Shining a spotlight on injustice, a sea of yellow t-shirts flooded Thompson Memorial Park as hundreds of Tamil Canadians walked in the third annual Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) walk-a-thon.
On Sept. 18 David Poopalapillai, National Spokesperson of the CTC, and hundreds of walkers, donors, business groups, community leaders, Tamil Canadians and friends tied their shoes for the five-kilometre walk.
The walk supported the protection and promotion of human rights in Sri Lanka.
“We come from a country where human rights are being violated. There’s no media freedom in Sri Lanka.” Poopalapillai said.
“There’s no big voice. Countries like Sri Lanka pay only the lip service when it comes to human rights, so Amnesty [International] stands very tall, bringing out those human rights violations to the outside world.”
The CTC, a non-profit organization, which serves as a voice for Tamil Canadians, holds a walk-a-thon every year to raise money in support of a charity they believe is most deserving.
In 2009 they raised $42,000 for Sick Kids’ Foundation and raised $35,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society in 2010.
This year, they chose Amnesty International, which is also celebrating 50 years of protecting and promoting human rights.
Jey Jeyakanthan, a volunteer for CTC and fellow walker, moved to Canada from Sri Lanka 15 years ago.
“Back home there are so many human rights violations going on. The main thing people have to have is the equality to live in a democratic society.” Jeyakanthan said.
“I’m a strong believer of human rights, that’s why I’m here.”
They also paid a special tribute to Jack Layton, who supported the CTC by walking in last year’s walk-a-thon. Some supporters wore an orange pin with a quote commemorating Layton saying, “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”
Remembering those who’ve passed was a theme for the walk.
Poopalapillai is remembering his two sisters who are widows due to their husbands dying for their right for political freedom.
“I couldn’t stay in the country [like Sri Lanka], the [government] went after lots of youngsters.” Poopalapillai said.
“They arrested and detained thousands of youngsters like me those days. If you criticize the government, that’s it.”
His brother-in-law was a journalist who was assassinated for being critical about the government of the time.
“Tamils had enough in the country; it’s why they started fleeing in all directions beginning early 80’s,” Poopalapillai said.
“Canada was one of the chosen nations ‘cause they understood and opened its doors.”
Moving here 10 years ago, volunteer Suleka Shan spent hours hiding away from bombing in her backyard. She finally found relief when she moved to Canada.
“Canada is a land of opportunity…everyone is treated as a Canadian and first class citizens. Here, Sri Lankans can have a good life,” Shan said.
The walk was a perfect day for the supporters to step one foot in front of the other in support of the ongoing crucial human rights work.
A cake cutting followed after the walk, celebrating Amnesty’s 50 years of advocacy.
The walk raised $52,000 by the end of the day, and the number’s still growing.
The Tamil community in Canada knows first hand how fragile human rights are and how crucial it is they speak out together through human rights and volunteerism.