Last Saturday (November 20) saw a group of self-styled political activists create a ruckus and disrupt a public meeting in the Scarborough area of Toronto City in Canada. The incident -though distorted and misreported in sections of the media – received wide publicity in Sri Lanka. Moreover it has generated a multi-faceted debate through social media within and outside Sri Lanka. This is because the Toronto fracas involved Sri Lankan Tamils and Canadian Tamils of Sri Lankan origin. The event organizers, audience, troublemakers and their targets were all Tamils. In short it was a homegrown “ Lankan Tamil tussle”transplanted on Canadian soil.
The Novemnber 20 meeting was organized by the Canada Tamil National Alliance (CTNA). The chief speakers were two Tamil National Alliance MP’s from Sri Lanka. They were Jaffna district MP Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran and Batticaloa District MP Shanakiyan Ragul Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam. A group consisting mainly of men and a few women carrying the tiger flags of the proscribed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and placards engaged in a protest outside the meeting venue. Although slogans were shouted against both the Tamil MP’s, the primary or main target of the demonstration was Sumanthiran. The placards almost exclusively attacked the Jaffna MP who is also the TNA spokesperson. The protest demonstration was supposedly staged by an outfit calling itself “Canadia Thamizhar Munnani” (Canadian Tamil Front)
Some of the disruptive elements had infiltrated the meeting hall as part of the audience. They were joined in stages later by others. Shaanakiyan spoke without much disturbance. He received loud applause. But when Sumanthiran began speaking there was a lot of commotion. Despite the presence of private security personnel as well as Police officers , chaotic conditions prevailed. Pandemonium reigned.Sumanthiran was “compelled” to wind up his speech early. The meeting ended abruptly.
Real Reason for TNA Visit
As stated earlier the Toronto incident has received and continues to receive mainstream media publicity. There are also multiple posts and related discussion over social media. What is sad about this episode is that a disguting sideshow enacted by a mob claiming to be tigers or LTTE affiliates has taken the focus away from more important issues. The targeting of MA Sumanthiran and to a lesser extent Shanakiyan Rasamanickam by tigerish elements in Canada has diverted attention from the real reason for the visit by both TNA parliamentarians to North America.
Sumanthiran has in the past made several trips o the US and Canada. This visit was the first he made to North America after being re- elected as Jaffna district MP at the 2020 August poll. Likewise it was also the first trip to North America for Shanakiyan as a Sri Lankan parliamentarian. Shanakiyan was elected MP for the first time at last year’s election. An important point to note is that Sumanthiran topped the preference votes gained by TNA candidates in the Jaffna administrative district while Shanakiyan did the same in the Batticaloa administrative district. As such there was much interest among TNA supporters within the global Tamil Diaspora to interact with the MP’s from the North and the East.
As is well known the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is the premier political configuration representing the Tamils of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. The TNA comprising the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK), Tamil Eelam Liberation Orgnization (TELO) and the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam(PLOTE) has ten MP’s from all the five North Eastern electoral districts in the current Parliament. Six of the ten MP’s are from the ITAK while the TELO and PLOTE have three and one each respectively.The TNA contests elections under the House symbol of the ITAK. Therefore the visit of two TNA parliamentarians evoked much interest among members of the Tamil Dispora. Many wanted to meet them.
Three Member TNA Delegation
However the primary purpose of the trip to North America by Sumanthiran and Shanakiyan was not to meet Diaspora supporters. It had a more important objective. Sumanthiran led a three member TNA delegation for discussions on Constitutional and legal issues with US officials in Washington and UN Officials in New York. “Legal Eagle” Kanaganayagam Kanag -Isvaran PC and Law Professor Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan were the other members of the TNA team.. The former is the son of All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) ex – Senator S. R. Kanaganayagam while the latter is the daughter and daughter -in- law of Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Ktchi(ITAK) Co-founders and former MP’s Dr. E.M.V. Nganathan and S.J. V. Chelvanayagam QC respectively.
Representatives of Tamil Diaspora Organizations from the USA, Canada, UK and Australia were also associated with the TNA in discussions with officials in the US. Incidently the TNA in Sri Lanka has much support among sections of the Tamil Diasora in these four countries namely Canada,UK, Australia and the USA. Shanakiyan Rasamanickam was not part of the official TNA delegation to the USA and was not involved in talks. However Shanakiyan underook a private visit to the USA to meet with relatives, friends, well- wishers and supporters.
“Rising Star” of Tamil Politics.
Both Sumanthiran and Shanakiyan were engaged in another political mission after the talks concluded in the US. Both were scheduled to have talks with Foreign ministry officials relevant to Sri Lanka and a cross section of Parliamentarians in Canada and the UK. The visits to Canada and Britain were arranged with the blessings of the respective envoys in Colombo, High Commissioners David Mckinnon of Canada and Sarah Hulton of the UK. There has been much regard for Sumanthiran among the diplomatic corps in Colombo which feels comfortable in communicating and interacting with the MP who is also the ITAK secretary in charge of legal, Constitutional and Diplomatic affairs.Keen interest was also evinced by the two High Commissioners that the “rising star” of Tamil politics, Shanakiyan Rasamanickam should accompany Sumanthiran to Ottawa and London.
Meeting Lord Tariq Ahmad
Available news reports indicate that the Official engagements of the Sumanthiran-Shanakiyan duo in Canada and Britain have been rather fruitful. They held talks in separate meetings with 12 Canadian MP’s and several officials of Global Affairs, Canada but were unable to meet with the new Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly. The two TNA parliamentarians also engaged in talks with British Foreign Ministry officials but not with Liz Truss the secretary of Sate for foreign, commonwealth and development ffairs. However in whaat was perhaps the highlight of the UK visit, Sumanthiran and Shanakkiyan met with Lord Ahmad – Minister of State for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth. Lord Tariq Ahmad was to tweet about the meeting later saying “We discussed upholding human rights, post conflict accountability and reconciliation, as well as the importance of respecting the rights of all minorities”. More meetigs with UK officials and MP’s are reportedly in the pipeline.
The meetings, discussions and talks held by the TNA in the USA, Canada and UK are of great political significance. The USA that withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council under President Donald Trump is back with a bang in Geneva under President Joe Biden. It was the US which spearheaded efforts at the UNHRC in Geneva to pass resolutions on Sri Lanka. The UK and Canada are part of the Core Group of Six Countries responsible for the latest resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. The focus of the Western nations in the past has been on accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka. They have not dwelt too much on a power sharing political solution or a negotiated settlement.
In what appeared to be an unwritten understanding there seemed to have been a division of labour between the West and India relating to Sri Lanka. Hitherto it was Sri Lanka’s big neighbour India that focused on the need for power sharing and a political solution. New Delhi’s Sri Lanka policy rests on the twin pillars of unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka on the one hand and power sharing through greater devolution on the other. The Latest UNHRC resolution (46/1) passed in March this year concerns itself with Human Rights and Political settlement issues. There seems to be a convergence between Indian and Western approaches towards Sri Lanka.
Shifting Global Power Equations
Moreover there are shifts in global power equations with the US and key Western Nations finding common cause in combatting the aggressive global power China. Furthermore India, Japan and Australia together with the US have formed the QUAD with the aim of containing China’s growing ambitions in the Asia-pacific region. Though too early to predict, there is a possibility that the USA and India may work in tandem to bring about a lasting solution in Sri Lanka.
What the TNA is trying to do is to hasten this process. The TNA in talks in the US, Canada and UK has emphasized the need for these countries to focus on evolving a political settlement also without jettisoning involvement in accountability issues. At the same time the TNA is sensitive to India’s concerns about greater Western involvement also. The Indian High Commissions in Colombo and London have already been kept informed of matters in ths regard. In addition MA Sumanthiran met with the Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu in Washington and informed him on the progress in the on going discussions. The TNA parliamentarian also met with the Indian ambassador to the United Nations , T. S. Trimurti, in New York and briefed him of the talks in the US. Both envoys were reportedly supportive of the TNA’s discussions in the US. Incidently both Sandhu and Trimurty have been diplomats in Sri Lanka serving as High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner respectively.
Sumanhiran’s Politico-Diplomatic Initiatives
All these initiatives by MA Sumanthiran are indicative of the politico – diplomatic change of direction being pursued by the TNA with the sanction and blessings of veteran leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan. These matters will be delved into in greater detail in a forthcoming article. However the references to the discussions in the US, Canada and UK with special mention of Sumanthiran is to draw attention to the major objective of the TNA in visiting these countries. Sumanthiran’s key task has been to interact with officials and political representatives of the US, Canada and UK and press the case for a greater role by the West in forging a durable political solution based on maximum devolution. At the same time he had be to be mindful of India’s sensitivity in this respect. It is a difficult , tightrope walking exercise.The information available at this juncture indicates that Sumanthiran has performed well so far.
As this writer stated earlier the fundamental objective of the Sumanthiran-Shanakiyan visit to Canada was to engage in talks with officials and MP’s in Ottawa. This has been done. The dividends gained by the TNA in these political ventures in the US, Canada and UK will be known in the days to come. As for now it is a case of mission accomplished. Engaging with members of the Canadian Tamil Diaspora was only a related secondary act. However the ruckus created by a mob claiming to be LTTE or LTTE supporters has been a sideshow diverting focus from the sublime to the ridiculous.
It is important to note that the disruption of the TNA meeting in Toronto was not an isolated act. Although both Sumanthiran and Shanakiyan were targeted , the real quarry of the protesters was the Jaffna MP and not the Batticaloa parliamentarian. Shanakiyan himself acknowledged this fact during his Toronto speech by referring in lighter vein to the saying in Tamil about gingelly/Indian sesame seeds drying in the sun to become oil. The sole intention of the “Canadian Tamil Front” protesters was to prevent Sumnthiran from speaking and if possible tarnish his reputation. Again it must be recognized that the “Toronto Turmoil” was only part of a deliberate pattern of attacks against Sumanthiran in the past.
Sumanthiran has been viciously criticized by Tamil politicians within and outside his party.He is the favourite whipping boy of rowdy elements masquerading as Tamil media personnel in Sri Lanka and abroad. The MP who was twice elected by the voters of Jaffna is constantly attacked by Tamil Diasporic elements posing as Eelamist patriots. Several abortive assassination attempts – financed by “tigers” in the Diaspora- have been made on his life. Since I have written extensively on such matters in the past, I will refrain from elaborating further in this respect.
In the current context, Sumanthiran was the target of vituperative attacks and hostile propaganda from the time it was known that he was leading a TNA delegtion to the US. Some of the attacks were extremely puerile. It was stated that there were no official talks and that Sumanthiran was undertaking a personal joy ride at his own expense. When news of meetings with US officials became known, attempts were made to undermine them as being talks of no consequence held with inconsequential officials.
Lots of “Muttai”on Their Faces
When official tweets were put out by the US, confirming the nature and scope of the talks a lot of Sumanthiran’s Tamil detractors were left with lots of “Muttai” on their faces. Chief among these was a “lotus king”personality based in the US who heads a single member letter head organization with fluctuating claims of being supportive of Hilary Clinton, John Mccain, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
It was against this backdrop of a successful political mission to the US that Sumanthiran arrived in Canada. Among events organized in Canada was a public meeting in the Scarborough area of Toronto featuring both MP’s as speakers. A pro-tiger outfit held a protest demonstration outside the venue and later disrupted the meeting. Much has been reported about the controversial event but not all of it he reports re true or correct. Before narrating in detail about what exactly happened on November 20, I want to provide some background details.
Canada Tamil National Alliance
The Tamil National Alliance functioning in Canada is not a branch of the Sri Lankan TNA but an autonomous entity registered as a non profit organization in Canada. Formed in 2010, it bears the name Canada Tamil National Alliance . The members of the TNA in Canada are basically supporters and well- wishers of the TNA in Sri Lanka. Most of the membership comprises persons who were members or supporters of the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK) and/or the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) while living in Sri Lanka. Some of them supported the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) in Canada when the war was going on.
Today the Canada TNA is firmly backing the TNA in Sri Lanka in the quest for a negotiated settlement that would provide equal rights for the Tamils in the Island and maximum devolution for the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It has also contributed generously to projects aimed at improving the living condiions of the War affected north and east of Sri Lanka.The President and driving force behind the TNA in Canada is Veluppillai Thangavelu a retired accountant. The secretary and treasurer are Vasanthakumar Thambirajah and Nageswaran Nadarajah respectively. The CanadaTNA has a 15 member executive committee inclusive of the President, Secretary and Treasurer.
To Be Continued
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an enhanced version of an article appearing in the “D.B.S.Jeyaraj Column” of the “Daily Mirror”dated November 27 2021.It can be accessed here –