The Crisis in Sri Lanka: Canada's Role

February 25, 2009
Vijay Sappani

As Sri Lankan military forces try to overrun the last remaining strongholds of the LTTE rebel group (better known as the Tamil Tigers), how should Canada respond?

Canada once had a low-profile relationship with Sri Lanka. But that changed after the country's 1983 pogrom, when thousands of Tamils and Muslims were killed. More than 250,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have come to Canada as refugees since then, making Canada home to the largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in the world. Meanwhile, the Tigers — who once controlled large swathes of the island nation — have engaged in an on-again, off-again war with the Sri Lankan government. Understanding the history of this conflict is critical if Canada is to help develop a solution for the conflict.

Following its independence from Britain in 1948 (at which time the country was still known as Ceylon), Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-dominated government introduced several laws to institutionalize discrimination against the minority Tamil population. In 1972, Buddhism was made the primary religion of the state, and discriminatory laws were passed against religious minorities (most Tamils are Hindu). Sinhalese rioters during this period attacked temples and churches, killing hundreds. That led to the formation of many small Tamil militant groups, one of which was the Tamil Tigers.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the West paid only modest attention to Sri Lanka's internal conflict. But since 9/11, the country is seen in a different light. The Tigers — a conventional military force that has perpetrated acts of terror — have been banned in 31 countries, including Canada.

The Tigers and the Sri Lankan government have had several rounds of peace talks, but the guns remained truly silent only for a short while. In 2002, the two sides entered into peace talks brokered by Norway, with both parties agreeing to the establishment of an autonomous Tamil region in the northern part of the country. Unfortunately, both groups violated the terms of the agreement, and Sri Lanka finally called off the talks in January, 2008.

Since then, Sri Lanka's army has scored many battlefield victories. But ultimately, there can be no military solution to the conflict: Even if the Tigers lose all their bases, Sri Lanka's government will not be able to defeat the Tigers as a guerrilla force. In the meantime, civilians continue to be caught in the crossfire between a racist government and a rebel force that is militarily outgunned and shunned internationally.

If a negotiated political solution is to come about, the Tigers must clarify their acceptance of a Tamil nation within a united Sri Lanka, and commit to disarm. For its part, the government of Sri Lanka must agree to treat the country's Tamils in a more humane and equitable fashion. The current stage of the conflict — in which an alarming number of civilians have died at the hands of government forces — only reinforces Tamil concerns in this regard.

The international community must convince the Sri Lankan government and Tigers alike to arrive at a permanent resolution through peaceful negotiations. Canada could play an especially important role. In fact, our federal system (which could be a model for Sri Lanka) and our large Tamil diaspora makes us a credible candidate to lead the peace talks

The question is: Do we have an appetite to see the world beyond Iraq and Afghanistan? If so, this could be Canada's moment.

Vijay Sappani is a toronto based political and community activist. Articulate in policy issues, Vijay is well versed in national and international issues and advises many organizations in Canada. You can read more about him at www.vijaysappani.com or contact him at vijaysappani@gmail.com
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February 25, 2009
11:08 AM

Vijay, the international community has invested a lot in this particular imbroglio with little to no budging on either side, and with the irresistible force option having taken the decisive advantage, it may be difficult to move back towards a political solution.

Vinod Joseph
February 25, 2009
11:27 AM

"Sinhalese rioters during this period attacked temples and churches, killing hundreds."

Is this correct? I am sure that there isn't a single instance of a church being attacked during the 1983 riots. And were temples attacked in 1983? I am not too sure of that. I do know that temples were used to shelter the victims of the riots. During the 1983 riots, the attackers targetted Tamil owned shops and Tamil homes.

It should not be forgotten that the LTTE has at various times attacked Buddhist shrines, including Sri Dalada Maligawa, Buddhism's holiest shrine and a UNESCO Heritage Site.

"But that changed after the country's 1983 pogrom, when thousands of Tamils and Muslims were killed."

I am not sure if this is correct. I don't think Muslims were targeted during the 1983 riots. Many Sri Lankan Muslims speak Tamil, but they have always been treated as a distinct group. There have been pogroms against Muslims (called Moors) by both Sinhalese and the LTTE. The first organised riot in Sri Lanka was in 1915 by the Sinhalese against Muslims. In 1990, the LTTE expelled Muslims en masse from the Northern Province. But I don't think the 1983 riots targetted Muslims.

On the whole, considering the way the LTTE has behaved all along (unwilling to compromise, forcible recruitment of children), it makes sense to wait for the LTTE to be decimated before talking peace to its remnants.

Vijay S
February 25, 2009
12:49 PM

Aaman, neither the international community nor have the warring groups done anything towards bringing peace in Sri Lanka. Even after 25 years, no SriLankan government has come with a constitutional proposal to bring peace. The previous leader Ranil tried, but he lost the elections to Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka can win the battle, but not the war with the Tigers. They are small enough to be effective as a guriella force.

Vinod, all of it is factually correct and well researched. Wikipedia, google or library archives will have the details.

February 25, 2009
05:43 PM

Hi Vijay

Thank you for providing the historical perspective of the issue.

Sri Lanka seem to be in no mood to listen to the International community. What leverage does Canada have with Sri Lanka? Other than just sanctions.

February 25, 2009
06:09 PM

I have directly witnessed Sri Lankan Tamils holding parades in Canada, in which they were openly brandishing prop rifles to display their militant attitudes. Canadian Tamils of Sri Lankan origin are disproportionately involved in crime here in Toronto, and across the world. The level of gun crimes, drug trafficking, fraud and related activities among Sri Lankan Tamils is much higher than the rest of the population. They are a deep source of embarrassment to the SouthAsian community. These people are not a beneficial addition to Canadian society, and have drawn sharp criticism from Canadian media. They are simply damaging the image of immigrants and refugees as a whole in Canada. And of course, they are very quick to play the race card in response to any criticism, as they do in Sri Lanka and in India.

link to National Post editorial

It's too bad that Kalugu doesn't have the shame or the sense of ethics to feel embarrassed at such behaviour. The rest of us should not associate with those who seek to tarnish our reputations with their crookedness, and should seek to improve our credibility by disassociating ourselves from them.

Vijay S
February 25, 2009
06:56 PM

Sanjay, I am not sure where you get your data, but I have never seen any report that says Sri Lankan tamils are disproportionately involved in crime. Sikh Terrorists blew up a plane full of Canadians, police some time back arrested the now famous T.O 18 for terrorism charges against the state and you think the Tamils are involved in bigger crime than this in Canada.

The most people I see in a prison are white, not Tamil. There were more muslims and Indians involved in fatal crime from the South Asian community in 2008 in GTA than Tamils.

So how do you justify your biased unvalidated hatred and racism against Tamils.

It is not Kalugu who should be ashamed.

February 26, 2009
12:07 AM


When a topic, currently considered to be the most important for the WORLD TAMILS for the TAMILS of failed state called sri lankan, you damn idiots talking about crime by TAMILS here? For those, we don't need to worry because countries Law Enforcement establishements are there to take care of those, if there is any.




February 26, 2009
02:14 AM

Vijay, you seem to be living in a vacuum. Tamils certainly have raised alarms among wider Canadian society for their criminal activities. And certainly, I am making comparison to Canadian society as a whole -- the most relevant comparison.
Look at the debit and credit card scandals, where Tamil gas station workers were photographing card numbers to steal funds from the innocent. Look at Tamil streetgangs like VVT (named after Valvettithurai in northern Lanka).So where do you see such similar things happening among Singhalese in Canada? I don't see any such observations by the police on Singhala involvement in crime. Your denials simply fly in the face of reality. It's you who deserve to be ashamed, but you have no sense of shame within you to feel any. Credible observers -- and you obviously aren't one -- certainly note the criminality that has come to Canada with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.

Oh, but please do continue trying to place the race card to accuse everyone of being racist against you. You're just the lone pillar of virtue in a completely amoral world. Sure, you keep believing that, and see where it gets you.

February 26, 2009
02:21 AM


you sources the National Post!? The most right-wing anti-immigrant paper in Canada. Did you really think they would say anything good about (insert any non-white ethnicity)-Canadians? Just look at their anti-Islam rants juxtaposed to their pro-israeli rhetoric.

Let's not turn this into which a "which South Asian group has the most kills" game. Stop racializing criminality. Provide statistics instead.

Vijay, why dont you provide us with links to your so-called "facts."

PS. do you still think Omar Khadr is a terrorist or a child soldier!?

February 26, 2009
03:40 AM

Nice article. Humanity wants peace. Is Canada in the first place aware of these issues in SriLankar in depth ? We do hear from America and their politicians taking interest in SriLanka, but not a lot from Canada. With such a huge diaspora of Tamils, it is surprising that nothing has come out of Canada - if it has, I am sorry, I dont know it.

We have lost hopes on India to bring about a peaceful solution in this crisis - it has lost morally.

Vijay S
February 26, 2009
08:11 AM

Sanjay, I work wih all layers of law enforcement. Dont preach your hatred to me. i know my facts and i know what I am saying throughly.

Prakash, Canada has committed about $4.5million , but little momentum from the Conservatives. they just dont care

February 26, 2009
02:46 PM

SanjayTheAtheist - I am not from Canada. I am a Tamil Indian living in USA.

It would be relevant to discuss race from Sri Lanka standpoint because the issue there arose out of Racial differences as Vijay has pointed out.

However, why do you bring Canadian racial politics to this topic here?. How is your race prejudice relevant to the topic discussed here? You were the first to pass racial comments. Now you are accusing others of using racial card. Please introspect.

Racial profiling - good or bad will not lead to a balanced judgement of issues. Most developed world have realized this. Especially the younger generation in the western world have realized this truly. How long is it going to take for us Asians to realize this?

February 26, 2009
05:26 PM

LTTE = Tamils/Tamil Cause?

LTTE in Canada is run like the Mob. People from northern SL are smuggled into Canada by them. The price for which is lifelong bondage to the LTTE and the Tamil cause.

If they go their way, then the family back home gets it. Just like in Sicily.

Tamils in your city are intimidated by the LTTE. If they do not listen and pay up the dough then freak accidents like falling off from the balconies, becoming victims of "random" crimes, road accidents etc happen.

LTTE has to go. No pussy footing on that. Until then peace will be a mirage. Tamils have genuine grievances behind which the LTTE hides.

February 27, 2009
12:09 AM

I guess we are talking about the civilians suffering in SriLanka & not trying to get support for LTTE. It is for the people to choose their leader, not others. I think the rest of the world will agree on UN referendum on Tamil people deciding their future.

February 27, 2009
01:29 AM

Prakash, Infact more people are talking about UN monitored referendum. I think no one should have a problem with it.


However, do you think UN has the leverage to offer this solution to the Tamils (who might actually welcome this) and Sri Lanka (I am not sure if they will even consider this. Especially Rajapakse, becuase he no more needs the vote of Tamil people to win the election).

Kannan Sooriyakumar
February 27, 2009
10:23 AM

I think it is better that all none Sri Lankans should stop making comments about Sri Lanka's conflict because they don't know about what is really going on Sri Lanka.Tamil Tigers are carrying out the mission of creating a Tamil state in South India which started in 1919 Tamil Nadu seperatist movement. Seperating Sri Lanka is the 1st step. That is why India is keeping silent on this matter and helping to get rid of Tamil Tigers from Sri Lanka. Present wave of protests are to save Prabakaran who is in his last days. These protesters have no sympathy on innocent civilians who are kept a human shield.If they do they should protest against Tamil Tigers.This writer does not have any knoledge about Sri Lanka.

February 27, 2009
11:06 AM

Kannan Sooriyakumar: Very interesting comments you passed on a different topic. Would you care to explain your statement ? Hope you know the history of Dravidian movement. Let us not confuse with the topic and off-hand comment.

February 27, 2009
03:14 PM

the issue is with bush-twin harper

(not that ignatieff is any less neoconzix oriented)

i suspect a minority liberal with ndp support may keep ignatieff on a more even keel

The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention
February 27, 2009
05:55 PM

"...the international community will wait till Tamil resistance is sufficiently weakened or annihilated before it attempts to intervene 'on humanitarian grounds' and in seeming response to 'world wide Tamil appeals'. Meanwhile the IC will even welcome such world wide appeals by Tamils as that will pave the way (and establish useful contact points amongst the Tamil diaspora) for IC's eventual intervention with 'development aid' with the mantra of not conflict resolution but 'conflict transformation'."

The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention


NO ONE cares about Tamils in SL
February 27, 2009
06:07 PM

NO ONE cares about the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
(except ofcourse the Tamil Diaspora & Tamil Nadu)

- NONE of the countries, the UN or Human Rights groups and Aid groups care about the Tamils being slaughtered by Sinhala Sri Lankan Army.

- The Aid and Religious groups are waiting to flock to Sri Lanka, to make money out of the tragedy and spread Christianity and Islam to the vulnerable Tamils who escape from this alive.

- all the countries waiting to make money in SL after the 'END' of the 'WAR' which they think will be soon.

SRI-LANKA > has turned into > SORRY-LANKA

February 28, 2009
01:37 PM

Tamils have a deep hatred towards Hindi, Brahmins, North Indians, Kannadigas, Telugus, Mallus, Sinhalese, besides all the inter-caste wars. Looks like Tamil society is driven by hate, violence and terrorism. In Sri Lanka Tamils have slaughtered Muslims at prayer, massacred Buddhist pilgrims and bombed Buddhist shrines. They have ethnically cleansed large swathes of all non-Tamils. In India they attack Kannadigas and target Mallus, besides screaming against North Indians.

February 28, 2009
09:03 PM


Again and again, it's sad, what made you to come in here and waste others precious time in this 21st century....you MORONS? If you have anything valuable above your neck and below your waist, you won't come here and again and again and again talk rubbish......stop your damn arguments and statements hindians and indians.....you morons don't have a place in forums like these to peace loving citizens of the world.....being born in countries like india born to hindians you all are labeled your selves as war mongers and willing to cause missery to people. YOU ALL MUST BE CONTROLLED.....IT WILL BE DONE POLITICALLY....WAIT AND SEE YOU TERRORIST COUNTRY INDIA!!!!!

Morons, you with sri lanka, russia, china, pakistan, israel, and iran are raping and killing women and children in TAMIL areas of sri lanka in concentration camps, acoording to news.

It is well known now - indian armed forces, indian RAW agency and man mohan singh, sonia ghandhi family, karunanithi family, pranab muharjee, indian ambasodor in sri lanka - all of these TERRORISTS are behind these atrocities by india and it is history....


All, be careful......RISE UP BEFORE IT's TOO LATE......LEARN FROM WHAT HINDIANS and INDIA are DOING IN TAMIL AREAS in sri lanka by providing arms and ammunition to kill TAMILS with sri lankan NAZI governments.

NAZI INDIA......YOU MADE HISTORY......HINDI SPEAKING COWARDS and other indians who call your selves closer to GOD (BRAHMINS)..you all are CHEATING, ROBBING, AND ACTING LIKE FOOLS in 21st century....you can't FOOL ANY MORE......REMOVE your ROPE from your body PUT IN YOUR POCKET MORONS!!!!!you're sinners of INDIA...damn it!!!



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