TheStar.com | GTA | Thousands protest Tamil 'genocide'
HUMAN CHAIN TheStar.com | GTA | Thousands protest Tamil 'genocide' Thousands protest Tamil 'genocide' VIDEO: Tamils protest genocide Email story Print Choose text size Report typo or correction
Sri Lanka won't let up on war with Tamil Tigers --> Sri Lanka ruled out a ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers yesterday despite growing reports of casualties among civilians trapped in the northern war zone, as the military pushed ahead with its offensive against the rebels. As many as 45,000 line downtown streets to beg for help in Sri Lanka's escalating civil war
Jan 31, 2009 04:30 AM Comments on this story (6) Lesley Ciarula Taylor
Sharannya Mohan looked back and forth on Front St. As far as she could see, Tamils stood shoulder to shoulder denouncing what they call genocide in Sri Lanka.
"We can't all be terrorists," the 21-year-old York University student said with a twisted smile.
Thousands of Tamils from across greater Toronto, a crowd estimated at from 40,000 to 45,000, lined Front St. from Yonge St. to University Ave. and stretched up Yonge to near Bloor St., across Bloor to University and down again to near Front for four frigid hours yesterday afternoon to beg the world's help. Police estimated some 30,000 protesters were gathered on Front St. alone.
Greater Toronto is home to 200,000 Tamils, the largest community outside Sri Lanka, where a 25-year-old civil war and a long history of atrocities on both sides hit an even bloodier stage this week.
Families with children, grandparents, young professionals and students held copies of photos showing maimed and dead children. Banners and armbands said, "Stop the genocide" or "Send relief."
The word had gone out Wednesday, via Facebook, MySpace, university and high school student associations, on several Tamil radio stations, on tamilcanadian.com and websites for some of the 30 Tamil newspapers in Toronto, that only a massive turnout would get the message to Canadians about what was happening on the tiny island off the southern tip of India.
News reports yesterday said Sri Lanka's army had surrounded the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a 300-square-kilometre corner of jungle and villages in the northeast, where the Tamil minority has staged its battle against the Sinhalese majority.
The government refused a ceasefire and denied reports that 300 people had been killed in recent days.
Aid agencies said 250,000 people are trapped inside the battle zone. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said hundreds have been killed or wounded in fighting since last week.
"Canadians think we all belong to the Tigers," said Milly Thangarajah, 28, who took a half-day off from her accounting job to join the throng. "That's like saying all Caucasians are in the Ku Klux Klan. I don't even have a speeding ticket."
Canada last year declared the World Tamil Movement, a Canadian group which is alleged to raise money for the Tigers, a terrorist organization and in 2006 had declared the Tigers a terrorist organization. Human Rights Watch has documented intimidation tactics used on Tamils in Toronto to donate to the Tiger cause.
"The people have no access to food or shelter. Hospitals and orphanages are bombed. There is no medicine," said Supanki Kalanadan, 22, a University of Toronto graduate in teaching. "The government won't let media in to see what they're doing. No one has been able to contact their friends or relatives to find out what's going on."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said top UN officials were "seriously alarmed" over the fate of civilians in the north. "It seems there may have been very grave breaches of human rights by both sides in the conflict, and it is imperative that we find out more about what exactly has been going on," she said.
UNICEF said many children – some just months old – have been injured, some had been killed and others are living in poor conditions.
"The best possible thing for these children and their families is to be able to move to safe areas that are free of fighting, so that they can receive support and assistance," UNICEF's South Asia director, Daniel Toole, said in a statement.
Kalanadan and Mohan left Sri Lanka as children. But the annihilation of their culture is as real to them as it is to their parents.
"This is not going to end until the government has killed every single Tamil," said Kalanadan. "Everything will be lost, our traditions are already getting lost. How can we celebrate Diwali (the Hindu festival of light) when 20 people are dying every day?"
Dr. Pushpa Kanagaratnam, who will be part of a panel on south Asians at the Ontario Psychological Association convention next month, has spent many of her years in Toronto working with her fellow Tamils.
"The war is destroying an ethnic identity," she said yesterday. "Tamils have a collective sense of suffering. No one hasn't been touched by the war. We've known this all of our lives."
Thangarajah grew up in Sri Lanka, pleaded for her father's life as soldiers held a gun to his face. "The people are no longer normal."
Young people led the drive to organize yesterday's demonstration, said Mohan, because "we were educated in Canada. We have been very lucky to live here. We want to use our freedom here to say that Tamil rights need to be respected, too."
Sujeepan Kalanadan and Praveen Arul, both 16, were part of a silent protest at Middlefield Collegiate in Markham this week to dramatize the Sri Lankan government stranglehold on news about the war.
"There were Chinese kids who joined us," said Kalanadan. "It was good to see."