Queen’s Park was awash in a sea of candle flame Friday evening as thousands of Tamil Canadians came to mourn the 8,000 killed since January in the recent Sri Lankan offensive against the Tamil Tigers. Protesters at the event urged the Canadian government to support Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority in the ongoing conflict.
With the reported death of Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran May 18 marked the end of a 26-year war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The onslaught of artillery has left 300,000 displaced civilians stranded in government-run internment camps, sites of reported physical and sexual violence against women and children. Journalists are still not allowed in the war zone without military escort, while the UN has been refused complete access to the camps.
Attendance at Friday’s vigil numbered around 15,000 people, almost all clad in black, and some carrying Tamil Tiger flags or black flags of mourning. Throughout the recent protests, various organizations have allied with the Tamil activists including student unions, United Steelworkers, Coalition to Stop the War, and activists for causes relating to Palestine and Darfur. About half of the speeches were in English, the rest in Tamil, punctuated by slogans in both languages.
Daily protests continue, and include a cadre of dedicated young activists. Among them is Dareo Alisterosario, a grade 11 student at Senator O’Connor College School. He’s been protesting almost constantly, only stopping to go to class before going to the next vigil.
“What we don’t understand is even after the war is finished […] what’s the reason for not letting media in?” he said. “Our goal right now is to get non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations to be allowed to go into the country.”