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MICRO-HISTORIES

Tamil Protests

It’s been over 10 years since Toronto’s Tamil community took to the streets…and a highway, to protest a civil war which caused bloodshed back home.


Massive Tamil protest crowd
Image Source: Toronto Public Library Historical Newspapers/Toronto Star-Telegram.

In January of 2009 members of Toronto’s Tamil community held demonstrations to protest the Sri Lankan Government’s treatment of Tamil citizens.

The demonstrations started out small in both attendance and scale, but gained momentum among Toronto’s Tamil diaspora. Community members, many of which  hadn’t protested before, decided it was time to take action.

Tamil protesters carrying banners outside Union Station.
Image source: Toronto Star.

Their demands were:

  1. An end to the fighting
  2. Allow the World’s media into the conflict zone
  3. Intervention by the Canadian and U.S. Government.

Through the first few months of 2009 community members tried several tactics including sit-ins, hunger strikes, marches, rallies, and even a human chain of about 10,000 people. To no avail.

On May 10th an all night artillery barrage in Sri-Lanka killed more civilians and Tamil protestors once again took to the streets to march, working their way down Spadina Ave just before dusk.

What came next was unexpected, as protestors went up the Spadina ramp and onto the Gardiner. This bold move garnered a mixed reaction from members within the community and the public at large. They would spend the next six hours protesting, an occupying of space the city hadn’t seen before.

Tamil protesters carrying banners on the Gardiner Expressway.
Image source: Toronto Star.

A few more protests followed, including an estimated 12,000 person rally at Queen’s Park. And although the demonstrations in 2009 brought public awareness to the cause, their demands ultimately went unmet. The war continued and by the end of it tens of thousands were killed.

Although unsuccessful in their ultimate goal, many within the Tamil community credit those protests for creating life-changing engagement.

“We felt like a majority of [elected representatives] ignored us, and that led to people feeling like they need to be in positions of power as a community to be able to advance some of this dialogue.” Neethan Shan, former city councillor (CBC article, May 10, 2019).

 

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