Canadian government biased towards ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Aug 21, 2008

Canada is home to 400,000 ethnic Tamils subsequent to their fleeing for safety when the Sri Lankan state failed to address their grievances and protect them. Canada has chosen to remain a spectator while the relatives and friends of the 400,000 Canadian Tamils in Sri Lanka seek international intervention with the view to justice for the atrocities inflicted upon the people in the North and East of Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan Government (GoSL).

Since his election of in 2005, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has continued to emit venomous war cries against Tamils in Sri Lanka and orders his armed forces to invade Tamil villages, towns and cities and causing heavy casualties both in humans and property. The GoSL reports to the Canadian government that the Tamils are terrorists in order to justify its war against the Tamil people. Far from being concerned about the GoSL's actions against these so-called terrorists, the Canadian government turns a blind eye towards the ethnic conflict. Canadian foreign ministry officials serve without much interaction with Canadian or Sri Lankan Tamils.

Canada's government needs to find out the real story about what's going on in Sri Lanka. Canada needs to send a high-level delegation to Sri Lanka's north and east to observe the situation on the ground and hear from the Tamils living there before making foreign policy decisions about how to respond to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.

Tamils in the Vanni (de facto state under LTTE control) for example are in grave danger as Sri Lankan armed forces advance on them with the belief that they could capture Vanni from the LTTE as they have done with other areas in the East and elsewhere. Military overtures will not solve the problem. Rather, both parties need to enter into genuine peace talks to reach a permanent solution to the conflict allowing the Tamils to live in freedom with peace and justice.

Canadian Tamils' concern
Tamils living in Canada have continually raised their concerns to the government as their Sri Lankan brethren suffer great difficulties during the civil war between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE in the Sri Lanka's North and East.

Canada's former Liberal government, despite its disinterested approach towards Sri Lanka's internal matters, never agitated the LTTE or the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). The Liberals embraced the Tamils in Canada and sought local Tamil support. This resulted in more than twelve Liberal MPs being elected with the support of Tamils from the Toronto region alone. They did little to assist the Tamils in Sri Lanka, but they did not put pressure on the Tamil community in Canada like the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done after coming to power in 2006. He, along with many other Conservatives, has viewed the LTTE as their enemy without even taking the trouble to study the real situation in Sri Lanka and the history of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.

Their ignorance towards the violent reprisals of the government against constitutional and peaceful protests by elected Tamil leaders to advocate on the Gandhian mode for Tamil rights to be granted in a quasi-federal model and, consequently, Tamil youth responding by taking up arms against the State to fight for Tamil liberation is an unjust lapse of immense proportion.

In 2002, although the LTTE partially agreed to enter into peace talks on the condition that the GoSL grant Tamils reasonable autonomy, the GoSL led by then President Chandrika Bandaranaike and then by the current President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, rather than accommodating the LTTE declared war against the Tamils with the aim of occupying Tamil areas, causing heavy damages to the lives and property of Tamils in the East, and controlling the LTTE's stronghold, Vanni, in the North.

All these incidents have raised concerns and frustration among the Diaspora Tamils, most of whom live in Canada. Most Tamils are Canadian citizens and contribute to the Canadian mainstream as peace-loving, polite, hardworking and tax-paying people. Since it came to power, the Conservative government has handled the Sri Lankan Tamil issue quite differently from what the real situation in Sri Lanka warrants. This is despite Canadian Tamils urging their government to step forward to help their brethren living in Sri Lanka by exerting pressure upon the GoSL not to force the LTTE to enter into a conventional war with the Sri Lankan armed forces which would result in heavy casualties among the civilians. The LTTE, on the other hand, maintains their silence, saying that they would want to enter into genuine peace talks with the GoSL in order to find a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict.

The Canadian government's inaction and apathy could further destabilize the situation in Sri Lanka and result in further casualties and more disaster for the Tamils. The Canadian government's silence could further encourage the GoSL to proceed with an open war against the Tamil people for their own sinister political motives and to satisfy Sinhalese chauvinism.

The Ground situation in the North
It has to be stated the Canadian High Commission in Colombo has not sent any high-ranking, responsible personnel to Sri Lanka's North to find out the situation on the ground firsthand thus making it difficult for the Canadian foreign ministry to decide what action it should take towards Sri Lanka.

The recent military operations to capture the Vanni region have caused nearly half a million people to seek temporary shelter from the international aid agencies based in Kilinochchi in the North. In a pre-meditated manner, the Sri Lankan government is trying to eliminate all the avenues of being charged with war crimes, human rights abuses and state terrorism against Tamils exposed by the neutral international human rights organizations and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) to the international community. These organizations a play critical role in the Vanni region and still provide much needed assistance to the people living in temporary shelters in a very difficult situation.

An outrageous situation has arisen in the Vanni region where the defence secretary of Sri Lanka, and brother of Sri Lanka's president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has ordered all the human rights organizations operating in Vanni to dismantle themselves and leave the region to set up shop in a government controlled area. He also barred any rights organizations from going into the rebel control area.

Close to 250,000 displaced Tamil civilians have already moved deeper into the heart of the Kilinochchi area, living in subhuman conditions without food, medicine, clean drinking water and even basic sanitation. Sri Lanka continues to use maximum fire power and indiscriminate attacks on these unarmed people. The U.N. recently called the situation in Vanni grim, and yet pulled all their staff out of the region.

The Canadian government has to change its warped foreign policy towards Sri Lanka and look towards the well-being and democratic rights of close to 500,000 people. If the international community, including Canada, does not step in to help the Tamils on the island, we may see another Rwanda.

When Tamils are dying back home, Canadian Tamils cannot be simply spectators and need to come out in protest against the Canadian government for encouraging the Sri Lankan government in the war against Tamils.

Canada's local politics
Either Canadian political parties have little knowledge of Sri Lanka or it seems that they do not want to spend time and energy to focus on the conflict in Sri Lanka. Canadian political parties regard Sri Lanka as just a tiny nation in the southern tip of India in the Indian Ocean. By contrast, the U.S. has much interest in Sri Lanka because it is located strategically in the Indian Ocean in the middle of sea-lane allowing world ships to ply between West Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. This sea-lane is critical where the world economy is based on the need of oil which is the main commodity transported through this sea-lane.

However, despite its close relations with the U.S., Canada does not worry about Sri Lanka. The Canadian government sits back without worry for the Canadian oil need, as the American oil companies tie up deals with Canadian firms to bring safe transportation from West Asia and elsewhere. This attitude poses a great danger to Canada because the Canadian government has a great opportunity to stand on its own leg for its own economy rather than relying on its giant neighbour to the south.

Canada is basically a bi-party political power allowing the Liberals and the Conservatives to stay in power while other minor political parties like the NDP and Green Party exist solely as pressure groups in parliament with no clear voice. The Liberals never wanted to alienate immigrants living in Canada so they could win the immigrant community vote. To achieve this they chose to not openly support any side in Sri Lanka's ethnic issue. The Liberals had better relations with the Tamils in Canada and with Sri Lankan government officials in Ottawa and in Colombo.

When the Conservatives were in the Opposition in parliament during thirteen years of Liberals Party governance, they branded the Liberals as the pro-LTTE party who encouraged terrorism in Sri Lanka. The Conservative Opposition questioned the ruling Liberals about allowing a Liberal cabinet minister to take part in a Tamil fundraising event. The Conservatives asserted that the money raised at this event would be spent on weapons to arm the LTTE in its quest to create a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. The then Prime Minister Jean Chretien stood during Question Period in the House of Commons to defend his colleagues, saying that money raised would go to support the relatives and friends of Canadian Tamils living in Sri Lanka who were facing food and medicine shortages and that the funds would be used to save lives there.

When the Conservatives came to power in February 2006 they immediately branded the LTTE a terrorist organization and other local organizations as the LTTE's front organizations. It also urged the local Tamils not to donate any money to the Tamil organizations meant to collect for the Tamils in Sri Lanka saying that the money collected in Canada was used to buy weapons for the LTTE. The Conservatives do not seem to understand the real situation in Sri Lanka. The Tamils living in the North and East are in grave danger and they need the support not the LTTE. Banning the so-called LTTE-front organizations and listing the LTTE as a terrorist organization has alarmed many Tamils around the world.

As we approach the Federal election slated for October 14, 2008, the time has come for the Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats to decide what type of foreign policy they will institute to address the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Do the Canadian parties support the so-called war on terror instigated by the GoSL or do they support the war for justice by the Tamils? This election call comes at a time when Tamils living in Sri Lanka are facing a do or die situation as GoSL armed forces undertake military operations with the hope of victory in Vanni. It's time for the Canadian political parties to publicly announce what they would do for Sri Lanka should they be elected the ruling party on October 14.

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