Tamil community in Canada is being attacked by an English language, racist
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
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.