by Stewart Bell–
TORONTO — Canada’s public safety minister said Thursday he was “shocked and appalled” after a New Democratic Party MP rose in the House of Commons to commemorate Tamil Heroes Day, which honours fallen Tamil Tigers rebels.
Steven Blaney urged Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a Sri Lankan-born rookie MP, to apologize “to veterans and all Canadians” for her statement that called the day “an important event” and likened it to Remembrance Day.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan’s statement
“Mr. Speaker as Canadians of Tamil heritage in November we commemorate two important events, Remembrance Day and the Tamil Heroes Day. This month symbolizes the beauty of life because we remember all those who sacrifice their lives for the rest of us to live in peace and freedom. We remember that each and every one of the people who have been caught in the crossfires of war throughout the ages have embraced life over death but those who made the ultimate sacrifice ensured that we who survived would be able to live with dignity and with liberties. This month provides us with the occasion not only to remember and pay tribute to the heroes but also to reflect on the lessons of the struggle for justice, peace and a life free from discrimination. Sadly on the island country of Sri Lanka where I was born as a child of war the discrimination and injustices continue and the ethnic and religious minorities continue to live without peace and in fear. Mr. Speaker let us always work for peace at home and abroad and as always support those who put their lives on the line. From the bottom of my heart I thank you all lest we forget.”
Held each Nov. 27, Tamil Heroes Day was created by the Tamil Tigers to mark the date the first member of the armed separatist group was killed in combat. The rebel boss Velupillai Prabhakaran traditionally gave a defiant speech on that day.
“Tamil Heroes Day is dedicated to the glorification of the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known more commonly as the Tamil Tigers,” said Mr. Blaney, pointing out the Tigers are on Canada’s list of designated terrorist entities.
“I am shocked and appalled that an NDP member of Parliament would not only endorse the celebration of terrorists, but would also equate it to the solemn occasion of Remembrance Day where we honour our fallen Canadian heroes.”
He called on Ms. Sitsabaiesan, the MP for Scarborough-Rouge River, “to stop shopping for votes from terrorist-linked groups, and to immediately apologize to veterans and all Canadians for these comments.”
In an email Thursday, Ms. Sitsabaiesan said she was not supporting terrorism or encouraging violence. “Rather, as the first Tamil MP elected, I join Tamil-Canadians and all across our country in mourning those who have died in wars at home or abroad, and in supporting those who work tirelessly for the cause of peace.”
But photographs of a Heroes Day event held Thursday in Markham, Ont., and posted on the Facebook page of the Tamil Youth Organization-Canada, showed the Tamil Tigers’ militaristic flag and visitors walking past a wall of portraits of men and women in rebel uniforms.
During their three-decade campaign for Tamil independence, the Tigers conducted hundreds of suicide bombings and assassinated moderate Tamil leaders as well as Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian prime minister. They were crushed by Sri Lankan forces in 2009.
Tamil Youth Organization – Canada/FacebookA Tamil Heroes Day event held in Markham, Ont., on Nov. 27, 2014..
The Tigers have been a designated terrorist group under Canadian law since 2006, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dismantled the group’s branch offices in Toronto and Montreal, which had raised millions to support the conflict. A half-dozen Toronto-area men were convicted of supplying arms and equipment to the rebels.
Since the fighting ended five years ago, Heroes Day has become, for some, a day to reflect on the toll of the brutal civil war, which not only decimated the Tigers but also killed an untold number of civilians. But on his website, Sri Lanka-Canadian journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj wrote Heroes Day “is not and has never been a national day of Tamil mourning.” Rather, it was “an intensely conducted partisan event ‘of the Tigers, for the Tigers and by the Tigers.’ ”
A video of Ms. Sitsabaiesan’s speech in the Commons Tuesday was posted on her YouTube page. It showed her reading from a prepared statement that began, “Mr. Speaker as Canadians of Tamil heritage in November we commemorate two important events, Remembrance Day and the Tamil Heroes Day. This month symbolizes the beauty of life because we remember all those who sacrifice their lives for the rest of us to live in peace and freedom.”
Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary of foreign affairs and international human rights, said there was no denying ethnic Tamils faced discrimination in Sri Lanka, “but you can’t compare Remembrance Day to Tamil Heroes Day.”
The Calgary MP said it was “a disservice to veterans” to make such a parallel.
“I think it needs to be pointed out to her that you can’t compare the two, you can’t compare a terrorist organization to people who have fought for core Canadian values,” he said.
[Original caption: NDP MP commemorates event honouring fallen Tamil Tigers, likens it to Remembrance Day in parliament]