Plight of Tamils need attention

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE

There is an old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But, what happens when a squeaky wheel continues to be ignored? Does it have to squeak even louder in order to get some attention?

Over the past couple of months, the Tamil community in this city has been pleading with the Canadian government to speak out against the abuses in their homeland of Sri Lanka where thousands of their fellow Tamils are being slaughtered by government forces.

This is not just their word; the United Nations has described what is going on in that country as a “bloodbath”.

Last weekend, for example, an estimated 1,000 civilians – including women and children – are reported to have been killed.

So, yes, members of the Tamil community here could – and should – be forgiven if they went a little crazy on Sunday night when they swarmed onto the Gardiner Expressway, blocking all lanes, both ways, on this important and very busy downtown corridor.

It was a stupid and dangerous move. People could have been hurt, killed even. But, that is what happens when people become desperate.

What would any of us have done differently in similar circumstances?

Now, they are being noticed. All the previous protests and demonstrations – on Parliament Hill, at Queen’s Park, ringing the city with protesters and even blocking University Avenue, which is an important downtown access route, didn’t get the desired attention.

It’s unfortunate that they had to take such drastic action in order to get their voices heard by Ottawa.

The Tamil community understands that Ottawa itself cannot end the killing of civilians in Sri Lanka, but the government – their government – can raise the concerns of the community here at the United Nations and with other world bodies; they can help to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to pull back and cease firing on civilians, and to provide relief – and allow international aid to flow – for those left stranded and in need of food and medical care.

The situation in Sri Lanka is not an easy one. The Tamil Tigers, the target of the government’s offensive, are as guilty as the government itself, if not more so, of grave atrocities in their quest for freedom and independence. It’s hard to show sympathy for them.

But, this is not about the Tigers, although some of the protesters in Toronto have been seen waving Tigers flags at the demonstrations. It is about the innocent lives that are being lost or disrupted – if the spokespeople for the demonstrators are to be believed, and we think they are.

The protesters have been soundly criticized by some of the public for disrupting their lives. No one wants to be disrupted. We make a big fuss over traffic disruptions for road repairs when we know only too well that in a few months the result would be better roads for us.

The disruptions of a few minutes in no way compares to the disruption in the lives of the people for whom we are being inconvenienced.

Why is what’s happening in Sri Lanka our business? Canada, we should remember, led the international struggle against apartheid in South Africa and we did have an enormous impact. Canada was the first country Nelson Mandela visited after he became president of South Africa. He came here to thank us for our help. So, yes, we could make a difference in Sri Lanka.

Finally, we need to say how proud we are of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and the Toronto Police Service for their handling of the many weeks of protests in the city. Under another chief, under different leadership, things could have gotten quite ugly.

Blair has come in for some criticism for his handling of this affair, but nobody has been killed, no riots have taken place and our city continues to thrive in peace.

As far as policing goes, each day in such an environment is a good day.

We only hope that calmer heads prevail among the demonstrators and no one does anything really stupid which the police will not be able to ignore.

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