Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Steve Gilchrist's Speech at Black July Commemoration

July 25, 2007, Toronto, Canada

The Sinhalese government, if it continues to practice this sort of behavior; it’s unacceptable in a civil society, unacceptable in a democracy; unacceptable to us...

I guess we could stand here and talk as politicians have, how much we share your pain, the practical reality is learning from the example of black July – we should be finding a way to reverse the problem.

Vanakkam……I think it’s reasonable to assume that a vast number of Tamil people did not come here by first choice they were forced out of their home land. And as a native born in Canada I don’t think I could ever fully understand the pain and the suffering the Tamils have undergone not just since 1983 but particularly since 1983. I was very fortunate back about 5 years ago when I was a member of the provincial parliament a number of my Tamil friends and I decided to go back to Sri Lanka.  I thought it was important for me to do that at my own expense - it’s important to say, not using government dollars - so that I could get a better appreciation of exactly the kind of issues facing Tamils in my riding when they were trying to deal with relatives back home and in some cases weren’t even able to visit them themselves or bring visitors over to Canada. I was there to have a better appreciation of the whole situation, even though there was supposedly a ceasefire, if the Sinhalese government had allowed me to go to Jaffna. But they stopped us half way down the road at a military check-point.

Steve Gilchrist Black July commemoration July 25, 2007 Toronto
Steve Gilchrist, photo courtesy TamilNet

So my goal is to go back to Sri Lanka very soon and try to develop a better appreciation by being able to get into the Tamil portions of the country. When you read just in the last few weeks of the special security zones in Trincomalee how they prevented more people from moving back to the Tamil homeland – actually not true how they prevented more Tamils from moving back to their community; this is unacceptable, it’s unacceptable as Canadians as members of the Commonwealth, in a way therefore as partners to the Sri Lankan people.

The Sinhalese government if it continues to practice this sort of behavior; it’s unacceptable in a civil society, unacceptable in a democracy; unacceptable to us.

I guess we could stand here and talk as politicians have, how much we share your pain, the practical reality is learning from the example of black July – we should be finding a way to reverse the problem. We need to seek action and that’s’ why I am encouraged as I am standing here before you today that the new government of Canada is far more realistic when it comes to the need not just to talk about them but to do them. Earlier in the year you may have heard the Prime Minister when he redressed the kind of issues that faced the Chinese community, the issues in the Japanese community right here in Canada. It’s not widely known that the Liberal government had brought a law that if you were born a Chinese to Chinese parents you weren’t a Canadian Citizen. In 1948 the Conservative government threw out that law. And Mr. Harper this year redressed the head tax issue. Imagine here in Canada we actually had 70, 80 years ago a practice of charging you more if you were a visible minority and when that didn’t stop them they raised it higher again. It took until the past year just over one year ago for our government in Canada to finally apologize and to pay compensation back to those people who had to pay the head tax.

And that’s why I am very confident, we saw the announcement from the current government that they strongly oppose the deportation of 300 Tamil families from Colombo about a month ago, you had one of our members stand up here in Toronto and say the government will not accept that. And that’s just the starting point. As just one member of our party I am not going to stand here and make all sorts of grandiose promises, but that Canada can play a significant role in reversing the last 24 years of genocide and tragedy for the Tamil people.

We need to be applying economic sanctions; we need to be applying diplomatic sanctions; we need to make it clear to the Sinhalese government that if they continue their practices, it would be unacceptable to a democracy like Canada.

I would be remiss for not pointing out one thing though I guess there was one silver lining to this tragedy. And that is the fact that Canada has been blessed by 300,000 Tamils having immigrated to our country. My guess is that an awful lot of you wouldn’t have moved to a colder climate up here if it hadn’t been for circumstances back in you home country; we are a better country because you joined us – but that does not mean we still don’t want to see justice in your homeland. Thank you again for the opportunity to say a few words.

 Nanri, Vanakkam.