History was made on 26 July 2023 when Sri Lanka born Gary Anandasangaree was appointed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Mniister of Crown –Indigenous Relations to his cabinet. Sathiyasangary Anandasangaree – who abbreviated his first name to Gary – will go down in Canadian history as the first Sri Lankan Tamil to become a Cabine tminister. Gary is the son of veteran Sri Lankan Tamil politician Veerasingham Anandasangaree.
Gary was one of seven new ministers inducted into the cabinet in a re-shuffle by Canada’s liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau. It is noteworthy that Gary placed his hand on the classical Tamil text “thirukkural”( sacred couplets) while being sworn in as a minister. The Thirukkural is a book of lofty maxims and is regarded by many Tamils as the “Thamizhmarai” or Tamil scripture.
Gary Anandasangaree has been a member of the Canadian Parliament (House of Commons) since 2015. He has been elected thrice on the Liberal Party ticket from the federal electoral district of Scarborough -Rouge Park in the province of Ontario.Prior to being appointed to the cabinet, Gary served as Parliamentary Secretary to three different ministers at different times.
The minister of Crown –Indigenous Relations is basically in charge of the affairs of Canada’s indigenous people and the lands reserved for indigenous people. The indigenous people are Inuits,Metis and the First Nations.There are 634 different bands or groups classified as First Nations.
The ministry’s mandate is to”renew the nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis; modernize Government of Canada structures to enable Indigenous peoples to build capacity and support their vision of self-determination; and lead the Government of Canada’s work in the North”.
In addition to being Canada’s first Sri Lankan Tamil cabinet minister , Gary is also Canada’s second Hindu cabinet minister. The first Hindu cabinet minister is Anita Indira Anand who was appointed by PM Trudeau as the federal minister of public service and procurement in 2019.She is currently the President of the Treasury board in the cabinet. Anita Anand is of Tamil -Punjabi parentage. Both parents are medical doctors from India. Her father V.Anand is from Tamil Nadu while her mother is from Punjab.
Even though Gary is the first Tamil cabinet minister, he is not the first Sri Lankan Tamil member of Parliament. That laurel went to Sri Lanka born Rathika Sitsabaiesan in 2011. She was elected to Parliament from the Scarborough -Rouge river constituency on the New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket. In 2015, she contested the Scarborough North riding and lost.
Gary Anandasangaree is the youngest son of former Kilinochchi and Jaffna MP and secretary-general of the Tamil United Liberation fFont (TULF) Veerasingham Anandasangaree. The veteran Tamil political leader has a son and two daughters by his first wife. After her demise, Sangaree married Gary’s mother Satgunawathie known widely as Yogam.
Gary was initially named Sathiyasangary. He shortened it to Gary later. Gary’s father and his male siblings were all named Sangaree by their father Veerasingham a respected school principal. Each one’s name ended as Sangary or Sangaree. This practice was followed by Veerasingham master’s sons also. They named their sons Sangaree/ry. Hence Gary was named Sathiyasangary and his elder brother who also lives in Canada was named Jeyasangary .Likewise other male cousins also have names ending as Sangarees or Sangary.
Sathiyasangary was born in Jaffna on 14 October 1972. He had his primary schooling in Atchuvely. In fact Gary’s “Aedu Thuvakkal” (an auspicious ceremony for a child commencing studies) was conducted by his paternal grandfather Veerasingham himself. However Gary’s parents got estranged after some years and split up in 1980. Gary’s mother relocated with him to Ireland where she had relatives.
Mother and son planned to return to Sri Lanka in July 1983. The eruption of “Black July” altered their life drastically. Young Gary had his first taste of a political demonstration at the age of ten. Along with his mother, other Sri Lankan Tamils and sympathisers, Gary participated in a demonstration in Dublin. He distributed leaflets and carried a placard condemning the anti – Tamil pogrom of July 1983
With hopeful plans of returning home to Sri Lanka being shattered by Black July and fearfully anxious about the future, Mrs.Anandasangaree and son Sathiyasangary decided to seek refuge in Canada. They arrived in Canada on 31 August 1983.
New Life in Canada
Seeking a new life in Canada was an uphill task.Yogam worked hard as a “single mother” to raise and educate her son. Sathiyasangary transformed himself into Gary and studied earnestly. Graduating from High school, Gary entered Carleton University in Canada’s capital city ,Ottawa. He obtained a BA (Hons) degree in Political Science in 1996. Returning to Toronto, Gary qualified as a registered estate agent and engaged in real estate business.
After a while he enrolled at the Toronto Osgoode Hall Law School which is the Law faculty of York University. After obtaining a LLB degree,Gary Anandasangaree was called to the bar in 2006. Gary received the Osgoode Hall Law School “One to Watch” Gold Key Award in 2005.
Retiring from Real Estate, Gary set up his own law firm ‘ Gary Anandasangaree and Associates’ in Scarborough,Ontario.The firm specialized in commercial , real estate legal matters, and international human rights law. As an ardent champion of human rights, Gary regularly represented Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada at the United Nations. He also served as a strong advocate for local youth, intervening in cases of wrongful student expulsion and suspension. Gary was the recipient oft he South Asian Bar Association’s Young Practitioner Award.
Apart from law, Gary involved himself in community welfare activities also.He has served as Chair of the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre, President of the Canadian Tamils’ Chamber of Commerce, and counsel to the Canadian Tamil Congress. He was also a board member of the Youth Challenge Fund, a member of the Toronto Police Chief’s Advisory Board, and a member of the United Way Newcomers Grant Program.
In honour of his devotion to community service and local advocacy, Anandasangaree has received both the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He has also been awarded the TREB Award and Henry Marshall Tory Award for Service.
Being interested in politics from his student days, Gary Anandasangaree joined Canada’s Liberal Party. He sought nomination from the party to contest the newly created riding (electorate) of Scarborough-Rouge Park. The constituency in the eastern part of Scarborough contains the neighbourhoods of Morningside Heights, Rouge, Port Union, West Rouge, Highland Creek, West Hill (east of Morningside Avenue) and Malvern (east of Neilson Road). Around 15% of the population is Tamil speaking.
Gary Anandasangaree was the Liberal Party candidate for Scarborough – Rouge Park in the 2015 Federal elections. He won polling 29,913 (60.24%)votes. Gary repeated his performance again at the 2019 elections by getting 31,360 (62.2%)votes. He won for the third time in succession at the 2021 elections garnering 28, 102 (62.8%) votes.
What is significant about Gary’s hat trick victory in Scarborough -Rouge park is that he polled more than 60 % of the vote in all three elections. Moreover 85 % of the constituency are non -Tamils. Therefore it is obvious that Gary has got support from all ethnicities and not Tamils alone. Ironically several Tamils claiming to be Ultra- Tamil nationalists backed the Conservative party candidates unsuccessfully against the liberal candidate Gary in all three elections.
Though Gary Anandasangaree became a cabinet minister only a few days ago, the Scarborough -Rouge Park MP has previously served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism (Multiculturalism).
Gary Anandasangaree is married to Harini Sivalingam a lawyer herself. She is the daughter of N.Sivalingam a former President of the Tamil Eelam Society in Canada. They have two daughters named Bhairavi and Sahana after two classical Ragas in both Carnatic and Hindustani music.
Gary and Harini belong to the second generation of Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada. Both have been extremely concerned about the plight of fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka. They are Tamil Canadians who ardently campaign against the alleged violation of Human rights in Sri Lanka..
When Gary Anandasangaree sought nomination as a Liberal party candidate , he issued a statement about himself and what he stood for. The statement addressed Tamil Canadians in general and Scarborough -Rouge Park voters in particular. It summarised Gary’s political philosophy and goals. Here are some relevant excerpts –
To the Tamil Community
“The past few weeks have been rough—to say the least. When I announced my intention to seek the federal Liberal nomination in Scarborough Rouge Park last October, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I have a young family, a 3 and 5 year old; but the desire to contribute to the development and growth of this country is what drove me to enter public life. I also knew that while I have worked hard on many social issues in Canada, my defining link would be to the Tamil community. I write this note now to the members of the Tamil community, to explain to you my vision for the future.”
“I am a Tamil Nationalist”
“I am a Tamil nationalist—through and through. I don’t have to say it—I have lived it. I have worked on issues of Tamil rights since I was ten years old, when I used to distribute flyers for protests. I led demonstrations in Ottawa in the 1980’s. I have organized hundreds of meetings to educate other Canadians on issues relevant to our community, both here and abroad. In my adult years, I became an advocate on every major issue relating to Tamils in Canada – labeling us as terrorists, gang violence, negative portrayal in the media, challenges in the workplace, refugee issues, demonstrations, and justice and accountability in Sri Lanka.”
“I fundamentally believe that Tamils living in the North and East of the island require a new political framework. This framework must be decided by Tamils who live in the North and East, and which includes many options, including a federal structure, a confederate structure, or a free independent state.”
“ I also believe this project should never again deteriorate into violence—it must be achieved within a democratic political framework. I have many close friends and family members who have died to achieve these aims; I routinely attend commemorations to honour those who died fighting for the Tamil nation, including my own family members. To honour them, we must find other ways to advance our issues.”
In 2009, Tamils around the world fell into a collective depression watching our kith and kin die—die for just being Tamils. We also saw the whole world watch the unfolding genocide with a careless disdain. The LTTE was defeated, but then what of the 300,000 people that were interned? What about crimes committed? What would happen to the Tamils? How do they, and we, get justice?
Letter to the UN
“After thinking about this for weeks, my wife wrote a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights—a letter that changed the course of my life. As a result of this, we went to Geneva in March of 2009. We invited several other Tamils from different parts of the world to attend this meeting. We made our case to the UNHRC Chief, Navi Pillai. Over the course of the next five years, I went to Geneva regularly—sometimes, both Harini and our toddler and I would go. “
“We went for one singular reason—we could do more in Geneva with our skill sets than anywhere else. Yes we could protest—and we have. We could write blogs. We could get on every stage with hundreds or even thousands of Tamils and convince ourselves that we are on the right track. We could organize conferences, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, we could do radio shows and TV shows, do call-ins, and just speak to and amongst the Tamil community. Maybe we should have done more of that. But we didn’t.”
“Instead, we focused on the issue of international accountability and were relentless. No one person can take credit for the resolutions in Geneva. Some have said that even if I hadn’t taken part, these resolutions would have gone through. And they are likely right. However the point is, over the course of 30 odd visits to the UNHRC, we were pursuing what we believe to be the right path—that is to seek accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against Tamil peoples.”
“ I have been mischaracterized on the issue of genocide. It is true that I have not said the word genocide with every other breath—I have used the term strategically. However, the fact that the current investigation includes an investigation into genocide speaks for itself—and this did not happen by accident. I have written and said that genocide took place against Tamils in Sri Lanka, and I have also explained the challenges in proving it from a legal standpoint, yet that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. To all those who have singularly pointed out that I deny genocide took place, you have either been lied to, or are lying yourself and abusing an important issue for your own political ends.”
we must build a vibrant, strong, and powerful community that commands respect from others, contributes greatly to society and to this country and advocates for justice for Tamils around the world, including both within Canada and the North and East of Sri Lanka. We need to build, and expect, leaders who are informed, articulate, and strong.”
Path of Non-violence
“We need to follow a path of non-violence and express solidarity with others who share similar struggles. We need to challenge all our latent ism’s—sexism, racism, casteism, classism, homophobia, and so on. We need to stop being only outside barricades—and be also at the table where decisions are made. All of us need to be part of this. We need to stop promoting someone just because they are Tamil—but support them because they are competent”.
Be Part of Canada as Tamil Canadians
“For those who believe that we can proudly be part of Canada, and at the same time, be Tamil-Canadians, please join me as I seek the Liberal Party Nomination in Scarborough-Rouge Park. Let’s built a new vision for our community and our country!
Gary Anandasangaree’s committed campaign to seek accountability for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka seemed to have succeeded to some extent in Canada in May last year. Canada’s House of Commons (Parliament) unanimously adopted a motion recognising May 18 as “Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day” making it the first parliament in the world to do
so. It is indeed noteworthy that the motion was passed unanmously bu Govt and Opposition. Such unanimity required intensive lobbying and there is little doubt about who the key person in this campaign would have been. Incidently Gary was refused a Visa to vist Sri Lanka some weeks ago.
Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day
The motion about Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day. stated that “this House acknowledges the Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and recognizes May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day”.
Gary Anandasangaree who brought forward the motion tweeted then – “Today, the Canadian parliament unanimously passed a motion to recognize May 18th as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.On this very important day, Canada becomes the first national parliament in the world to recognize May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.”
“This is the culmination of years of hard work and advocacy by so many members of the Tamil community, survivors, family members of survivors, and the many jurisdictions that recognized the genocide of Tamils,” stated Gary Anandasangaree, in a press release.
Speaking at a press conference shortly after the motion was passed, Gary Anandasangaree said “This a very historical day for the Tamil community, not just in Canada but around the world. This motion today, a unanimous consent motion brought forward to the House, acknowledges the genocide of the Tamil people and recognises Tamil genocide Remembrance Day,It is the first recognition of its kind anywhere in the world.”
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
This is an updated version of the “DBS Jeyaraj Column”appearing in the “Daily Mirror”of 29th July 2023.