Toronto streets were painted red Monday as thousands of Tamil protesters converged on downtown.
Protesters formed a human chain up Yonge Street, down Bloor Street to University Avenue and back down to Front Street. They began gathering just after noon with most of them meeting at Union Station around 6 p.m.
A significant police presence was on hand to ensure order as rush hour commuters drove into a sea of red flags swamping some of the city’s main traffic outflows.
The Toronto Tamil community and their supporters have been rallying to draw attention to the violent civil war taking place in Sri Lanka. The long running civil war has pitted that island’s minority Tamil community against the Sri Lankan government and military; fighting recently intensified when the Sri Lankan government launched an offensive against Tamil stongholds and their leadership.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), banned as a terrorist group in Canada, has been leading the battle in Sri Lanka. Those Tamil Canadians at yesterday’s rally called on the Canadian government to recognize the Tamil Tigers as freedom fighters and lift the ban. The group’s signature red flag, emblazoned with a yellow tiger, flew over much of yesterday’s protest.
University students Jani Siva and Mayooran Pillai were two of the organizers of the human-chain protest. This is the second such protest of the year. The first was held in January and brought an estimated 40,000 protesters to Toronto streets.
Siva says human rights violations taking place against Tamils in Sri Lanka need to be internationally recognized and publicly condemned. “We are here to ask to lift the ban to LTTE who are our only hope to bring peace to those struggling Tamils in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Pillai wants Tamil Eelam to be recognized as a sovereign state and wants Canada to demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire, to be monitored by an international body.
“Canadian civilians and the Canadian media are hearing myriads of stories, but where is the truth? They are looking for it. Same here, we are looking for the truth too,” Pillai said. The Sri Lankan government, he added, is not permitting any international media or NGOs in to the conflict zone.
Toronto is home to the largest Tamil community outside of Sri Lanka. As protesters chanted and waved flags, most were are optimistic that this type of movement will bring overdue attention to the bloody civil war taking place in their homeland.
Filed by Monique Plessas