News East West
TORONTO: Top Canadian leaders joined the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) for its seventh annual Thai Pongal gala dinner at the Hilton Toronto Markham Suites Conference Centre here last weekend.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Assistant and MP Paul Calandra, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, York Region Police Chief Eric Jolliffe, MPs and MPPs, Indian Consul General Akhilesh Mishra, US Vice Consul David Swalley and others were among the 1,000-strong gathering for the annual gala dinner.
Dressed in red saree, Premier Kathleen Wynne welcomed the gathering in traditional Tamil `Vanakkam’ and went on to highlight the contribution of the Tamil community to Canadian multiculturalism.
“This event shows how strong we are as a province and how we nurture diversity. Success of Tamils is a great Canadian story…your story is a part of our history,’’ said the premier amid applause.
She thanked the Tamil community for giving generously back to Canadian society through its contribution to various charities and supported its fight for human rights at various fora, including the UN.
Throwing her support behind January as Tamil Heritage Month, Wynne said her government would like it to see it become a reality soon.
Immigration and citizenship minister Chris Alexander, who brought greetings from the Prime Minister and top Conservative leaders, said Canadians of all hues were behind Tamils in their fight for their rights in Sri Lanka.
By boycotting the Commonwealth Heads of Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka last year, Alexander said, Canada has “spoken loudly on human rights violations’’ in Sri Lanka.
“We were the first to say `no’ to the Commonwealth meeting because of mistreatment of Tamils… Sri Lanka has failed to uphold Commonwealth values (of respect for human rights),’’ said the immigration minister, supporting January as Tamil Heritage Month.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who spoke as the chief guest, dwelt on the hardships of Sri Lankan Tamils at home that forced them to leave and their struggle to establish themselves in Canada.
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.
“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 at the global fora, including the UNHRC session in Geneva in March.
Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, in his brief address, said his party will support reintroduction of the bill in Ontario to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month.
Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti called his city “the Tamil capital in North America’’ and pledged to support January as Tamil Heritage Month across Canada.
C.V.K. Sivagnanam, Chairman of the Northern Provincial Council in Sri Lanka, in his keynote address highlighted the continuing plight of the Tamils in northern Sri Lanka.
On the occasion, Professor Craig Scott, MP and founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, was given the “Leaders for Change” award for his commitment to human rights and peace.
Jaffna-based Tamil newspaper `Uthayan” was given the `Service Excellence Award” for its courage in highlighting the plight of Tamils despite intimidation by the Sri Lankan government. The award was accepted by E. Saravanapavan, Managing Director of Uthayan and TNA MP, on behalf of the newspaper.
The Canadian Tamil Congress also presented a cheque for $65,000 to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation. The CTC raised this money through its annual walk-a-thon or charity walk. Till now, the annual walk-a-thon has raised over a quarter of a million dollars for five charities.