You’d think that if the dreary weather, pouring rain, and heavy police presence weren’t enough to deter Tamil supporters from attending today’s demonstration, then getting arrested and thrown in jail would be.
Not so for Ali Mustafa.
Mustafa (who said he would prefer not having his photo taken) is a member of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, and although not Tamil, supports the idea of an independent Tamil state. He was arrested on April 29 shortly after he started speaking at a pro-Tamil rally in front of the US consulate.
Mustafa said right after he began speaking at the podium about the civil war in Sri Lanka, he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and put in a police cruiser. According to him, he was then taken to jail for four hours, strip-searched, and verbally berated for allegedly breaching the peace.
So if that didn’t stop him from attending today’s demonstration at the very same consulate he got arrested just over a week ago, it’s no surprise that a little rainfall didn’t either.
“We need to show the police and those in power that we will not be silenced, despite their efforts towards seeing the contrary,” Mustafa said.
“The only way we’ll get our message out is if we unite, until they know that if they come after me they’ll have to come after all of us, and we’ll be here every day, every week, and every month until we see peace and justice for Tamils.”
The rally featured speeches from various activism groups, and concluded in a human chain march down University Ave. It was organized by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Canadian Federation of Students, and others, and was part of a continuous, ongoing protest to get Canada to intervene in the Sri Lanka civil war between the Sinhalese government and Tamil minority.
But the Canadian government has labelled the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil’s military wing, a terrorist organization due to using tactics such as suicide bombing and has thus refused to offer aid.
In one of many protests over the last few months, hundreds of members of the Tamil community such as Suba Rasalingam showed their resilience, as they stood steadfast in the heavy rain to show their disdain for the government’s decision.
Rasalingam feels Canada needs to do more to stop the civil war in Sri Lanka, which has claimed thousands of civilian lives.
“The federal government needs to put more pressure on Sri Lanka to negotiate a permanent ceasefire,” she said. “We also need to raise awareness of the issue among the non-Tamil community.”
But some observers such as Nick Rezai are opposed to the protests.
He said for one, he feels they are not accomplishing much because the Canadian government will not support the LTTE as long as they allegedly commit terrorist acts.
“The (Tamil) tigers don’t have their hands clean, they have been responsible for many civilian casualties,” Rezai said. “Because of that, Canada won’t go near them.”
Secondly, he thinks the protests have simply got out of hand. The protests down University Ave., including yesterday’s, often number in the 1000’s, and, although largely peaceful, have resulted in the street getting shut down numerous times.
“Once or twice is one thing, but you can’t shut down a main street every other day,” he said. “It’s become too much.”
But Rasalingam countered that she feels it’s a necessary inconvenience to get people to think about what is happening in Sri Lanka.
“By us protesting in public we may block some streets, and be a nuisance to the community, but a lot of people do come out and listen to us,” she said. “This is more important to us than creating a traffic jam, because it’s a good cause.”
And like Mustafa, a bit of gloomy weather is the last thing that would stop Rasalingam from working towards that perceived good cause.
“We’ve experienced much worse weather than this, so it’s not a big deal,” she said. “We have been protesting since February, and we had snow up to our knees then, so the rain isn’t so bad.”