Saturday, 16 January 2016 20:42

Solheim Calls on Diaspora to Work on Peace

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
 
The Sri Lankan civil war holds many a lesson for the island-nation's diaspora community in Canada and the world in general, according to Erik Solheim, former Norwegian Minister for International Development and for the Environment. Solheim's name is synonymous with peacemaking in Sri Lanka. 
 
“My biggest sorrow was that thousands of Tamils died unnecessarily due to lack of vision from both the Sinhala and Tamil leadership,” he said in Toronto this week, lamenting the futility of the civil war.
 
The country having gained a measure of calm in recent years, Solheim called on the diaspora community to participate in the South Asian nation's economy and thereby help heal the ethnic fault line. It has long been suspected that the country's Tamil diaspora worldwide, including its largest presence here in Canada, helped fuel the civil war through remittances and arms shipments. 
 
From 2000 to 2005, Solheim was the main negotiator of the process that led to a ceasefire agreement between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in early 2002 and the Oslo Declaration.
 
“Around that time, I was the most well-known foreigner in Sri Lanka next only to [then U.S. President] George Bush,” he recalled. “Also, I am the sole non-Tamil who has had the most face time with [LTTE chief] Velupillai Prabhakaran.”
 
Role of diaspora
 
Solheim was in Canada this week for the launch of To End a Civil War, a book by Mark Salter on Norway’s peace efforts to end the island nation’s bitter fight.
 
He referred to the formation of an air force by the LTTE, the first by a non-state player that was made possible by diaspora contributions. “While it was an impressive achievement, it made absolutely no impact on the final outcome of the war.”
 
Currently the Chairperson of the Development Assistance Committee for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Solheim said apart from political initiatives, a lasting solution to the ethnic fault line can be achieved through rapid economic growth. 

Describing the Tamil diaspora as among the most successful in the world, he said it could play a big role in Sri Lanka’s growth.
 
“You now need to go back to invest and put your expertise to use,” he told a  largely Tamil audience at the Toronto book launch. “More so because diasporas are generally made up of the most industrious of a populace.”
 
Bipartisan consensus
 
The peacemaker suggested that a bipartisan consensus between Sri Lanka's major political parties would further help the healing. The lack of such a consensus between the historically-opposed Sinhala political parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), had played a role in prolonging the civil war. He hoped the current bipartisan administration of President Maithripala Sirisena (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP) can see through the process of rewriting the country’s constitution and move ahead on transitional justice.
 
Author Mark Salter said the importance of achieving bipartisan consensus is evident elsewhere. “Peace in Northern Ireland is a prime example of buy-in by all factions involved in a conflict.” 
 
Salter said the inability of the then Wickremesinghe government to explain the peace dividend in simple terms to the majority Sinhalese Buddhist population was a key factor in the failure of the Sri Lankan peace process. Buddhists account for over 70 per cent of Sri Lanka's 21 million people.
 
Looking back
 
Solheim said he wished he had a bigger and broader team to engage more broadly with key groups on the island, including Buddhist leaders. “We should have also insisted on better access to Prabhakaran and spoken to him more often.”
 
In his opinion, Prabhakaran was a brilliant military leader, but a failed politician. “He thought every issue had a military solution and went on to make many wrong decisions.”
 
It was exacerbated by the death of LTTE political ideologue Anton Balasingham. “Prabhakaran became very isolated and was pushed to the wall. There was not one meaningful initiative from him in an international context.”
 
Solheim said straight-talking Balasingham was able to give his Norwegian team a unique insight into the LTTE’s leadership. “He never lied to us.”
 
He said Prabhakaran’s biggest mistake was his decision to assassinate former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. “It was an astronomical blunder that finally led to the LTTE’s destruction [in May 2009].” Solheim said Sri Lanka’s destiny is tied to India on many counts, with close proximity to its giant South Asian neighbour being one. “If one wanted, you could take a boat to Chennai from Jaffna, watch a movie and return.”
 
Canada's "We're back"
 
His Norwegian team had been in constant touch with India and the U.S., the two big international players, throughout the peace process.
 
“No one nation can lead on all fronts in international affairs today,” Solheim told New Canadian Media when asked for his reaction to the new Canadian government’s global aspirations. “You must define a few areas of interest. But most importantly the desire to help must come from the heart.” 
 
Expressing delight over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s "We're back" pronouncements, he was planning to meet Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion in Ottawa during his trip to the capital for the launch of Salter’s book.
 
The Toronto launch was organized by Sri Lankans Without Borders and was moderated by Amaranth Amarasingam of Dalhousie University.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in South Asia

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

May 2009, the civil war in Sri Lanka was grinding its way to an excruciating end.

Government forces were in a decisive push against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after more than 25 years of bitter fighting.

Caught in the crossfire were thousands of Tamil civilians, but governments around the world were stoic about human suffering despite blatant rights violations by both sides in the conflict.

The LTTE’s terror tactics had increasingly alienated them from the Tamil cause for an independent homeland.

This forced the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, by now scattered across the globe due to the war, to take to the streets to bring attention to the suffering.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][G]overnments around the world were stoic about human suffering despite blatant rights violations by both sides in the conflict.[/quote]

With Canada being home to the largest Sri Lankan Tamil population outside of the island nation, diaspora activism was at its peak here. They had been demonstrating since December 2008 and their protests in various cities had almost become routine by May.

But Canadians were ambivalent about a minority community protesting about a conflict happening far away from them. The display of the flag of the LTTE, by now a proscribed terrorist organization, also did not help in the battle for the hearts and minds.

So, even as the LTTE fighters were making their last ditch stand in Sri Lanka, the public relations battle in Canada was lost by the evening of May 10.

As dusk fell that Sunday night, several thousand Tamil protesters swarmed the elevated Gardiner Expressway. A crucial artery for downtown Toronto, it was effectively shut down till about midnight.

Anecdotes abound about how those caught in the traffic chaos suffered on that day. That it also happened to be Mother’s Day, and many were prevented from visiting their families, dealt the final blow in the court of public opinion.

It took the Tamil community several years to repair the damage done.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It took the Tamil community several years to repair the damage done.[/quote]

But how did a community, that began gaining critical mass in the early 1980s, start organizing themselves on such a large scale?

Scholarly scrutiny

The answer to this question can be found in Pain, Pride, and Politics, a recently released book by Amarnath Amarasingam.

The genesis of diaspora activism specific to Sri Lankan Tamils forms the core of this book as it delves into an issue that needed scholarly scrutiny.

Until now we only had a crude understanding of this diaspora, its struggles and successes, and more importantly its links to the civil war.

A post-doctoral fellow in the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University, Amarasingam weaves together a narrative that give us an insider’s view with the studied detachment of an academic.

However, the author’s lived experience as a young Tamil growing up in Toronto informs what would have otherwise become too academic. This is evident right from the introduction when he describes an encounter with the LTTE’s infamous money collectors in front of his home in the early 1990s.

‘Big egos, short fuses’

Amarasingam acknowledges that many Tamils did indeed give willingly and generously to these collectors every month. However, for others, they were an ever-present nuisance: “young men with big egos equipped with dangerously short fuses,” the author writes.

And it was not just the diaspora Tamils who grew weary and concerned by the LTTE’s presence and activity.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Governmental and policy circles started seeing Tamils as ... fundamentally corrosive to the prospects of peace in Sri Lanka.[/quote]

Soon the whole community got tainted in the eyes of mainstream Canada. Governmental and policy circles started seeing Tamils as overly radical and fundamentally corrosive to the prospects of peace in Sri Lanka.

Although some of these concerns were perhaps justified, much of the anxiety was exaggerated by misunderstandings.

This book now provides an in-depth examination of the ways in which a separatist socio-political movement has been carried forward, altered and adapted by the diaspora.

To make sense of this process, its first chapter examines the rise and fall of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka. It gives a detailed account of how ethnic grievances, political mobilisation, and events on the island led to armed conflict.

The focus then shifts to diaspora activism in Canada. The book comes into its own here as it attempts to fill two broad gaps in literature on diaspora politics.

Peace or trouble makers?

First, much of the writings examine diaspora communities as either peacemakers or troublemakers in relation to conflicts in their old countries. This black and white approach fails to acknowledge the greys of diaspora activism in its own right.

Second, in setting out to address this issue, Amarasingam cross-fertilizes his diaspora study with extensive literature on social movement theory.

It helps us better understand the street protests, the organizational dynamics and the process of identity formation in the post-civil war Tamil diaspora.

The futility of dividing the community between a “moderate majority” and a “pro LTTE bloc” is also brought forth.

Understanding future diaspora groups

Even though Pain, Pride, and Politics is the first such book-length treatment of Tamil diaspora politics in Canada, it does have self-set boundaries.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With 25,000 refugees from Syria to soon settle across Canada, this treatise on a group that came here under very similar circumstances is very opportune.[/quote]

Issues like inter-generational religious identity, the proliferation of temples and ethnic Tamil churches, debates about caste identity, refugee experiences, mental health issues affecting the community and gang violence are not touched upon.

By skimming on these diaspora issues and a fuller account of post-colonial political developments in Sri Lanka, maybe Amarasingam is setting himself up for another book in the future.

But what he gives us in the present is a periscopic view of the singular dynamics that propel diasporic communities into uncharted spaces.

With 25,000 refugees from Syria to soon settle across Canada, this treatise on a group that came here under very similar circumstances is very opportune.

The insights offered make it an essential read for understanding the struggles future diaspora groups are likely to face and maybe even for helping us mitigate or prevent some altogether.


 

Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto-based journalist and writer with a keen interest in Canadian politics and immigration and South Asia.  

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books
Sunday, 06 September 2015 13:22

When the Tamil Boat People Came Ashore

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto, Ontario

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” goes a verse penned by Somali poet Warsan Shire. She should know. Shire goes on: no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark; you only run for the border when you see the whole city run.

Over the years, Canada has had its share of people seeking refuge. And, attitudes have changed over time. While some of our actions, like in the case of Vietnamese boat people, make us proud, there are numerous others when our response has been cringe-worthy.

Our current collective outpouring over the Syrian refugees flooding Europe stands in stark contrast to a time when two boatloads of Tamil refugees actually arrived on our shores. That was just five years ago.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Our current collective outpouring over the Syrian refugees flooding Europe stands in stark contrast to a time when two boatloads of Tamil refugees actually arrived on our shores.[/quote]

It was August 2010 and a rickety MV Sun Sea was sighted off Vancouver Island. The response was almost immediate: a federal government keen on pressing home its tough-on-crime image made it clear that the 492 Tamils fleeing a civil war in Sri Lanka would be presumed to be suspected criminals or terrorists allied with the Tamil Tigers.

Ten months earlier, another vessel had arrived on the west coast carrying 76 Tamil asylum seekers. The tone was set early, driving home the message to Canadians that there were hordes out there waiting to milk our generosity.

Then Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued a statement declaring, “Human smuggling is a despicable crime and any attempted abuses of our nation’s generosity for financial gain are utterly unacceptable.”

As some in the media echoed the government rhetoric, public opinion seemed to go along with the view that these boat loads were just “queue-jumpers” wanting to get in in a hurry.   

In October that year (2010), the government sent two ministers to Vancouver to announce the tabling of Bill C-49 at the site of the moored, barely seaworthy Sun Sea. Minister Toews explained that the bill was “cracking down on those criminals who would … endanger the safety and security of Canadian communities.”

Over the following years, the Sun Sea continued to be exploited for public relation purposes with repeated press conferences held with the ship as a backdrop. It culminated with the Conservatives producing a TV ad for the 2011 elections that drove home the message that unlike its ‘soft’ opponents, the ruling party would keep uninvited refugees on boats out of Canada.

For the record, five years on, many of the seafarers have been found to be refugees in need of Canada’s protection. Only 11 have been determined to be members of the Tamil Tigers terrorist group.

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p50wrd2JiX4[/youtube]

History repeating itself

As Canadians come to grips with the refugee crisis in Europe, it is worth remembering that like the Tamils accused of paying human smugglers to jump the queue, Alan Kurdi’s father too paid far more than travel costs to facilitate his family’s perilous escape.

Tamil organizations, though, don’t want to see the same "queue jumping" charge used against the fleeing Syrians. The Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) reminded Canadians that their people faced a similar dire situation in 2009 during the last phase of a brutal civil war in Sri Lanka in which more than 70,000 people are believed to have lost their lives.

“At that time, our desperate cries and appeals to the United Nations and the international community went unheard,” David Poopalapillai, the CTC spokesperson said. "We simply cannot sit by and watch history repeat itself.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We simply cannot sit by and watch history repeat itself.” -- Tamil community spokesperson[/quote]

The race element

There were, of course, those for whom our approach to the Tamils was reminiscent of the harsh words used to turn back Sikhs and Hindus on board the Komagata Maru in 1914 and Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis fleeing persecution in 1939. The National Council of Canadian Tamils wanted the 2011 election ad pulled off the air.

"[It is] is xenophobic and borders on racism," Krisna Saravanamuttu, a council spokesman was quoted as saying, adding it appealed to the "worst instincts of Canadians to score political points and votes."

In an opinion piece in The Tyee, Bill Tieleman wrote: Let's also make a wild guess. The Conservatives have noticed that these refugee claimants were not, shall we say, Scandinavian-looking.”

There is a clear race element in the way we treat refugees, said Sujith Xavier, a law professor at the University of Windsor. “We saw it in the treatment of people who came on the Sun Sea and continued deportations of African asylum seekers from countries like Burundi.”

In the wake of the Sun Sea episode, the Canadian Council for Refugees, too, had expressed its concern about the undermining of public support for refugees. “Unfortunately we are seeing in Canada a pattern of anti-refugee rhetoric, familiar to many other countries [that tap into] into racist and xenophobic popular sentiments… to win votes.” 

Distant wars in the developing world and the human hordes they create are always a far worse experience for its victims than the world will ever get to know.

As Warsan Shire says in her poem, the harsh words and the dirty looks we direct at them roll off their backs “maybe because the blow is softer than a limb torn off.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough, Ontario

“Did I tell you the time I was called 'a little girl'?” asks MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan incredulously.

Sitting in her election campaign headquarters in Scarborough’s Malvern neighbourhood, the first-term MP is recounting her experiences in politics after being elected in 2011 from Scarborough – Rouge River on the New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket. She was 29.

“It was a Citizenship and Immigration committee and I had the floor and I was speaking. And the chair had the audacity to say to me, ‘settle down little girl.’” Now four years older, she is seeking re-election from the new riding of Scarborough North to a Parliament which, she asserts, is still “very much an old white man’s club.”

The Sri Lanka-born MP sees herself very much part of a changing Canada, pointing out that for the first time ever, in 2011, the average age of MPs was below 50 years. The House of Commons also had the highest number of women. 

She has many firsts – first woman and first woman of colour MP to represent her riding – she was also the first MP of Tamil ancestry in the House. She and her family emigrated from Sri Lanka when she was five.

Often assumed to be “working for someone” or “somebody’s assistant” when she shows up for fancy galas and social gatherings, Sitsabaiesan told New Canadian Media in an exclusive interview that she has to work three times as hard as other MPs.

“Breaking down those pre-conceived notions is one part of the job of a young woman of colour who grew up in poverty, and is not a doctor or a lawyer, but it’s also just about holding my own.” [Picture shows Sitsabaiesan at her 2015 campaign launch on Aug. 22. Credit: Campaign supplied photo]

In love with Scarborough

Sitsabaiesan first fell in love with Scarborough, in the east end of Toronto, at the beginning of high school. As her family lived in Mississauga on its western edge, she would commute – sometimes three hours one way – to attend dance classes and Tamil school and later to volunteer.

Over time she became more engaged in civic activities, volunteering with community groups like the now defunct Malvern Community Coalition and the Action for Neighbourhood Change organization. Six years ago, she decided to make Scarborough her home.

Though pockets of the community, particularly Malvern, have at times been viewed negatively in the media, Sitsabaiesan says the riding’s overall welcoming nature is what she loves the most.

“That sense of community is really obvious in all the pockets and neighbourhoods within Scarborough Rouge River and that’s, I think, the best thing for me.”

She talks of the high level of diversity in the riding allowing her to be the “social chameleon” that she is and building meaningful inroads with all community members – whether by participating in the annual Caribbean Carnival or visiting the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatic Care.

She says she strongly believes that her intimate connection with the community is what voters gravitated to in the last election – an election that saw a significant rise in voter turnout for a riding that ranked second-lowest in Ontario during the previous federal elections in 2008.  

“I really do think that made a difference,” she says. “That if you’re seeking to be a representative of the community, that you’re actually a member of the community, that you can actually understand what life is for people in that community and what their lived experiences would be.”

Tight three-way race

While the name and face of Sitsabaiesan may have been the change people voted for in the last election, it may not be the same this time around, as the boundaries have changed.

While Sitsabaiesan easily won her former riding, the new one, which combines Scarborough – Rouge River and Scarborough – Agincourt, could be a different story. Portions of neighbourhoods like Malvern and Morningside Heights are now out of her riding boundaries and she can expect a tight three-way race. 

Sitsabaiesan’s Liberal challenger is Shaun Chen, who resigned as chair of Toronto District School Board to fight the election. Her Conservative opponent is businesswoman and community activist Ravinder Malhi.

Elections Canada has applied the 2011 results to the new riding boundaries and it shows a very tight race. Even a small swing might result in a very different outcome. The NDP would have won Scarborough North with 35.3 per cent of the vote, compared to 33.3 per cent for the Conservatives and 28.9 per cent for the Liberals. The sitting MP is aware that while Scarborough – Rouge River had the highest Tamil population among all the ridings, fewer voters in Scarborough North share the same heritage. [Picture shows MP Sitsabaiesan hugging long-time supporter Mark Atikian, member of the Armenian National Committee of Toronto. Credit: Campaign supplied photo]

Criticism and controversy

Outside her riding, Sitsabaiesan has received negative attention, the most recent being a personal trip to Sri Lanka and India at the end of 2013 that generated some criticism and controversy.

The critics come with the territory, she says, adding that some people argue she does too much for the Tamil community, while others argue that she doesn’t do enough.

What she stands behind, though, is the work she has done for all of her constituents. She mentions that her office has helped more than 1,000 individuals and families, the majority of which have been immigration-related issues.

She may also have had a role in inspiring other candidates of Tamil heritage in running this time: Senthi Chelliah, NDP Candidate for the riding of Markham-Thornhill; Rev. K.M. Shanthikumar, NDP Candidate for the riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park; and Gary Anandasangaree, Liberal Candidate for riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park. 

While her global human rights work has seen her take up causes in Guatemala, Honduras, the Philippines and India, she says the high level of child poverty and legislation like Bill C-24 (the new citizenship Act) and Bill C-51 (anti-terrorism) are examples of the long way Canada still has to go.

“While we’re helping people all over the world have a sense of fairness, we need to make sure that we’re doing that here at home.” 


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics
Sunday, 08 February 2015 13:32

Sri Lanka’s Newfound Cautious Optimism

by Amra Ghouse, Kumaran Nadesan, Suthamie Poologasingham, Nima Ranawana and Viranjith Tilakaratne

When Sri Lanka celebrated its 67th Independence Day on February 4, it did so filled with hope that it can finally realize its true social, political and economic potential. Many Sri Lankan Canadians too are now cautiously optimistic about that country’s future.

This renewed hope for Sri Lanka is especially pronounced because of the stillborn reboot from six years ago. Then, in May 2009, the Sri Lankan state ended nearly 30 years of its own ‘war on terrorism’ defeating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In the process, however, a brutal price was extracted from ethnic minority Tamils caged in the crossfire whose dead and disappeared are still being counted – now the subject of an international UN investigation. The populism of the wartime presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa started eroding away soon after the war as nepotism, corruption, and cosmetic reconciliation efforts angered many in Sri Lanka and around the world. Additionally, authoritarianism, religiously motivated violence against Muslims and Christians, and a belligerent foreign policy pivot towards China alarmed powerful allies abroad.

Rainbow coalition

It was in this context that Maithripala Sirisena, a sitting Cabinet Minister, stepped up as the common candidate to front a surprising coalition of communists, Sinhala Buddhist nationalists, Tamil and Muslim minorities, and others to lead a ‘rainbow revolution’ against Rajapaksa. On January 8, 2015, in a largely peaceful transfer of power, Sirisena won the election with a record voter turnout of almost 82 per cent. Nearly half of the majority Sinhala Buddhists voted in his favour, with Muslims and Tamils playing kingmaker, the latter wisely rejecting the call from some quarters to boycott the election.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Nearly half of the majority Sinhala Buddhists voted in his favour, with Muslims and Tamils playing kingmaker, the latter wisely rejecting the call from some quarters to boycott the election.[/quote]

Since then, President Sirisena has initiated a wide-ranging set of reforms as part of his First 100 Days Program, aimed at building good governance while also addressing the long-standing grievances of the Tamil people, perhaps recognizing the inter-connectedness between both issues.

There are already encouraging signs.

Sirisena has not backed away from his main election promise of abolishing the unfettered Executive Presidency. He has appointed a leaner Cabinet and has also started cutting back on presidential expenses. A sweeping corruption probe has begun to investigate the excesses of the Rajapaksa coterie. A populist, interim Budget has been tabled ahead of parliamentary elections in April 2015. The government has also rolled back much of the media censorship imposed by the previous regime. The unlawfully impeached former Chief Justice was reinstated, and just last week, a new Chief Justice has been appointed on the basis of merit who also happens to be a Tamil – a first in over two decades.

Tamil diaspora

With respect to Tamil grievances, Sirisena has scrapped the economic embargo on Tamil regions and reversed a recent ban on foreign nationals, many of them diaspora Tamils, visiting the former war zones. The military governor of the Northern Province, where Tamils have traditionally lived, has been replaced with a former UN diplomat. Even more significantly, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has negotiated consensus within the coalition to implement constitutional amendments that will see more powers devolving to provinces albeit within a unitary state.

Some analysts have correctly observed that these amendments should be treated only as the first step in a longer devolution journey towards creating a truly inclusive national identity. To create more goodwill, the government has also announced that it will release 275 political prisoners, representing only a small percentage of the total number of Tamils being held in secret camps; publicly committed to returning Tamil lands that were illegally seized by the military; and is interested in repatriating the two generations of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in neighboring India.

It is important to note, however, that it is still early days for the new government. Rather troublingly, Sirisena has stuck to his predecessor’s line about not demilitarizing the Northern Province, and has also promised immunity for the political and military leadership of the previous regime from any international inquiry – likely to make more inroads into the Sinhala Buddhist base and to hold his rambunctious coalition together. Neither of these positions, however, will endear him to Tamil voters in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections or the Tamil diaspora that wields great political influence in their host countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom that have general elections of their own coming up later this year.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Neither of these positions will endear him to Tamil voters in the ... Tamil diaspora that wields great political influence in their host countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom that have general elections of their own coming up later this year.[/quote]

Delivering justice

Both of these countries are also key allies in the mainly U.S.-backed UN investigation on Sri Lanka which is expected to report back to the UN Human Rights Council next month. It remains the case that only such an international investigation can be fair and independent enough to deliver the kind of justice and accountability needed to allow for the meaningful reconciliation of Tamils to Sri Lanka.

This context, then, forms the litmus test for Sirisena’s political will to go beyond symbolic gestures and dive deeper to address the structural barriers to a democratic, inclusive, and peaceful Sri Lanka. By addressing systemic discrimination faced by minorities, especially Tamils, Sirisena can not only cement his own place in history but also gain the support of old and new allies in completing the country’s transition to middle-income status and awaken to its own ‘tryst with destiny’. Just as importantly, he can also earn the trust of the powerful diaspora, like that in Canada, and tap into their investment potential and knowledge base to help build a new Sri Lanka since they, including many Tamils in spite of the burden of memory and loss, still recognize the island as the place where their roots remain.

The authors are interim advisors to Sri Lankans Without Borders (SLWB), an independent, Toronto-based not-for-profit organization that promotes cross-community engagement between various ethnic communities in the Sri Lankan Canadian diaspora. SLWB is also firmly committed to a democratic, inclusive and peaceful Sri Lanka on the basis of truth, accountability and justice for all people. This opinion was originally published on Groundviews and has been re-published with minor edits. 

Published in Commentary
Monday, 02 February 2015 16:58

Cricket in Canada: Over 200 Years Old

by Monika Moravan (@MonikaMoravan25) in Mississauga 

Cricket is often viewed as an exotic or foreign sport in Canada, but the truth of the matter is that the game has been played in this country for the better part of a century, even before Confederation in 1867. Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister, even declared it the young country’s official sport. Take that hockey!

Cricket’s Arrival to Canada

Like so many things, it is impossible to pin down an exact date for cricket’s arrival in Canada. The earliest record of the game is depicted in a painting of a match on Montreal’s picturesque Ile-Ste-Helene in 1785. However, its origins are often attributed to British soldiers engaging in a game following the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. That’s 208 years before the Toronto Maple Leafs won the team's last Stanley Cup!

Just as cricket was originally brought to Canada by immigrants, its growing popularity can once again be credited to newcomers from lands where the sport reigns supreme, including India, Pakistan, West Indies, and Sri Lanka.

Cricket-speak

For those who come to Canada knowing the sport, it’s easy to pick it up again. But for new immigrants (or non-immigrants alike) who would like to take part, imagine having to learn the axioms and idioms of an unfamiliar sport.

Wickets, bowlers, batsmen and ball-overs. So much unusual terminology to decipher can be very confusing. Now you know how new Canadians feel trying to make sense of, "the skater with wicked flow splitting the D with her twig and biscuit to bulge the twine followed by a wicked celly." Loosely translated, this is cricket-speak for she shoots, she scores.

The ins and outs

Where a hockey game has periods and goals played by six people on each of two teams, a cricket match has innings and runs played by 11 people on each of two teams. Both sports take place on oval-shaped playing surfaces: hockey on a rink, cricket on a pitch. The winning hockey team is the one with more goals than the opponent and the winning cricket team is the one with more runs than the opponent. That’s so similar and repetitive, you say. Seems easy enough to follow, right? Now the fun begins!

Instead of the stick and puck used in hockey, cricket’s main tools more closely resemble those in baseball, albeit with a longer and rectangular shaped bat.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Unlike a hockey period, which runs for 20 minutes of playing time, a cricket inning is based on a pre-determined number of six-ball overs. Translation? Instead of shifts beginning with face-offs, every delivery of the cricket ball from bowler to batsman is known as a ball.[/quote]

The playing surface in hockey is marked with blue lines, face off circles, goal creases and nets. Cricket differs with a 22-yard pitch set within the smaller and innermost of two ovals. Instead of nets at either end of the rink, you’ll find a trio of stumps topped by two bails - smaller pieces of wood.

Unlike a hockey period, which runs for 20 minutes of playing time, a cricket inning is based on a pre-determined number of six-ball overs. Translation? Instead of shifts beginning with face-offs, every delivery of the cricket ball from bowler to batsman is known as a ball. Six balls is a one over. Matches are usually set to 20 or 50 overs regardless of how many days that takes. The exception is premier games such as test or first-class.

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDsvQe0Tk84[/youtube]

Courtesy of the Mississauga Ramblers Cricket, Sports, and Cultural Club, this footage is from one of the organization's intra-club games and features the Hawkeyes in black and the Blasters in brown.

Seen this before?

Like baseball, it’s the batsman’s job to hit the ball and the farther it flies, the more runs can be scored. The batting team tries to score as many runs as it can in its innings, while the bowling team tries to restrict them to as few runs as possible or get all of their players out. Another similarity is that the best hit – reaching the field boundary - earns four runs. But cricket needs to keep us on our toes so it awards six runs if said shot doesn’t bounce before doing so. Keep those eyes on the bouncing ball.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Keep two batsmen on the field, all players other than the bowler and wicketkeeper from the bowling (pitching) team on the pitch and this cricket stuff is getting easier to follow.[/quote]

The aim of the bowling team is to limit hits and get opposing players out. Sounds familiar, eh? Batsman gets bowled – out  when the bowler hits a wicket with the ball. Other reasons to get an out are:

Leg before wicket - umpire believes ball would have hit wicket if not for contact with anything other than the bat holding hand  

Caught - similar to an out in baseball

Run out – multiple meanings, commonly called if no part of a batsman’s bat or body is grounded behind the crease and the bowling team puts the wicket down while ball in play

Stumped – when wicketkeeper puts wicket down while a batsman has moved beyond the popping crease and not attempted a run

All on-field decisions are made by two umpires. Some matches at higher levels might have a third referee and a match referee.

Keep two batsmen on the field, all players other than the bowler and wicketkeeper from the bowling (pitching) team on the pitch and this cricket stuff is getting easier to follow.

How does it end?

Saying a hockey game ended in a tie or draw means one and the same, that both teams scored the same number of goals. But, in cricket, same words, different definitions: a tie means both teams had the same number of runs when all innings were completed. In timed matches such as Test or first-class, a draw is called when the anticipated number of innings weren’t played.

Got all that? Just don’t try it on ice.

{module NCM Blurb} 


 

 
 
 

 

Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 23 September 2014 15:25

When Millennials Take Philanthropy “Glocal”

by Kumaran Nadesan (@nakumaran) and Anupama Ranawana (@MsAMR25)

It is increasingly clear that millennials, those born since 1980, are fast re-defining the philanthropy landscape. And when it comes to diaspora millennials, this means countries around the world could potentially benefit.

Millennials expanding meaning of philanthropy

Derrick Feldman, in his research into The Millennium Impact, found that millennials are expanding the traditional definition of philanthropy (time, talent and treasure), to also provide voice and network for the causes they adopt. In the context of such holistic agency, philanthropy has become an essential part of how millennials connect to create value for their causes and for themselves in the process.

Additionally, studies show that many adults, between the ages of 20 to 35, often seek employment opportunities at organisations with strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandates that support causes from the global to the local, from Fair Trade to the neighbourhood food bank.

As workforces become more diverse and inclusive to better serve customers in the globalised economy, it creates opportunities, albeit slowly, for members of marginalised communities to climb the corporate ladder. These new leaders have expanded CSR mandates to advocate for systemic issues impacting their communities that were previously not as visible in the workplace, such as issues affecting women, immigrants and persons of colour, and the LGBT community to name a few.

The globalised world, made smaller by social media, has also brought home the problems of the world thereby contributing to further understanding of the impact and inter-connectedness of world issues to local issues, and adding new dimensions to why, what and how millennials engage in philanthropy.

Global + Local = Glocal

This new “glocalised” reality of philanthropy is nowhere more apparent than in a country like Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As workforces become more diverse and inclusive to better serve customers in the globalised economy, it creates opportunities, albeit slowly, for members of marginalised communities to climb the corporate ladder.[/quote]

In 2014, the Toronto-based public policy think tank, the Mowat Centre announced that “Canada is now a diaspora nation”. Canada is home to the largest percentage of immigrants in its population amongst the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and attracts an increasing number of immigrants from Asia and Latin America every year.

In its report, the Mowat Centre highlighted the great potential for these communities to act as diaspora networks that can be effectively mobilized to bring significant economic and social benefits to their adopted countries. This is possible because diaspora networks have substantial linkages to economies and communities beyond the borders of their adopted countries, help not only circulate information but also make it ‘stick’, and provide cultural knowledge and insight. There is also great potential to harness such networks for economic development but to also advance philanthropy interests whether for local causes or international development. The International diaspora Engagement Alliance and Diasporas for Development Initiative are both examples of how various diasporas in the United States are engaged in development and diplomacy.

Canada’s Sri Lankan diaspora

In Canada, the Sri Lankan diaspora is an interesting example of how diaspora networks are leveraged to pursue philanthropy interests in home and adopted countries, and how millennials are leading such efforts.

The Sri Lankan Canadian diaspora is made up of several ethnic groups, the majority of whom are Tamils who left Sri Lanka since the early 1980s as a result of the civil war between the ethnic Sinhala majoritarian state and ethnic minority Tamil separatist forces. While there is a steady increase in immigration of other ethnic groups from Sri Lanka to Canada, diaspora representation and impact in Canada continues to be primarily shaped by Tamils. Over the past decade, the diaspora has become increasingly integrated into Canada’s political, economic and social ecosystems. In doing so, it has adopted mainstream philanthropy causes such as health and the environment while also addressing issues reflective of their recent immigrant experience such as racism, poverty, asylum and refugee hood, and other socio-cultural inequities.

While the diaspora has engaged in political activism around Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem since the late 1970s, its engagement took on a popular philanthropic bent focused on sustainable development and humanitarian aid only since 2002 and especially as a result of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Though much of the latter engagement receded to the background as the civil war escalated and political and human rights advocacy took centre stage in the diaspora, there is now growing momentum to continue and expand the philanthropy agenda, particularly in aid of war-impacted communities who continue to face a whole host of issues since the end of the war in 2009.

Examples of glocal efforts

There are a few diaspora organisations trying to address some of the issues facing these war-impacted communities in Sri Lanka. These include organisations that focus on one key sector, for example health in the case of the International Medical Health Organisation – Canada and the Canadian Tamil Medical Association; groups such as the Charity Ball for Hope and Kalvi Connections who host social fundraisers for grassroots efforts in Sri Lanka; organisations that have historical connections their communities in Sri Lanka, including village alliances such as the Vanni Tamil Sangam of Canada, religious groups such as the Canada – Sri Lanka Life Development Centre, and alumni associations such as the SJC87 Initiative; and organisations such as Visions Global Empowerment and Educate Lanka Foundation that are based in the United States but sometimes reach into Canada to tap into a larger North American pool of volunteers and funders.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This new “glocalised” reality of philanthropy is nowhere more apparent than in a country like Canada.[/quote]

Additionally, the Toronto-based comdu.it network (and with which we are involved in) is another interesting example of how the diaspora is also exploring other ways of engaging its various communities to support more effective involvement in philanthropy work overseas. Established in 2014 as a pilot and managed by a diverse team of students and young professionals from different ethnic communities in the Sri Lankan Canadian diaspora, this network is interested in: facilitating the return of subject matter experts to Sri Lanka to strengthen the capacity of grassroots organisations while gaining deeper insight into local issues recognizing that the Global North is not the only site of production and dissemination of knowledge; providing a channel for individuals to make targeted micro-gifts as investments in education for children and economic empowerment of women, particularly female-headed households; and becoming an open and collaborative platform that can be leveraged by the various ethnic communities in the diaspora in order improve the overall quality and effectiveness of their philanthropy efforts in Sri Lanka.

Diaspora millennials leverage social, educational, and professional networks

Most of these diaspora efforts, whether it is political advocacy, local philanthropy or international development as described above, are primarily led by 1.5- and second-generation millennials (and Generation-Xers) who are thinking and doing glocally. Such involvement in international development, though, is not without its challenges that reflect certain geopolitical realities and fundamental political issues in Sri Lanka that must be concurrently addressed. However, it is clear that with the growing return of millennials to Sri Lanka, they are increasingly interested in leveraging their social, educational and professional networks, which often cut across ethnic barriers, to collectively give their time, talent, treasure, voice and network to push forward their philanthropy causes at home in Canada and abroad in Sri Lanka. Indeed, the NATO Council of Canada recently used the Sri Lankan diaspora as an example to highlight the rich potential of Canadian diaspora communities to facilitate post-war development and peacebuilding around the world.

In the new philanthropy landscape, therefore, millennials are building on the lessons of their predecessors, leveraging the latest in social and digital media, and optimizing traditional, offline networks to find new ways of adding value to their causes and social enterprises. Thanks to millennials, it has never been a more creative and exciting time to give back. 

Anupama Ranawana holds a Ph.D. in Politics and International Relations and is training to become a theologian. Kumaran Nadesan holds a B.A. (Hons.) in English Literature and Psychology and is a civil servant in the Government of Ontario. They are part of the executive team of comdu.it.

This is a re-publication of the original article published by the Diplomatic Courier in its September/October 2014 Issue V, Vol VIII. 
Published in Commentary
Sunday, 09 February 2014 15:17

Tamils emerge from the shadows

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
If an immigrant community’s coming-of-age needs to be gauged in Canada, the way it is courted by politicians is a good indicator. Leaders of all hues, from the federal to the municipal level, put on an unabashed display last month at the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) gala held in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving Day.
 
Those present to woo the 300,000-strong community concentrated mostly in the GTA included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario PC and Official Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.  The pride of place at the event, however, went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Heralded as the “future prime minister,” the gathering gave him a standing ovation. Seemingly carried away by the adulation, Mr Trudeau briefly showed off his Bollywood dance moves and regretted not coming dressed in a traditional South Asian outfit.
 
“Thirty years ago, there were a handful of Tamils in Canada, but today this country is home to tens of thousands of them who have established themselves with their values of hard work and determination,” he said. “These are not Tamil values; these are Canadian values,’’ he said amid rounds of applause.
 
Seeking international investigations into human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the last phases of the ethnic war in 2009, the Liberal leader said Canada would stand by the Tamil community in seeking justice on global platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month. This sentiment was echoed by Mr Alexander, who said “Canada will be at the forefront to ensure that accountability comes.”
 
Both the federal politicians were on cue as the session in Geneva is of huge importance to the community. The Canadian Tamil Congress, as part of its advocacy work, will be sending a delegation to Geneva and wants the UN to take decisive action against the Sri Lankan government for violating human rights.
 
Poll calculations
 
While Ms. Wynne said the strides made by the Tamils are “a great Canadian story,” Mr. Alexander said the community has been “a huge success for the Canada’s immigration program.”  That’s a big shift in stance by the Conservative Party, which has been trying hard to undo the harm done by its anti-Tamil rhetoric during the 2011 federal election after two ship loads of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka came ashore on the B.C. coast. Canada’s recent boycott of the Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo was seen by many as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favour with the Tamils.  
 
Its need to garner support of the community along with that of other immigrant groups in the GTA has grown in importance as the 2015 election nears. The area, dubbed as the “905” after the telephone code that sets it apart from Toronto city, is expected to be a major battleground for votes.  The 905 is believed to have helped the Conservatives form a majority government despite the party doing badly in Québec. Significantly, both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have also stepped up their efforts in the area.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent opinion poll has suggested that the going will not be easy for the eight Conservative MPs from the area if an election were held right now. The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Technologies and released exclusively to iPolitics, said three could lose their seats and the five others could find themselves in tough battles.[/quote]
 
“It’s not surprising that given the national popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party currently that these numbers are showing this, that there is a Liberal resurgence for sure,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, was quoted as saying. “On the other side, it doesn’t show a complete Conservative collapse as well. The Conservative base is alive and well in Peel region [consisting of Brampton and Mississauga].”
 
Tamil Heritage Month
 
At the CTC gala, almost all the leaders competed to promote Tamil culture. Mr. Hudak said he would be reintroducing a bill in the Ontario legislature to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River riding, said she would be pressing ahead with her private bill, C-471, to designate the month as such across Canada. She said this month is celebrated throughout the country by Canadians of Tamil heritage, “as we recognize the cultural, political and economic contributions of Tamil Canadians in our communities.”
 
Ms Sitsabaiesan made no mention of her alleged intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities during her recent visit to the island. Her fellow NDP MP from the Toronto area, Prof. Craig Scott, was honoured with the “Leaders for Change” award at the event for his role as the founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
 
 
Apart from this gesture, the Tamil community has been trying hard to reach out to the mainstream. As in the past four years, the CTC once again raised money through its annual walk-a-thon for a Canadian charity. With the cheque for $65,000 presented to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the organization has raised over a quarter-million dollars for five charities in the past five years. Only time will tell whether this is yet another sign of an immigrant group emerging from the shadows to gain the “good immigrants” moniker as suggested by Premier Wynne and Minister Alexander or a cynical attempt to gain political clout.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in South Asia
Sunday, 09 February 2014 03:50

Tamils emerge from the shadows

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
If an immigrant community’s coming-of-age needs to be gauged in Canada, the way it is courted by politicians is a good indicator. Leaders of all hues, from the federal to the municipal level, put on an unabashed display last month at the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) gala held in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving Day.
 
Those present to woo the 300,000-strong community concentrated mostly in the GTA included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario PC and Official Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.  The pride of place at the event, however, went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Heralded as the “future prime minister,” the gathering gave him a standing ovation. Seemingly carried away by the adulation, Mr Trudeau briefly showed off his Bollywood dance moves and regretted not coming dressed in a traditional South Asian outfit.
 
“Thirty years ago, there were a handful of Tamils in Canada, but today this country is home to tens of thousands of them who have established themselves with their values of hard work and determination,” he said. “These are not Tamil values; these are Canadian values,’’ he said amid rounds of applause.
 
Seeking international investigations into human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the last phases of the ethnic war in 2009, the Liberal leader said Canada would stand by the Tamil community in seeking justice on global platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month. This sentiment was echoed by Mr Alexander, who said “Canada will be at the forefront to ensure that accountability comes.”
 
Both the federal politicians were on cue as the session in Geneva is of huge importance to the community. The Canadian Tamil Congress, as part of its advocacy work, will be sending a delegation to Geneva and wants the UN to take decisive action against the Sri Lankan government for violating human rights.
 
Poll calculations
 
While Ms. Wynne said the strides made by the Tamils are “a great Canadian story,” Mr. Alexander said the community has been “a huge success for the Canada’s immigration program.”  That’s a big shift in stance by the Conservative Party, which has been trying hard to undo the harm done by its anti-Tamil rhetoric during the 2011 federal election after two ship loads of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka came ashore on the B.C. coast. Canada’s recent boycott of the Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo was seen by many as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favour with the Tamils.  
 
Its need to garner support of the community along with that of other immigrant groups in the GTA has grown in importance as the 2015 election nears. The area, dubbed as the “905” after the telephone code that sets it apart from Toronto city, is expected to be a major battleground for votes.  The 905 is believed to have helped the Conservatives form a majority government despite the party doing badly in Québec. Significantly, both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have also stepped up their efforts in the area.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent opinion poll has suggested that the going will not be easy for the eight Conservative MPs from the area if an election were held right now. The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Technologies and released exclusively to iPolitics, said three could lose their seats and the five others could find themselves in tough battles.[/quote]
 
“It’s not surprising that given the national popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party currently that these numbers are showing this, that there is a Liberal resurgence for sure,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, was quoted as saying. “On the other side, it doesn’t show a complete Conservative collapse as well. The Conservative base is alive and well in Peel region [consisting of Brampton and Mississauga].”
 
Tamil Heritage Month
 
At the CTC gala, almost all the leaders competed to promote Tamil culture. Mr. Hudak said he would be reintroducing a bill in the Ontario legislature to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River riding, said she would be pressing ahead with her private bill, C-471, to designate the month as such across Canada. She said this month is celebrated throughout the country by Canadians of Tamil heritage, “as we recognize the cultural, political and economic contributions of Tamil Canadians in our communities.”
 
Ms Sitsabaiesan made no mention of her alleged intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities during her recent visit to the island. Her fellow NDP MP from the Toronto area, Prof. Craig Scott, was honoured with the “Leaders for Change” award at the event for his role as the founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
 
 
Apart from this gesture, the Tamil community has been trying hard to reach out to the mainstream. As in the past four years, the CTC once again raised money through its annual walk-a-thon for a Canadian charity. With the cheque for $65,000 presented to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the organization has raised over a quarter-million dollars for five charities in the past five years. Only time will tell whether this is yet another sign of an immigrant group emerging from the shadows to gain the “good immigrants” moniker as suggested by Premier Wynne and Minister Alexander or a cynical attempt to gain political clout.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in Top Stories
Page 1 of 2

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved