The defeat of the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the weekend has left many Canadian-Tamils feeling devastated. For weeks, they have been demonstrating in Ottawa and, especially, Toronto, demanding that the Canadian government intercede diplomatically to persuade the government of Sri Lanka to declare a ceasefire.
It was a spectacle that both intrigued and disturbed other Canadians; intrigued, because we all come from somewhere else and have different roots; disturbed because it demonstrated so clearly the fractured nature of a multicultural country.
No one is more sensitive to that than politicians — there are tens of thousands of Tamil-Canadian votes at stake — and it became a national political issue.
The government was right to hold firm in its refusal to intercede for the Tigers. After a civil war that lasted almost 26 years, claimed 70,000 lives and almost succeeded in creating a terrorist state in the northern part of the island, the Tigers had been facing annihilation and holding tens of thousands of Tamil civilians as hostages and human shields.
The Canadian government, unlike the Europeans, which also answer to a lot of Tamil voters, sensibly refused to argue that one of the world’s bloodiest terrorist organizations should be given time to regroup and reorganize, prolonging the war and adding to the mostly civilian death toll.
The proclamation of victory brought charges with it from Canadian Tamils and from Europe of war crimes committed by government forces. It seems probable, in fact, that civilians died at the hands of both armies in the final days, but the alternative was the continuing slaughter of non-combatants by permitting the war to continue.
As it stands, the Tigers’ leaders, including the monstrous Velupillai Prabhakaran, are dead or captured.
There is a prospect of peace in Sri Lanka now, but given the 26 years of civil war and the history of injustice against Tamils that preceded it, it is a precarious prospect if the government does move quickly toward reconciliation of the two factions.
Now is the time for Canada’s government to listen to the Tamil-Canadian community and to intercede with the government of Sri Lanka.
That nation’s most urgent need is aid for the tens of thousands of people in ill-equipped refugee camps. Canada is already helping to supply that aid and should help to ensure its efficient distribution. That is one of the things this country does best.
Ottawa should also, however, quickly start talking to Colombo about facilitating the return of Tamil refugees to what the Tigers have left of their homes and villages, or what remains of them after years of Tiger occupation, and urge Western allies to join it in pressuring Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to immediately initiate a reconciliation program to bring the Tamils back into the nation’s political mainstream.
The Tamil Tigers were the authors of their own defeat — the brutality and ideological egomania of Mr. Prabhakaran saw to that — and bear the brunt of the responsibility for the damage done by the civil war.
It is Sri Lanka’s responsibility now to repair that damage, and Canada’s to help it do so. Rather than mourning the death of a monster, that is what Tamil-Canadians should be telling their own prime minister.
– An editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press