May 23, 2009 in Writing
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May 23, 2009 · Writing

Toronto’s Tamils mourn at Queens Park

But do they need to hire a PR agency?

Last week, Sri Lanka was “liberated from terror” — or so the government claimed — but this result has come at the cost of almost 100,000 deaths over a quarter century.

Shine a light

Toronto’s Tamil community — dressed in black — came together for a candlelight vigil at Queen’s Park to mourn the losses. The size of the group was staggering; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a larger mass of people downtown.

Tamil candlelight vigil

Wandering through the crowds left me feeling that I was intruding on a very personal and visceral moment for a group of people who have been deeply hurt. Many cried; many yelled aggressively on mentions of Sri Lankan leaders.

Marching south

After a series of speeches and songs, the crowds turned south and began marching to the U.S. Consulate at Queen and University.

Tamil candlelight vigil

Strangely the march felt more like a dress rehearsal, with police officers coaching protestors through the process.

Tamil candlelight vigil

“You have to look good for the cameras,” the officer told the flag bearers as I got ready to take a shot. “Make sure to line up straight.”

To the young boy leading the march, he had a tip: “See that lane mark? Make sure to walk on it so you stay in the middle.”

What was missing were cameras. The Varsity’s news editor and I found ourselves alone at the front of the march, with no media in sight.

In fact, there was only one camera filming the head of the march – an operator was taping the whole march from the open trunk of a minivan. We asked the driver if they were media. “Police,” he replied in a quiet voice. Plainclothes officers, unmarked van — could they have been RCMP? Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the van.

But what’s the message?

But could one of the many motorists or pedestrians tied up by these protests give a good explanation of what’s so important?

If the only interaction I witnessed was any indication, not everyone is on the same page. “Terrorists,” yelled the angry pedestrian before scuttling off.

Tamil candlelight vigil

Technically, he was on to something — the Tamil Tigers have long been in the bad books of the international community and Canada considers them a terrorist organization. Yet, Tiger flags and portraits of their recently killed leader floated in the crowd with no obvious attempt to address qualms that observers might have.

There were few posters and chants to clarify the message of this protest. Simply crying “genocide” doesn’t cut it these days and most of the claims were vague and unqualified.

Even after being in the thick of things tonight, I don’t think I can really say whether the event was a separatist rally (the front of the parade consisted of a map of the Tamil State and a handful of Tiger flags), a mourning ceremony, or a call for international intervention.

In any case, for Torontonians inconvenienced by the chaos, it’s hard to understand quite what’s going on.

More photos

What, thought this post wouldn’t have a slideshow? Here it is:


This entry was written by Andrew Louis on May 23, 2009 and posted in Writing. It's tagged with , , .