Tamil Tragedy

By: Stephen Woodworth, Member of Parliament (Kitchener Centre, ON)

The role of a Member of Parliament is never more sad than when meeting with Canadians who are deeply concerned over the mistreatment and even death of loved ones and friends left behind in their homeland. Such was my emotion when I first learned from my Tamil Canadian constituents about the tragedy that was unfolding in Sri Lanka in 2009.

As I soon learned, Tamils in Sri Lanka have not enjoyed the rights and freedoms Canadians take for granted since at least the 1970s. Real concern exists about hostility in Sri Lanka toward the culture and language of Tamils, and toward Tamils themselves. A variety of efforts were unsuccessful in obtaining simple assurances of equity, and some took up violence.

Although Canada consistently encourages people to limit themselves to peaceful means, no Canadian could sit by in silence witnessing the manner in which the Sri Lankan Government ended that conflict.

Our Government sent a Cabinet Minister as envoy to Sri Lanka urging restraint upon the regime. We participated in multi-nation efforts to pressure Sri Lanka to act humanely. We dedicated $22.5 million in extra humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka in 2009.

On behalf of the Canadian Tamil community, I consistently advocated for the strongest possible responses by the Canadian Government, and raised the plight of Tamils in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

Since the end of the armed conflict Canada has continually called for a transparent and independent review of the conduct of the Sri Lanka government. We have brought diplomatic pressure to bear, through the Commonwealth and otherwise.

I have seen the BBC reports cataloguing barbaric acts committed against Tamils, both combatants and civilians during the final weeks of the conflict. I am convinced of their authenticity. Until a thorough investigation of these events, transparent to international observers, is conducted and a just reconciliation is achieved, the international community should, in my opinion, apply a full range of sanctions against the Sri Lankan regime.

I continue to remind Tamil Canadians that hope is never more necessary than in the midst of tragedy. As the wise and courageous Mahatma Gandhi observed:

“There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall – think of it always. All through history, the way of truth and love has always won.”

I will continue to extend the hand of friendship to the Tamil Canadian community, and remain your voice in the Parliament of Canada for the pursuit of universal human rights by every peaceful means, in Sri Lanka and everywhere.

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