BY PROF. SUDHARSHAN SENEVIRATNE
Ray Cook: A Mohawk perspective on Canada Day and Independence Day
Canada’s Mohawk peoples view of Canada Day
Regaining Indigenous Rights – Play Against All Odds
“Canada has this image internationally of a great defender of human rights violations, the protector of human rights throughout the world, but in its own backyard it’s violated the rights of the First Peoples indiscriminately for years and years. And the greatest human rights violation has been the imposition of the residential school experience.”
Phil Fontaine, Aboriginal Canadian leader
“The Tamil diaspora is not monolithic; it is differentiated by class, excludes certain castes and is gendered in its exploitation. The mobilisation of the diverse Tamil diaspora abroad and the rhetoric used have become the rationale for reinforcing the security establishment in Sri Lanka. A democratic Tamil leadership from within the country should challenge the larger Tamil diaspora to change course and work constructively towards building a plural and democratic society out of the ravages of war.”
Ahilan Kadirgamar “ Tamil Diaspora: Classes, State and politics”
Economic & Political Weekly. July 31, 2010 vol. xlv no 31
Whitewashing LTTE genocide
A recent announcement featuring the news, Tamil Genocide Education Week by Scarborough MPP Vijay Thanigasalam’s Bill 104, received third reading at Queen’s Park on May 6th. Let us look at the “messenger” first and his credibility and secondly, the nature of the Canadian State i.e. hidden political agenda Canada has for the dependent Diaspora as a cat’s paw. The man himself has a dubious history and was a one-time LTTE sympathiser even after the Elaam war ended in 2009.
Quite naturally Thangasalam’s antics immediately sparked off a debate within Canada and the overseas resident Sri Lankan community.
The mindset of the pro-LTTE Diaspora is inevitable. It is another step in the long march consolidating its racial identity and legitimacy within a white-dominated country and the West.
It also needs a bogy to legitimise very existence in the eyes of its host country, the international community, and funding agencies, mostly, to the next generation and generations yet born.
Mythifying the heroic struggle opposing this evil is an instrument unifying the larger Tamil community and a convenient “oppressed people’s theory”. On the other hand, it is an essential ingredient imaging the “enemy” i.e. the Sri Lankan state, Sinhala speaking community, and Buddhists.
There is certain dialectic in this process. While projecting the “Evil” Sri Lankan state, Sinhala people and Buddhists, simultaneously whitewashes the genocide carried out by the LTTE. It will be an education to learn to what extent this “education” will list the human and cultural genocide and the carnage carried out by the LTTE.
The abduction of children transforming them into killer machines and feeding them with cyanide pills; physical liquidation of opposing Tamil political parties and their leadership; the killing of Sri Lankan leaders, civilians (Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese), Buddhist bikkhus and destruction of cultural property is an unending list of scalps that need to be listed as “genocide, even by UN standards.
Huge funds they amassed by robberies, intimidation carried out on the helpless Tamil-speaking Diaspora by pro-LTTE thugs will not feature in the awareness program.
They also will not speak of the untold racial discrimination they themselves faced in White Canada. This will provide a comfort zone to the Canadian State to whitewash and present itself to the international community as the “moral state”, which ironically emerged by default as a champion of the oppressed when President Trump was doing is number in the neighborhood. Ironically, Canada’s own track record on human rights needs a new chapter on the history of genocide.
Will the learning material highlight the genocide carried out by the LTTE and unfold the genocide track record of the masters of the Pro-LTTE Diaspora – Canada?
These are the antecedents of rewriting history to be introduced to the school system perpetuating a mythical story of the birth of a new “Nation” to the next generation.
This is the long-term plan of laying the foundation of its own future Eelam State which will be the next step towards demanding or carving out a Province within the State of Canada. It may be too late when Canada wakes up to a replay of the “Quebec Syndrome”!
It will dilute Canada’s banal excuse of inclusivity is nothing but empty rhetoric. Only a week back it was reported that the highest number of racial attacks on Asians is in Vancouver. With almost 1 out of every 2 residents of Asian descent in British Columbia experienced a hate incident as it was reported in the past year (Bloomberg Equality + Businessweek May 7th 2021).
Of course, this is happening in Canada, in case the pro-LTTE Diaspora forgot the map! It will be interesting to document the nature of discrimination the newly arriving Tamil-speaking immigrants faced in Toronto and other cities. Either they are silent or consciously hide such facts without causing embarrassment to the Canadian white master.
Conversely, the pro LTTE Diaspora will never educate their children how the LTTE gunned down their own people while escaping along the eastern beach front; they will never speak of Tamil-speaking people who were fleeing not so much from the Sri Lankan military but from the LTTE and how many of them were also hunted down overseas.
It is unlikely that the humanitarian aid given by the Sri Lankan army to the public in the North and the East as the war ended; social development carried out in the north and the east, where inclusivity programs and systems were placed on track and among other people-friendly measures.
Will they educate the children that in almost all metropolitan centers such as Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Galle Trincomalee, Nuwara -Eliya the Sinhala and Buddhist population is less than 50 percent of the resident population and there is coexistence among language, religious and ethnic groups? Will they be educated on the quantum of investments made by the Diaspora in such places during the battle period against terrorism and the rich harvest they reap from such investments?
There is another important factor we often tend to forget. This is conscious support and the nurturing of pro-LTTE elements and lovingly embraced by the Canadian State.
The great savior and knight in the shining armor crying and lamenting on Heroes Memorial Day who actually shed tears and how their voices break down at such events.
Full marks to the Canadian political leadership for the Oscar-winning performances. Seeing this, Niccolo Machiavelli may have added another volume to his thesis on The Prince pleased that the pro-LTTE Diaspora followed his famous dictum, “the end justifies the means”! Of course, Canada will not shed any tears for its own indigenous people nor will it take the state of Israel to task for current massacres carried out on the Palestinian people!
Hero worshipping Prabhakaran is a God-given excuse to sweep under the carpet Canada’s own miserable history of slavery, racial discrimination, exploitation of indigenous people and brutally putting down its own French origin white citizen’s aspirations and silent support for multinationals that undermine environment protection within Canada and overseas.
This is the Diaspora’s ‘His Masters Voice’ that was screaming on Sri Lanka’s genocide record at the UNHRC this March! A press release from the Scarborough-Rouge Park MPP, however, said the Conservative government, by passing the bill, “demonstrated its commitment to fighting injustices and standing up for the Tamil people who call Canada home”.(MAY 11, 2021 Scarborough Mirror).
The thread of history: Multiple narratives
The study of history and its dynamics needs to be seeing in the motion of events and people. This dynamic is seen in cyclical and spiral movements. However, if the circle or spiral is stretched, it becomes linear. There is linearity representing the History of Canada as multiple narratives connecting it from the past to the present. Canada’s ruling cabal may wish to hide behind the sympathetic engagements of the pro-LTTE Diaspora and presenting itself as the greatest exponent of human rights (bleating from the UNHCR pulpit).
But it cannot wash away the sins of the past, its double standards, and crimes against humanity which is yet a living reality in its sub- stratum culture and psyche.
Narrative 1: Colonialism
As in the case of most countries “discovered” by the West, Canada was founded under Colonialism with a history of discrimination and cruelty to humanity. Colonialism commenced as early as 1600 though Canada became a nation in 1867. Formalising genocide as a policy of the state then commenced with state patronage and blessings.
Controlling land and resources was imperative. Indigenous people had to be physically liquidated that provided the space to appropriate their land (mainly resource areas) by force. They were expelled to unproductive land unworthy of good soil, water resources, and game including sacred spaces.
The most successful system of liquidating the indigenous people was: the forced sterilisation and disenfranchising them of their indigenousness thus mentally and physically deculturalising those communities.
The most damaging strategy was by culturally absorbing them to the Western ethos introducing by force the damning colonial school system and the creation of stolen generations.
This was practised in the USA, Australia and Africa with great success and Canada fine-tuned this system by establishing the Resident or Industrial School system. Since the Pro LTTE Diaspora is targeting the school system, let us look at the roots of the Canadian school system under Colonialism and how subordinate people were educated, and its tragic consequences.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2015, released its final report, documenting the tragic experience of at least 150,000 residential school students.
Residential Schools “were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.” (“Genocide and Indigenous people in Canada”. The Canadian Encyclopedia).
Policy on indigenous education was primarily based on assimilation and colonisation. Assimilation was carried out by removing children from their parents and families to “educate” and to be deculturalised and isolate them where “children had to be caught young” (1879 Devin Report).
Residential School (RS) system run by the Federal Government and the Church totally removed children from parents, who were not permitted to visit their children.
They in fact never saw their children again. Between1890-1970 over 100,000 children were forced to attend 139 RS. Half the day they had no education but menial work in school, barns, and farms. It was slave labour and hardly any time for education.
Girls were taught to cook, sew, and household work to become maids. Eventually, when they left school after 10 years, their level of knowledge and education was at the level of a Grade two child. In the final count over 70 percent of children were tortured, sexually abused by school teachers, priests, and nuns. This is cultural genocide at its best!
These children were unable to adjust to an alien space and society nor were they able to receive higher education or skills.
They often resorted to larceny, drug and alcohol addiction, ending up as urban poor and plantation workers and often without livelihood as urban poor.
The memory of their cultural past was obliterated and abuse blocked out the indigenousness. School leaving children who lacked family love, parental guidance, and poor family life and pauperised in turn also resorted to child abuse of their own children.
Five generations of children went through this school system and the next generation of indigenous people was diluted and devastated and had no identity. Only in 2008 did the Prime Minister of Canada, Steven Harper, apologised to the indigenous people, again too late. Similarly, the Australian Prime Minister too apologised for the wrong done to the indigenous people only in 2008.
“It has been very trying for Indigenous populations to have their existence annulled—that’s what the last 150 years have been. The 150th anniversary has to be marked by the fact that things have to change. We must confront our colonial thinking and attitudes and redefine what Canadian-ness means. We must move beyond the false notion that Canada was founded by the French and the English, recognising that we started off with the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, and have become a society that thrives on diversity and knows how to share resources fairly among everyone.” – Karla Jessen Williamson (Inuk),
Will the pro-LTTE Diaspora convey this dark history to their children by instructing them on Sri Lanka’s imagined genocide and sweep under the carpet the history of their White Master’s ugly history? They are only perpetuating the White Man’s history and not looking at their own history taught in the school system (Justice Murray Sinclair).
Quotes About School And Learning – About Quotes g
Narrative 2: French separatist movement.
The Quebec Sovereignty Movement (Mouvement souverainiste du Québec) emerged in the 1960s as a political movement and presented its ideology advocating an independent movement for the province of Quebec.
Its antecedents ran to a much earlier period. The 1837 Patriots Rebellion was the first attempt by French Canadians to overthrow British dominance since 1760 conquest.
An entire literature has grown up around the theme of the exploitation of the French-Canadian people. Until the II World War, the French-Canadians, who constituted more than two-sevenths of the population, disposed of only one-seventh of the wealth.
Thirty-one richest mines, twelve were owned by Anglo-Canadians and nineteen by Americans. The 497 mining companies listed employed a grand total of seven French-Canadian engineers (“French Canada and the war”. TE Wood. VQR.1940). It is their ethnic and language identity that propelled the French-speaking Canadians to move towards separation. In 1969 the FLQ stepped up its campaign of violence with the October Crisis. The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange, and in 1970 the FLQ kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was later murdered. The silent repression that followed is not popularly recorded.
Many of Quebec’s francophones felt that the 1982 constitution significantly eroded their status and powers and threatened their survival as a people. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically acknowledges the multicultural character of Canada.
The tension between the bi-communal and emerging multicultural aspects of Canadian society and politics is at the root of the current threat to Canada’s survival as a country. (Vol. XVII No. 2, Fall 1997 Ethnic Structure, Conflict Processes and the Potential for Violence and Accommodation in Canada. by David E. Schmitt). Here is another thread in history the pro-LTTE school book may wish to include. They may well borrow Charles de Gaulle’s famous slogan expressed in Montreal during a state visit to Canada,”Vive le Québec libre!” only with a slight twist, “Vive le Scarborough libre!”
The Canadian Right Pushes Away The Québécois Left – AN SIONNACH FIONN
Narrative 3: Environment and genocide
New court challenge launched against Trans Mountain pipeline expansion – Vancouver Is Awesome
One of the focus areas of colonialism was its predatory expansion into land held by indigenous people that had resources of water, precious metal and minerals, supply of fish, animal skins and furs, and by the mid19th Century striking crude oil.
The height of eviction of indigenous people, massacres, forced sterilisation, enhanced expansion of industrial (Residential) schools coincided with this period. They were placed in reservations and had little ownership over their traditional land. The First Nation or indigenous people are yet alienated from their land and resources and are on a relentless confrontation with the Federal government of Canada. To cite some case studies. The Aamjiwnaang First Nation community has expressed concern regarding its proximity to chemical plants over a falling birth rate. This is due to the adverse effects of maternal and exposure to the effluent and emissions of the nearby chemical plants.
Protests broke out in many parts of Canada including Wet’suwet’en community, triggered off by arrests of dozens of protesters on traditional indigenous land along a route for TC Energy Corp’s TRP pipeline.
The flashpoint was police arrests that started in northern British Columbia of protesters who opposed the pipeline’s construction on the traditional land of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous people.
Some 28 percent of the pipeline route runs through Wet’suwet’en lands.
“Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, whose province depends on oil and gas revenue, called for police to step up enforcement, saying the protests are about ideology that is opposed to fossil fuels, not indigenous issues”. (Reuters Feb. 13th 2020).
In addition to pipelines, coal deposits, salmon fishing zones and timber growing areas are on or adjacent to indigenous residential areas. There is a constant conflict between these communities and investors who are covertly supported by authorities.
The worst of it comes from the conduct of Canadian companies outside Canada (see Report to UN Committee in Mining Companies Pervasive abuse against women Oct. 4th, 2016. The Mining watch/Canada) Human rights advocates’ report shows that the government has actively supported abusive companies, rather than holding them accountable (Ottawa/Washington, D.C.)
“A majority of the world’s mining companies, operating at over 8000 sites in over 100 countries, are headquartered in Canada. Many of these mines are also sites of serious human rights violations, including direct violence against local women and environmental degradation.
One recent study found that Canada’s mining companies are involved in such abuses and conflict more than any other country.
The report, submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), charges that Canada has been supporting and financing mining companies involved in discrimination, rape, and violence against women in their operations abroad, when it should be holding those companies accountable for the abuse”.
I hope this part of environmental and human degradation will be taught to the Diaspora school program enlightening the students of the violence and abuses supported by the magnanimous state of Canada while it sheds tears of genocide against Sri Lanka over the fallen heroes of LTTE!
The greatest hope and asset to the Tamil-speaking Diaspora is their children, the next generation. Let their minds open up to the world, inquire, question, and think for themselves. This is all about education and not something that is poured into one’s head tainted with biases and prejudices. Let them be exposed to their parents’ and grandparents’ place of origin and learn for themselves what Sri Lanka is and its inclusive history and heritage.
This account does not point the finger at all resident individuals of the Tamil-speaking Diaspora. I personally know of high-end professionals, intellectuals, and friends who are very close and dear to me. Some of them cannot voice their sentiments in an invisible draconian social environment that has taken root over 40 odd years making them a potential “voice of the voiceless”. This is in some ways is dedicated to such individuals who one day will rise up and question the residue of a fascist rule controlling their thoughts and mind. Please reach out to your brothers and sisters across the ocean in Sri Lanka and embrace us!
The writer is an Emeritus Professor. University of Peradeniya