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The Tamil community in Canada is being attacked by an English language, racist newspaper!!!

by Senthil Ratnasabapathy

Shocking though it may appear, this is exactly the message spread by the Tamil Canadian papers across this 180,000 strong, mainly Toronto-based community. 

And the Tamils have decided not to take things lying down.  The National Post, the villain, has been subjected to phone-in protests and boycotts, and one prominent Tamil organization, the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT), has hired a well-known Canadian lawyer, Clayton Ruby, to file a defamation suit against the newspaper.  While the US State Department claims FACT is a terrorist front for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers, Canadian Ministers find that it is a cultural organization, worthy of their support. 

Right or wrong, the Tamils in Canada feel the Post is out to destroy them as a distinct ethnic community.  Columnist Indrajith, writing for Namnaadu (22/06/00) a Toronto Tamil weekly, said the Post had written more than 40 articles in the past two-and-half months depicting the Tamils as “arms smugglers, drug traffickers, passport frauds, extortionists” and more.  He also says the National Post is carrying on a “relentless and provocative smear campaign” against Tamil Canadians.  Post journalist Stewart Bell, who writes most of the Sri Lanka-related reports, told a Tamil activist “Why don’t you go home”.  This, Indrajith says, amounts to racism because the caller was a Canadian. 

The latest Post article to irritate the Tamils claimed that there were 8,000 Tamil rebels in Toronto. The paper quoted a 1998 police report, and said more Tamils have come to Canada since then, which means the number of Tamils with guerrilla training must be higher.

Before that, the newspaper had written about fund raising for the war back home.  The article had questioned the use of schools for cultural events where young men and women run around with mock weapons.  The event organizers claim they were only staging dramas depicting the reality in Sri Lanka, where a brutal ethnic war has claimed more than 60,000 lives over the past two decades.

While such coverage may be “journalism in public interest” for the National Post, the Tamil community perceives it as “criminalizing” of their community by Canada’s rightwing. One well-known pseudonymous Tamil journalist, “Taraki”, writing in the pro-Tiger weekly Eezhamurasu (21-27/06/00), says the Post articles are the manifestation of the fear Canadian whites feel about their own political future in the country.  Explaining the theory of ‘criminalizing’ an ethnic community, Taraki further claimed that this is the first step toward its destruction.  He cited the experiences of some South Indian communities that fought British colonialists and the history of the natives of Canada as examples.

The Post campaign comes at a time when the Tamils are trying to show their contribution to Canadian society.  By presenting the image of a solid and prosperous business community, they wish to put behind the days when the Tamil gangs made headlines by engaging in robbery, threats and gun warfare in public, which claimed at least one innocent life in Scarborough as recently as last year. 

Incidentally, this is not the first the Tamils are angered by Canadian media.  Earlier in the year, the Sun earned the wrath of the Tamils by writing that Tamils are expert forgers and that Tamil men were forcing their women into prostitution to collect money for the Tamil Tigers fighting for a separate homeland in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

What has angered the community this time around is their belief that the Sri Lankan government, particularly its high commission in Ottawa is running the Post campaign, a case made by the FACT as well as by the Tamil media.  Any word of Sri Lankan government involvement distresses Tamils, not few of who have horrid stories of persecution at the hands of the Sri Lankan military.

Despite the violence inflicted on them by the war, and even though passions are running high, one consistent theme in all Tamil media has been that any protest against the Post,  the Canadian Alliance or anybody else should be non-violent and within the parameters of Canadian law. 

The irony is that so many Tamil journalists during this whole process have paid respect to another Conservative, Brian Mulroney, for having made them feel as welcome then as his former allies and successors are trying to make them feel unwelcome now.  Clearly, the Tamil political participation in Canada is still driven by the issue of the homeland war, not by a desire to align themselves politically in the Canadian spectrum, such as it is.