TORONTO: Standing by the Canadian Tamil community, Canadian political leaders on Sunday paid tributes to the victims of Black July 30 years ago.
Among the Tamils around the world, July of 1983 is remembered as Black July in memory of hundreds and hundreds of Tamils who were massacred and their properties destroyed in week-long attacks by Sinhalese mobs in revenge for the killing of 13 soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That was the beginning of the ethnic war in Sri Lanka triggered by the denial of rights to the Tamil minority.
Remembering the victims of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, the Canadian Tamil Congress said, “Between July 24 and 29 of that year, Tamils were systematically targeted with violence in Colombo and many other parts of the island. During this period, an estimated 3,000 Tamils were killed and thousands of Tamil homes and businesses were destroyed. More than one million Tamils have fled Sri Lanka since July 1983 fearing for their safety, while over a million more Tamils have been internally displaced within the island. ”
Canadian Tamil Congress national spokesperson David Poopalapillai said, “Black July is a poignant anniversary for Tamil Canadians to remember. There is not one single Tamil family living in Canada that hasn’t been affected somehow by the 1983 anti-Tamil riots and its aftermath.”
He said though the armed conflict ended four years ago, Tamils in the northeast Sri Lanka are still suffering immense hardship.
“As we remember the events of the past 30 years, it’s also equally important to recognize that not much has really changed for Tamils currently living in the NorthEast of Sri Lanka. While the bombs have stopped dropping and the guns may be silenced, the Tamil people are still living under a militarized occupation in the North and East, continue to fear for their safety and are subjected to persecution because of their ethnicity,” the Tamil leader said.
Sympathizing with the Tamil community, Canadian employment and social development minister Jason Kenney said, “Thirty years ago today in Sri Lanka, violent mobs of armed extremists began carrying out attacks against the country’s Tamil population. Hundreds of Tamils were killed and thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed in the ensuing riots.’’
Kenney said, “In the years since the Black July pogrom, July 23 has become a day of mourning and remembrance for members of Sri Lankan Tamil communities around the world, including the 200,000-strong Tamil community in Canada. As we reflect on the violence that began on this day in 1983 across Sri Lanka, I take the opportunity to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to promote and uphold our fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.’’
The federal minister said, “I stand with the Tamil-Canadian community in commemorating the senseless destruction and tragic loss of life during Black July.”
Tom Mulcair, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, called upon the Harper government to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka in November for its treatment of the Tamil minority.
He said the NDP joins Tamils across Canada and around the world as “we mark the 30th anniversary of the Black July Porgroms with great sadness.”
Mulcair said, “The repercussions of these brutal actions and heartbreaking loss can still be felt by Tamils living in Sri Lanka as well as the Tamil diaspora. That is why New Democrats remain concerned about the treatment of minority communities in Sri Lanka and will continue defending the interests of Tamil Canadians in the House of Commons.”
The NDP leader said his party urged “the Canadian government to remember this tragedy by taking firm diplomatic action and boycotting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in November.”
Canada, the NDP leader said, must take a firm and principled stand against Sri Lanka for its human right abuses and refusal to allow independent investigations into alleged war crimes by its forces.
In a statement in Kelowna British, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau too paid tributes to the victims of the terrible events of 30 years ago in Sri Lanka.
“Today, we solemnly remember the terrible events and attacks thirty years ago that were directed at Tamils beginning on July 23, 1983. Divisions gave way to racially-targeted riots that saw countless people attacked, killed, and rendered homeless, and resulted in the widespread destruction of property,’’ Trudeau said.
“Across our country, Tamil Canadians mourn and remember the many murders of Black July, but also the thousands of deaths that ensued in the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war, of which we still lack closure to this day. We must achieve accountability and justice for the untold innocents who died or had their lives irrevocably changed.’’
The Liberal Party leader said, “To date, no serious effort has been made by the Sri Lankan government to reconcile with all actors in Sri Lankan society. There is little clarity or resolution after the end of the civil war. Ethnic and religious discrimination is growing, not decreasing.
“After the events of 1983, Canada welcomed those Tamils seeking asylum, and we continue to accept refugees and immigrants from Sri Lanka. Today, Canada’s voice must be clearly heard insisting for truth, reconciliation, and an independent and transparent international investigation of alleged war crimes during the Sri Lankan civil war.”
Canada is home to more than 300,000 Tamils of Sri Lankan origin, most of whom came here as refugees fleeing from northern Sri Lanka.
In the Toronto area of Scarborough, the Sri Lankan Tamils have become a powerful community.