftist group, made up largely of former militants, was formed. It stood for human rights in general and therefore condemned transgressions by both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan State. Its even-handed stance led to the torching of its office and library by extremists from LTTE-sponsored outfits. The LTTE’s dominance was firmly established.

In 1992 an umbrella organization, the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT), was formed for effective functioning and liaison with the Canadian authorities. The pro-LTTE WTM dominated it.

By the 2000s, both FACT and WTM had come under the watch of the Canadian authorities. In April 2007, police raided the offices of WTM and took away incriminating material including manuals on missile guidance systems, books encouraging suicide bombings and paperwork they claimed was evidence of terrorist fundraising, Amarasingam says. The WTM was declared a terrorist organization and banned in June 2008. Earlier, in 1997, the US State Department had designated WTM and FACT.

The Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) was created in 2000. Its annual Walk-a-Thon was successful in raising large sums of money for different charities, but it was also seen as an LTTE front. In the late 1990s, the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre (CanTYD) was created to stem the tide of gang violence in Toronto’s Tamil community which had claimed the lives of dozens of Tamil youth.

During the 2002-2004 peace process, many Tamil youths from around the world travelled to the Wanni to meet the leadership of the LTTE.  Inspired by the LTTE, they returned to their respective countries, determined to mobilize the youth there for liberation. The Tamil Youth Organization (TYO) of Canada was formed in 2003 and agitations were launched.  During and after the peace process, demonstrations displaying LTTE emblems were a prominent feature of Canadian Tamil life. 

After the end of the war in May 2009, some groups called for ethnic reconciliation while others wanted to continue the struggle for self-determination though by nonviolent means as the armed struggle had failed with the death of LTTE Supremo Prabhakaran and the destruction of the LTTE. Sri Lankans Without Borders (SLWB) was among the new organizations formed. In July 2011 it was awarded over $250,000 by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to support its mandate to promote dialogue, reconciliation, and peace in the Diaspora community in Canada.

But, according to Amarasingam, the SLWB was roundly criticized by many members of the Tamil diaspora for using the language of reconciliation to gloss over serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The organizers were branded as being “naïve” for placing reconciliation before the need for justice and accountability.

On the other side of the divide was the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), which arose in 2010 with the express purpose of fighting for self-determination.  Since some of the early organizers of the NCCT had been members of WTM, the NCCT was seen as a rebranded WTM that had been listed as a terrorist organization ealier.

Amarasingam notes that the NCCT and TYO organized an Eelam Tamil Youth conference on 26 February 2012 at Toronto City Hall, where they pledged to continue the struggle for the Tamils’ sovereignty. Student activists who attended the conference reaffirmed their commitment to the separatist Vaddukkodai Declaration.

The “Global Tamil Youth League (GTYL), a coalition of TYOs from various countries, adopted a resolution that called for the establishment of an independent international mechanism to ensure truth, accountability, and justice in Sri Lanka. They also pledged to work towards a political solution that recognized the “uncompromising, fundamental principles of the Tamil freedom struggle,” including the right to self-determination.

Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam

Following the defeat of the LTTE, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) was set up by some senior leaders of the LTTE, and elections were held for its Assembly. Pon Balarajan from Toronto was made the Speaker for the first Assembly of the TGTE. Among the newly-appointed Senators was Ramsey Clark, US Attorney General from 1967 to 1969, giving it some international respectability.

On 19 May 2013, the TGTE unveiled its Tamil Eelam Freedom Charter, with which it sought to take the separatist Vaddukoddai Resolution forward.

Despite the multiplicity of groups and occasional legal challenges posed by the Canadian government, Canadian Tamils have exhibited an underlying unity as far as ideology and goals go. And they have fully utilized the latitude given to them by the Canadian State under the policy of human rights promotion at home and abroad.


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