Just over a week ago, a couple of my colleagues and I appeared on a prominent Canadian talk show discussing our attempts, as both individuals and organizing members of the Young Canadians’ Peace Dialogue on Sri Lanka hosted by the Mosaic Institute, to find a middle ground with respect to the relationship of the Canadian Diaspora to the internal politics in Sri Lanka. Joining us on the show was Craig Scott, a renowned professor on international humanitarian law and R. Cheran, a high-profile Tamil Canadian academic and journalist.
Amongst both our friends and the wider Canadian community, the panel discussion has been acknowledged as an example of an exercise in ‘truth telling’ rather than ‘finger pointing.’ During the half-hour discussion, key points in relation to understanding the mentality of the Diaspora were raised such the role of ethnic affiliation in adopted sides and the emotional intensity felt in the Diaspora during the last stages in the war.
Perhaps more importantly, participants also pointed to issues that have arisen since the end of the war that continue to stoke the flames of conflict. For instance, reference was made to recent news reports suggest that Tamil Sri Lankans living inside the country are unable to participate in the widely-publicized economic reconciliation of conflict areas. Cheran also made mention of the increasing militarisation of the North and North East, where there is one soldier for every four persons in the Eastern province and a soldier for every three persons in the Northern Province.
Speaking on behalf of myself, the panel discussion and the preceding Young Canadians’ Peace Dialogue has opened up a space to start developing respectful relationships between the various Sri Lankan communities in Toronto. These relationships do not always mean agreement; me, my colleagues as well as our wider circle of friends have spent countless hours disagreeing on our political views and approaches to issue. However we are united in recognising our common humanity and the needs that continue to be expressed in our respective communities.
I am not going to pretend that our voice dominates the discourse in the larger Sri Lankan Diaspora. However I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the majority of the traditional leadership in the Toronto Sri Lankan community – Tamil and otherwise – do not know how to respond to our alternative approach to issues in Sri Lanka and positive interactions with each other. The number of our friends and supporters do continue to grow, attracted by the mutual respect that has been foundational to our interactions. We hope that in having the difficult but necessary conversations that advance the goal of peace – characterized by safety, security and justice for all communities – we continue to communicate our deep emotional bond to the beauty of Sri Lanka and the resilience of its incredible people.