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Two tales of Sri Lankans: 'Loss of humanitarian aspect and Canada's own historic benevolence towards the world's less-fortunate'

from the Opinion columns of The Ottawa Citizen

by Mohan Samarasinghe

A ship arrived in B.C. and tempers flared around dinner tables in suburban Ottawa.

Spurred by radio talk show hosts, many Canadians shed their benevolent skins and began bellowing that the 492 Tamil men, women and children who arrived on the smuggler-operated ship MV Sun Sea should be sent packing, back to sea.


Mohan Samarasinghe worries the Sri Lankan Canadian community is divided on status of refugees from the MV Sun Sea. Photograph by Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen, courtesy of: The Ottawa Citizen

Naturally, at the end of a global recession, Canadians worry that boatloads of refugees will take away from them valuable jobs, healthcare and even some of their pension money. Forgotten is that Canada is a country that has always accepted genuine refugees from around the world and is usually held in high regard for its handling of migrants.

A lesser visible dynamic of the Sun Sea saga is the role played by the immigrant communities, namely, Sri Lankan Canadians. Looking at the rhetoric that has evolved thus far,

it is almost as if there are no Sri Lankan Canadians; rather the community has been split in two. Now there are Tamil Canadians and Sinhalese Canadians, the latter being from the majority community in Sri Lanka, whose government crushed the rebellion that was spearheaded by the Tamil Tigers, recognized around the world as a terrorist organization, but revered by most Tamils as saviors.

Blood is thicker than water. The agony of old world conflicts are vividly alive for those who left the conflict behind and settled in the peaceful and comfortable Occident. When a ship carrying Tamil refugee claimants arrives in Canada, the people of this divided community scream two different tunes.

For the Tamil Canadians, these are their brethren, following the path of fellow Tamils who fled an oppressive majority in Sri Lanka and seeking to join their more fortunate relatives for a future of peace and prosperity. They feel Canada should exercise utmost compassion towards them irrespective of the method of their unceremonious arrival.

For the Sinhalese Canadians, this is the work of Tamil Tigers, or whatever is left of the rebel movement. They feel that the boat is tainted with the blood of terrorists, who wreaked havoc in their homeland for nearly 30 years. They feel the safety of Canadians and Canada's own security would be compromised if the claimants are allowed to roam free in Canada. They applaud the wider Canadian view that accepting these refugees will essentially erode the integrity of Canada's immigration system and that boatloads of other refugees would have already left ports in Somalia, Pakistan and elsewhere and are headed straight for the Great White North.

But sadly, the humanitarian aspect of this drama and Canada's own historic benevolence towards the world's less-fortunate folk seem to be lost on the latter group. Old wounds seem to have reappeared, as they unwittingly kick the ladder that helped many of them to get up here themselves. One would think that as these are Sri Lankans on the ship, there would be concern by Sri Lankan Canadians for their safety and what lay ahead for them. But there are few Sri Lankan Canadians when it comes to such issues; there are only Tamil Canadians and Sinhalese Canadians.

I don't mean to preach, but such incidents show us at our best and at our worst. As a Sri Lankan Canadian of Sinhalese origin, I say this hasn't been one of our best moments. I am disturbed when we urge Canadian authorities to shut the doors on a group of people, with whom we may have a beef from the past.

Refugees who knock on our door deserve a glass of water and a hearing. Canada has always done a darn good job of that. I have no doubt she will do so again. If only we let her.

Mohan Samarasinghe immigrated from Sri Lanka in 2005 and works as the legislative assistant to Calgary East MP Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs. [courtesy:]


It took great courage for 490 Tamil people to reach Canada in a tin-can of a vessel, drinking quarter liter water a day, for three months.

Canada should give them refugee status and show the world that they care about people who have endured so much. A good lot of the Tamils went through sheer hell at the hands of the Sinhalese savages. Given a chance over 80% of Tamils would flee Srilanka at this very moment.

Such is the situation there with kidnappings and killings still going on. Even the former Army Chief, a Sinhala who aspired to be President himself, is being kept in Prison and tortured by the Rajapakse thugs. The Rajapakse Goons are being propped up by fellow Goons in New Delhi.

Canada should see through the propaganda of the Srilankan Government. Let the 490 people be put though the process of immigration. At least give the boat people a chance to have a dignified life in Canada

Posted by: Vino | August 21, 2010 10:52 PM

"Old wounds seem to have reappeared, as they unwittingly kick the ladder that helped many of them to get up here themselves."

I don't know about you Mr. Mohan but Most Sinhalese Canadians don't claim to be "Refugees" and makes false claims of their motherland to become Canadians.

Posted by: SL | August 22, 2010 01:00 AM

To Vino - given the chance 80% of all Sri Lankans would flee Sri Lanka at this very moments. Emigrating to Canada would be just great!

Posted by: milo | August 22, 2010 07:15 AM

Mohan is an intrepid, unassuming and versatile journalist whom I had the privilege of working with at the Daily News. But wehen he took over the post of information counsellor I was disappointed he would be part of the government proganda machinery. But he has proved me wrong and proved beyond doubt he is an independent thinker.

His stay in Canada has enabled him to know and comprehend the Tamil psyche and also realise not all Tamils support violence.

Had he not migrated he would still be like other Daily News journalists who saw Tamil journalists as advocates of violence to gain a separate homeland.

Mohan, I am pleased that you are maintaining your integrity.

Please get in touch with me through

Posted by: Pearl Thevanayagam | August 22, 2010 07:29 AM

It is true that few Sinhalese (like Rohan Gunaratna, Srilankan HC in Canada) wanted this Tamil boat returned.

But now they are quiet, because all talk shows and media comments shows that Canadians are against not just this boat people, but against all immigrants.

An average 2nd generation Canadian in Alberta hates all immigrants whether they are from India, China, or Srilanka.


Posted by: aratai | August 22, 2010 08:53 AM

The following is an extract from

We've been duped by the Tamils: editorial
By QMI Agency

Refugees go home for holidays

'Send the Tamils home': poll

UN says Sri Lanka situation improving

Tamils playing us for fools: Levant

What should happen to the Tamil asylum seekers?

The time is now - not next week, not next month - for the Harper government to find the lightning in its bottle to deal with the Tamil “refugee” charade.

The facts are in. We’re being played for patsies.

A secret government report, its contents outlined today by QMI Agency’s Brian Lilley, shows just how seriously we have been duped by Tamils already granted refugee status here - with a sample survey conducted by immigration bureaucrats showing some 71% of these claimants have already returned to Sri Lanka, despite their song-and-dance that they would be murdered and/or tortured the moment they set foot in their homeland.

And what happened to them?


They visited relatives, perhaps had a nice vacation, and then came back to Canada, now home of the second-largest Tamil population in the world, where their every need is paid for by an already cash-strapped Canadian taxpayer.

It is quite the ruse.

And it is quite the ruse considering that, while 492 so-called Tamil “migrants” - Correction: Queue-jumpers, scam artists, back-door invaders, and no doubt more than a few terrorists linked to the blood-mongering Tamil Tigers - are still being processed as refugees in British Columbia, all while the UN’s refugee commission is returning thousands of them from India to Sri Lanka because conditions there are no longer considered dire.

So call it what it is.

Call it fraud.

The National Post weakly opined yesterday that it was time for the Harper government to “get smart” about this refugee situation, and “forget tough.”

It then took us to task, stating “the Sun Media newspapers even ran an odious editorial advocating a Œlock and load’ approach to incoming vessels.”

That, of course, was early in the game.

So let’s rephrase that “lock and load approach” in light of the secret government report that gives credence to our concerns about becoming patsies - concerns rightly shared by many Canadians outraged by having our collective generosity taken advantage of by con artists.

Instead of “lock and load,” let’s “lock them up, load them up, and ship them out.”

Are we clear?

In light of the secret report highlighted in our news pages today, the Harper government must fast-track its plan to deport any and all refugees whose claims are proven to be lies, starting with those who skulked into our country aboard the MV Sun Sea.

Next up, of course, would be those 71% who conned us into granting them refugee status, and then returned to Sri Lanka to do what? Vacation? Visit relatives?

Or recruit?

According to immigration experts, refugee status can be revoked if someone returns to a country where it was bogusly claimed death or torture would ensue.

Unfortunately the process leading to rightful deportation of these bleeding-heart exploiters can take years.

There’s no lightning in that bottle.

So it must be found - now.

Posted by: SL | August 22, 2010 10:50 AM

Mohan Samarasinghe is in a pivotal position to send out the message Canada will continue to need fresh hands in the next 2 decades to maintain its economic
upward rythm. Lankans who sing "two different tunes" do not know what's happening at home. Just lask week
the Police in the Negombo area arrested a dozen planning to "boat" off to escape. From what? Your answer is good as mine. Beef at Rs.600 and contaminated chicken at Rs.450 (Kg) is the sady story
food is becoming an issue. Hunger does not differentiate racially is the message that is struggling to emerge from the belly of Mother Lanka.


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | August 22, 2010 12:54 PM

SL, Toronto Sun - publishing this sort of stats for their own beliefs or dis-beliefs.

Sri Lanka needs the foreign exchange. Let the tourists come.

Sri Lankan situation has no parallels and many Canadians do understand it. So Toronto Sun can continue tailor this sort.

Posted by: Arunan | August 22, 2010 01:22 PM


"Sri Lanka needs the foreign exchange. Let the tourists come."

No Thanks; Sri Lanka doesn't want few buck from ungrateful Tamils who discredit her to get citizenship from Canada. I posted the above link just to show that the Canadians are slowly calling You-Tamils bluff.

Posted by: SL | August 22, 2010 02:48 PM

SL - You are wrong.SL needs the exchange.

Its a given how the Middle East employment is exploited given broken familes etc. in Sri Lanka villages over manuy years and just turn a blind eye on the matte by SL authorities.

And what about all the Sinhala Sri Lankans given asylumn in Canada and they return?

And pitty you dont fall for the Toronto Sun. Its like TamilNet.

If anything, its Canada and Canadians are not falling for the bluff of Sri Lankan LTTE scare. Not all Tamils are LTTE and not all Tamils are supporters of LTTE and violence.

Sri Lanka can keep crying wolf. (Tiger in this case)...Its not going to work.

The mirgants of any country being not welcome, in Canada, US, Australia all around the world in an environment of economic down turn and huge demographic shifts.

The news feeds from Islamic Center matter in NY and Fox news and Talk show hosts have created a bandwagon for Sinhala pogromists also to turn to its.

Sorry crying LTTE - will not help you. Try something new please.

And dont say Sri Lanka dont need the exchange. It does. If not needed why encourage Mid-East employment?

Posted by: Arunan | August 22, 2010 05:06 PM


I seems that you have difficulty of understanding English language. What I said was

"No Thanks; Sri Lanka doesn't want few buck from ungrateful Tamils who discredit her to get citizenship from Canada.",

which does deny the need of foreign exchange. We Sri Lankans just don't want few bucks spent by so called retuning "Refugees", who tarnish the name of Sri Lanka just to get the citizenship of a wealthy country. I hope this time you got it.

By the way, did I even mention LTTE in two of my above posts? You have a very active imagination Arunan! it is like cat jumping out of the bag.

By the way if you find Caneo is like TamilNet, then just go to the following CTV link

Be sure to read the comment section too, which should make you really happy!

Posted by: SL | August 22, 2010 06:19 PM

Sinhala boat people are not far away, especially with the help of Tamil human traffickers.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2010 07:57 PM


I have lived in North America for the past 26 years I think I never felt I didint 'get some thing' due to 'racism' or something of that sort.

I can say that about Sri Lanka too, while I lived there - and studied at a trilingual school.

Gladly, particularly when it comes to this issue, governing in Canada is not going to fully go with what the polls say one day. And most of these politicians - the ones particularly at the national level are not going to run the affairs of the states based on this.

Right now the polls are based on certain factors and it is fair enough given the "news of the day".

We shall wait to see how the policy will take effect.

I know Sri Lanka gov. wanted/wants to uproot Tamils dead or alive, particularly from the areas in North and East and it is not exactly with a parallel with conflicts of other countries.

Time and time again Sinhala chavunists have argued of Tamils living in Colombo etc. and havent done much in terms of how the conflict is looked at by informed politicians members of the civlil society in Canada.

Canadians such as Premier Bob rae, John Tory and Ms. Louise Arbour are aware of the Sri Lankan situation, of both LTTE and Sri Lanka and the plight of TAMIL CIVILIANS.

Thats said I dont want these ship loads to continue. I know this is what Sri Lanka chavunists want; the Number of Tamils to go down.

Also anticipating the government of Canada to take action to prevent this being an 'easy' voyage for many others around the globe.

But it is not going to be the versions of what Sri Lanka and expert Rohan Gunaratna has been saying.

Also please note the urban centers will have larger role in the outcome of any policy changes at the end of the day, particularly in Canada.

Parag Khanna in Foreign Policy Mag:

"The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. This new world is not -- and will not be -- one global village, so much as a network of different ones. "


Posted by: Arunan | August 22, 2010 09:09 PM

Posted by: SL | August 22, 2010 01:00 AM ,

refer to your statement , "I don't know about you Mr. Mohan but Most Sinhalese Canadians don't claim to be "Refugees" and makes false claims of their motherland to become Canadians."

SL, now that you have made a point that most of the Sinhalese Canadians become Canadians without any stigma and labels attached to them, why not be more transparent and tell the forum here the secret you know how they do it and become Canadians by renouncing their SL citizenship unless both Canada and SL have dual citizenship for these Sinhalese he refers to.

SL, how about the balance Sinhalese Canadians, what kind of false claims they make of their motherland and become Canadians ?.Why Canadian and SL media , politicians ( both canadian and SL ), terrorist experts and analysts who loves their motherland do not give more attention to this contigent of unpatriotic Sinhalese who put down their motherland ?

Posted by: M.Thiru | August 22, 2010 11:09 PM


Most Sinhalese Canadians I know have dual Canadian-SriLankan citizenship. So your first point is invalid. Given your second point is applicable only if your first point is true, which is shown false now is also invalid.

So referring back to you, why "You-Tamils" always lie to get in to a developed country? Why the so called "Legitimate-Tamil-Migrants" are silent against these illegal queue-jumpers? Now don't tell me that there are no "Legitimate-Tamil-Migrants" and my point is invalid?

Posted by: SL | August 23, 2010 09:52 AM

However well-meaning the writers sentiments may be, it is at best a naive POV that ignores the gist of the objections that (apparently) a large number of Canadians have with the Tamil boat

It is simply this.. Canadians have had it up-to-HERE with Tamil Canadians, their sense of entitlement and their constant whining. 492 refugees who have been waiting patiently for their turn in the process have been shunted aside for these boat-people who have, in essence, jumped the queue in grand style. Hitherto "unavailable" beds in Canada's stretched healthcare system have magically appeared for Tamil "refugees"... Money that the government says it does not have for public services has somehow appeared and is being used for these people.. Can you blame ordinary Canadians who have to wait in line for healthcare and face ever-growing hospital closings for being resentful ?

Yes, it may unsavoury and perhaps even downright selfish - but no more selfish than this boatload of people who chose to cynically ignore landing in any other country between Thailand and Canada and then saying "all we are searching for is refuge from racist Sinhalas and their government" Now that is a crock.

These people may have fled Sri Lanka., but if their intention is purely refuge as they claim, why come all the way to Canada for it ?

These people may have fled Sri Lanka., but how did they get to their port of origin ? Did they swim ? According to all reports, they have flown from Colombo to Thailand. This is hardly possible for genuine refugees surely ? To be able to obtain a passport and tickets and leave from the only international airport ? One would have expected them to be detained, tortured, raped, white-vanned and all the other wonderful things that Tamil's claim is their daily grind in Sinhala-Dominated, Racist Sri Lanka...

These people may have fled Sri Lanka - but if they could fly to Thailand, why the devil did they not fly to Canada ? Might it be because it's much easier to turn back a passenger on a flight than a boatload of so-called "refugees" ?

These people are no refugees. They are economic migrants playing the refugee card.

Posted by: mercator | August 23, 2010 11:21 AM

SL why this amount of hate in you,we are treated as second class citizens in our motherland at least canada treats us with dignity,maybe you can't stomack that

Posted by: shasha | August 23, 2010 11:45 AM

My experience with Tamils show that Tamils are their own enemies. I am no apologist for Mohan but it is the Sinhalese who stood by me in times of duress.

I had a veteran Tamil journalist who went to the extreme of informing the US embassy when I received a fellowship to study at Berkeley that I was a Tiger. Thanks to my Sinhala colleagues and their affirmation that i had no connections with the militants i was able to enter Berkeley and serve Daily News after my return.

Please do not berate decent journalists like Mohan since they do understand our predicament. It is they who would support you in time of need and not your Tamil brethren.

Posted by: Pearl Thevanayagam | August 23, 2010 03:40 PM


No hatred. Just calling a spade is a spade. (i.e. economic migrants as economic migrants who are bluffing their way in to Canada).

Posted by: SL | August 23, 2010 06:18 PM


"These people may have fled Sri Lanka - but if they could fly to Thailand, why the devil did they not fly to Canada ? Might it be because it's much easier to turn back a passenger on a flight than a boatload of so-called "refugees" ?"

Not really. The airlines are responsible for making sure that the passengers have valid visas to travel through the journey. They will be charged US$ 5000 for each passenger arriving a destination country without a visa. There may also be baning of airspace for repeated offenders (i.e. airlines). So, no legitimate airline would like to face the huge fines as well as to tarnish their image by carrying so called "refugees" to Canada.

Posted by: SL | August 23, 2010 06:34 PM

Mohan, thank you very much for your unbiassed report of the boat people in Canada. You have hit the nail on the head re the bitter and hatred attitude of some of the sinhalese Canadians and I hope they are in a minority in your country.

Posted by: Mano | August 23, 2010 10:02 PM

Many Sri Lankans (Sinhala or Tamil or Muslim) are prepeared to leave Sri Lanka to a country like Canada. If Canada take the people from the Internment Camps in Vanni as refugees, I welcome them. But these people are not refugees of any kind. They lived "lavishly" in the far-east with all comforts with the money they made with LTTE.

They are coming to Canada to continue their life-styles with the Canadian comfort. They use the "refugee" program of Canada to land in Canada with bogus or unacceptable tales.

I believe these people are a "splinter" group of LTTE who do not go back to Sri Lanka because of the KP Factor.

How can we believe their stories while thousands of Tamil "refugees"(now they are Canadian citizens) are freely fly and travel to Sri Lanka and come back?

Posted by: M.Sivananthan | August 23, 2010 10:20 PM

Lets say they are oconomic migrants,i wonder why is that it's bothering you so much so that you spew so much venum

Posted by: shasha | August 26, 2010 12:33 PM

Thank you, I have great sinhala friends,its them and people like you who make a lot of us tamils still cling on to hope that we all can be Sri lankans one day

Posted by: shasha | August 26, 2010 12:42 PM

Sasha,You expect all to be sri lankan one day by running away now from her when she needs you the most?.Those who chose to or have no option but to stay and shoulder the burden of getting sri lanka back on its feet will be the real sri lankans (sinhala or tamil)and not the ones who run away looking for a better life in the west.

Posted by: NAK | August 28, 2010 05:53 AM

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