Tamil protesters, yes. George Galloway? Keep out.

If these protesters were, say, Palestinians in support of Hamas, we’d be far less tolerant


Tamil protesters, yes. George Galloway? Keep out.Canadians have free-speech bipolar disorder. On one side of our brains, we consider the right to freedom of assembly, conscience, and expression to be part of the constitutional heritage inherited from the British. On the other side, we recoil from the sort of free speech absolutism of the United States that—in an infamous case—holds that white racists burning a cross on the lawn of a black family is a protected form of speech.

This national hemming and hawing about free speech finds direct expression in the Charter of Rights, which takes away in its first clause—“only to such reasonable limits”—the very freedoms it goes on to grant in the second. It also manifests itself in the behaviour of free speech tribunes like Ezra Levant, whose current crusade against Canada’s censorious human-rights tribunals is undermined by his long-standing penchant for filing suit against anyone who says something he finds even slightly defamatory.

Onto this constitutional teeter-totter have stepped a few thousand Tamil protesters, who for over a week have been marching back and forth on Wellington Street in Ottawa, yelling slogans into megaphones, banging on snare drums, and—to many citizens’ great offence—waving hundreds of red flags associated with the Tamil Tigers, a group that Canada has designated a terrorist organization since 2006.

The protest began on April 7, when Ottawa’s rush hour was disrupted by hundreds of Tamils waving banners and flags, calling for the Harper government to push for an immediate ceasefire in the Sri Lankan civil war. It was part of a coordinated campaign that included protests in the U.K, U.S., Australia, and Norway—a sign of the Tamils’ increasing desperation as the Sri Lankan military finds itself on the verge of crushing the Tigers’ 25-year-long separatist rebellion.

At the protests in London, police seized a number of the Tamil flags (which charmingly depict a tiger in front of a pair of crossed rifles with bayonets fixed) on the grounds that they were breaking anti-terror laws that forbid the “glorification” of terrorism by carrying images representing a banned organization. Authorities also treated the protest as illegal because it hadn’t been given prior approval, and repeatedly threatened mass arrests if the protesters refused to disperse.

Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Canada, Daya Perera, was keen to see our government adopt a similar position toward both the Tamil flag and the protesters in general. “I can’t see how the Canadian government can take the position that it is freedom of expression,” he told reporters. “I’d like to see the government acting properly in this regard and stopping these demonstrations that are, I think, a bane on the citizens of Ottawa.”

His concern for our municipal comfort is appreciated, but unfortunately for Perera, Canada is not the U.K., and our anti-terrorism legislation doesn’t forbid the sort of flag-waving that could count as glorifying terror. The closest law that could conceivably apply is a provision that prohibits “instructing” terrorism, but waving placards demanding an end to a civil war hardly qualifies. A House of Commons committee that recently re-examined our anti-terror law mooted the idea of instituting an anti-glorification ban similar to the U.K.’s, but the idea was dropped because it would almost certainly fail a constitutional challenge under the Charter.

That is why both the RCMP and the Ottawa police were quick to declare that there were simply no grounds for the police to take any action against people waving the flags, and once the protest had moved off the street and onto the sidewalk, there was nothing remotely illegal about the gathering at all.

That position was soundly endorsed by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. At a press conference last Thursday, he effectively told high commissioner Perera to get stuffed, saying the federal government had no intention of cracking down on the protesters. “It’s not up to me to put an end to protest. People are allowed to protest in Canada,” he said, adding for good measure: “We live in a democracy.”

It is gratifying to hear such a straightforward and uncompromising defence of Canada’s democratic liberties. It would be far more convincing, though, if our officials had not just gone to great lengths to keep the British MP George Galloway from coming here to speak, on the grounds that his past efforts raising funds for humanitarian relief in Gaza made him some sort of security threat.

It makes one suspect that the equanimity and tolerance with which Canadians have greeted the Tamil protests is not due to any great underlying commitment to free expression. More than likely, it is because the conflict in Sri Lanka is half a world away, and the 70,000 lives it has claimed over the past quarter century have touched only a tiny fraction of this country’s citizens.

Indeed, I’ll bet that if the people massing on front of Parliament were Palestinians marching in support of Hamas, or Taliban supporters demanding an end to Canadian combat operations in Afghanistan, our elected officials would be far less inclined to recite the Constitution, and the public would be far less inclined to tolerate it if they did.

Which leads to the depressing conclusion, for the Tamils anyway, that the reason their protest has been allowed to go on for so long is that it symbolizes their political weakness, not our democratic strength.


Tamil protesters, yes. George Galloway? Keep out.

  1. the people opposed to this don’t have a powerful lobby.
    none of this is a freedom of speech issue, you know that.

    • You are right; the Government of Sri Lanka is spending lot of money on lobbying. They have people like Daya Perera (High Commissioners) all over the world. They are working day and night to keep the international community in the dark. It is sad to see the influence of these people work very well on other Governments and media. Thank God, our Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon didn’t listen to the High Commissioner of Sri lanka.

  2. Perhaps we should revise our anti-terrorism law to make it legal to speak on behalf of organisations whose sole purpose is not terror, as long as the speech itself were not pro-terror. Ideally one wouldn’t have to do this but, given our inclination (as described by Mr. Potter) to restrict free speech, there is obviously a temptation to be selective in applying the anti-terror law so as to restrict the speech of certain factions only, and selectivity undermines the credibility of the law. The problem seems to me to be that when Palestinians think of Hamas, or Tamils think of the Tamil Tigers, or certain Irish people think of the IRA, they equate those organisations with the only legitimate voice for their cause; so banning them, and the public support of them, on pro-terror grounds looks to them like a banning of their cause. It would all be a lot simpler if the only terrorists were professionals like al-Qaeda or Carlos the Jackal, but since it ain’t perhaps the law should distinguish between the terrorist activities of the Tigers and their merely nationalistic activities. Though at the same time one must prevent fund-raising for actual terrorism. Complicated, I guess.

  3. I’m assuming those were Tamil-Canadians who live here. Galloway is not a citizen of this country, and was seeking to gain entry. Something a forced a comparision to begin with, made more tenuous by the reliance on hypothetical rallies in support of Hamas.

    • Exactly.

    • “I’m assuming”
      “Something a forced a comparision to begin with, made more tenuous by the reliance on hypothetical”


      • I think he meant: “[Potter’s comparison] is something of a forced comparison…”

      • Yes Katy, I assume their citizenship to be Canadian. There’s no reason to suspect otherwise, and I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. The assumption is more valid than an imagined pro-Hamas protest and a hypothetical reaction to it.

        While I’m revisiting this, I’d like to add that Galloway was ultimately able to express his ideas to assembled groups of Canadians via video. There was no censorship of his ideas in that respect. Again, the comparison is dodgy.

    • Bingo, Sean. It is surprising that Andrew Potter would not even pay lip service to this simple point:

      Tamil protesters: Canadians who are already here.

      George Galloway: a non-Canadian who, well, isn’t.

  4. This is clearly because of the Western governments having some agreement to allow challenges against China, but not against Israel.

    Ironically, George Galloway has been strongly against the secession of Tibet from China and is quite against the protesters.

  5. It’s simple. None of this involves Israel.

  6. If you want an unbiased view of the conflict, watch the Youtube video below. It’s Lord Naseby, a British MP, who flew to Sri Lanka recently to witness what was going on.


    • How this MP only allowed?? London time’s journalist has not been granted visa since last August?
      No freedom access to NGOs and INGOs, independent journalist? Sri Lanka denies to request of UN representatives even. Something strange, how much he get from Sri Lanka government?

      One and only nation Use cluster bombs , aerial bombardment on own citizens.
      keep thousands of people on detention camps and torture those people.
      Sri Lanka is labeled as one of the failed state.
      Ban for independent journalist.
      more than 20 journalist have been killed by government in last three years, most of them are minority Tamil journalist.
      4 Tamil parliamentarian have been killed , who actively voiced for Rights of Tamils and against government atrocities .

    • Where is full vedio. here we go?.Now justify the war.
      Obviously the conservative MP favor to SLG.

    • you dont need to watch this video,ask t every tamils from srilanka , how many relatives ,they got killed
      by this butcher GOSL army. Lord Naseby visit was sponcerced by Srilanka. He is working very brave
      for his wonderful holiday in Srilanka. you have to watch also MR Robert Evans speech from this meeting.

    • How do you know that he is not biased? He may be on the pay roll of Sri Lanka.

  7. http://www.mackenzieinstitute.com/2009/genocide-talk020609.htm

    The accusations of genocide in Sri Lanka are getting annoying… and not in the usual ways. Anybody who takes the charge seriously betrays a highly annoying ignorance about the state of affairs between Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

    Genocide is not happening in Sri Lanka. Plenty of other nasty things are; but genocide is not one of them.

    The LTTE and its supporters in the international Tamil Diaspora they dominate would like us to slap the label of ‘genocide’ onto the Sri Lankan government. Ignore this campaign.

    • There are 12 Ways to Deny A Genocide.
      Those who are opposing the genocide, you have a opporunity to read. But they are fond of genocide
      1. Question and minimize the statistics.
      2. Attack the motivations of the truth-tellers
      3. Claim that the deaths were inadvertent
      4. Emphasize the strangeness of the victims
      5. Rationalize the deaths as the result of tribal conflict,
      6. Blame “out of control” forces for committing the killings
      7. Avoid antagonizing the genocidists, who might walk out of “the peace process.”
      8. Justify denial in favor of current economic interests.
      9. Claim that the victims are receiving good treatment
      10. Claim that what is going on doesn’t fit the definition of genocide.
      11. Blame the victims.
      12. Say that peace and reconciliation are more important that blaming people for genocide

    • Are you going to deny the Holocaust too? Please take your time to learn about the present situation in Sri Lanka. It is very parallel to the Holocaust of Nazi Germany.

  8. This is a totally idiotic comment. Ho do you compare a Tamil to Galloway? Do you know that no Tamil from SL can enter into Canada as of now?

    • Really? Well obviously somebody in Ottawa finally got their head screwed on straight! What I’d like to know is how we let 300,000 Tamils into the country in the first place. Had Immigration filled its quota of al-Qaeda supporters?

    • I hope you are correct. Until six months after the LTTE are either defeated or they surrendered, nobody should be allowed to immigrate from Sri Lanka to Canada.

      • Thanks Jim, you are a real Canadian. Your ancestors will be very proud of you.

  9. What is happening in Sri Lanka is an open genocide of Tamil population in that island. Just because Tamil Tigers are using suicide bombers doesn’t mean they are terrorists. Before you label any organization as terrorits, you have to look at their geo-political objectives. When Sri Lankan government is fighting with the weapons given by international superpowers, Tamil Tigers have no other choice than implementing sucide attacks. I am not supporting Tigers, but you have to be neutral in this conflict. Tamils are at the side of justice. Give back Tamils their land and freedom they had once.

    • They are terrorists if they target civilians. Which they do.

      • Yes, in the same token, the Government of Sri Lanka is a terrorist too. THEY ARE RUNNING A STATE TERRORISM IN SRI LANKA FOR LAST 60 YEARS.

  10. I disagree. We have had a number of protests in favour of Palestinian organizations, abet not as large, and they were left alone. George Galloway was a foreigner and was allowed to speak, just not allowed into the country. Different issues. Your comments are wrong.

    • before or after Harper became PM?

  11. Tamils have all the rights to fight for their freedom.
    Also tamils facing the genocide in Sri Lanka since 1948 because British gave all the power in singhalese hands. LTTE was formed by youths in late 1970s. Over 90% of tamils are supporting LTTE.

    Please learn Celon(Sri Lanka) history.

    • “LTTE was formed by youths …”
      That explains it.

      • Wow, you know the secret about LTTE. Are you a member?

        • I was referring to youth’s tendency to overreact or be enamored with violence., say for instance assassinating the mayor rather than dealing through political channels with the wrongful promotion of the Sinhalese police officers.
          That said; I am learning more of the switch of the constitution to a republic in the 70’s.

  12. Sri Lankan STATE TERRORIST killed more than 1500 and injured 4500 innocent Tamils in one day (20 April 2009) using banned chemical weapons. After Adolf Hitler this type of genocide happening in Sri Lanka while UN keeping silent. More than 5000 Tamils have been killed last 4 months. More than 100,000 Tamils killed in last three decades. LTTE is fighting for Tamils freedom not only with Sri Lankan Army but also Indian Army. They are not terrorist. They never attack other than Sri Lankan army and Indian Army. Please bring real news to world and help to further killing by Sri Lankan STATE TERRORIST.

  13. What is terrorism? It is how we brand someone who we don’t like. Nobel Peace Prize winner and international symbol of freedom Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA up until his 90th birthday. Just because US see them as terrorist, ANC did not carry on with their cause to freedom. Collateral damage verses civilian casualties may have different meaning for a spectator but for the victims’ families it is all terror tactics. If you have any doubt, ask an Afghani who lost a family member to the ISAF action. By that measure all military actions has it terror element to its part. Al Qaeda is a terror organization once supported by the US that now promotes global Jihadism against free world. LTTE is fighting for Tamils independent to reclaim 2 out of 9 provinces of modern Srilanka that were originally home land of Tamils for many centuries can not be brand as terrorists. Although some of their tactics may fall in to that argument as any military on the world have their own.

  14. On 20/04/09, SL terrorist government killed 998 innocent people including 288 children. SL coward army let the innocent people walk in front of them on the land-mines. If anyone support to SL terrorist government,they like Adolb HITLER.
    Hitler Re-born

    Booker prize winner – Arundhathi Roy statement about Srilankan Issue


    • Funny, I didn’t see anything about Adolb HITLER in that statement.

      • Yes, you didn’t see anything, specially the truth about the STATE TERRORISM OF SRI LANKA.

        • Actually, I’m well aware of their violations of international law, and the deaths of civilians caused by the Sri Lankan military, and have spoken personally to UNHCR personnel about the situation there. I’m merely pointing out that ken seems to have misrepresented what is in the article he referenced.

          I’m also aware of the Human Rights Watch criticisms of the Tamil Tigers. Lots of blame to go around.

          • I am not supporting any form of killings in Sri Lanka. I want them to have some peace. The Government of Sri Lanka is misleading his people and the rest of the world. They cannot bring peace by force. You cannot rescue or liberate people against their will. This is not a war between Tamil and Sinhala Kingdoms.

  15. its our rights, its our country , prabhakaran is our one&only savior .war not only tamils against srilanka all are india,india

  16. all those (including media) supporting Srilankan Governments start their comments and opinion from 1977 (after emrgence of freedom fighting). Why don’t you go for the period of 1948- 1977 . These freedom fighters haven’t fallen from the sky. There is a history for this. All those old sinhalese know what their Governments did to the Tamils. They know the cause of the problem. The sinhalese and the sinhala governments use the fact ‘suicide bombing on civilians’ for their propaganda against LTTE all these years to win the hearts of westerners. But anyone cannot hide the truth for so long period. After every suicide attck in south you can go through the police reports saying they aimed on certain Ministers or certain Army chief etc,etc…and it missed and civilians caught in blast. So you know they have no intention to kill the sinhala civilians. I’m not supporting the suicide attack. One should think how desperate the person should be to decide to do so, What happened to he or his family.
    Now are people from vanni being taken to paradise? no, for Zoo(human).
    What have those kids done wrong to be born as tamils in that vanni region? if you search in you tube you will find very high number of kids killed or badly affected by this so-called war against terror in SriLanka.
    If you see the marriage and divorce in the asian families compare to western families asians specially Indians and Srilankans prefer to live together as much as possible for the shake of their kids. Even if they are not happy in their life both parents try to adjust themselves. That’s how the tamils have been living together with sinhalese all these years from 1948. Now even sinhalese don’t have freedom of speech eg. you all know the famous journalist Lasantha’s life. So one could imagine the freedom of speech of tamils in Srilanka hereafter.

  17. Why in this world there is no Justice, Srilankan government paying most of the forign media to promote in thier favour, So no wonder why the truth is behind the wall. One day these reporters will come to realize money is nothing but the truth is.

    That time it will be too late.

    If the Srilankan government treated its CItizen properly nothing would have happend like this. They are talking about Rajeeve Ghandi assasination which they think the LTTE did but talking without proof, This Indian Government is another nasty government which does everything and blame the LTTE for it.

    All these media will understand everything soon.

    Thanx keep up your good job by killing innocent people

  18. ill ask a simpe qus! why the sl gov dosent allow the freedom medias in that war zone?

  19. 1.Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka – Report of International Commission of Jurists 1981:
    “The South African Terrorism Act has been called ‘a piece of legislation which must shock the conscience of a lawyer.’ Many of the provisions of the Sri Lankan Act are equally contrary to accepted principles of the Rule of Law. …. The application of the principle of self-determination in concrete cases is difficult. It seems, nevertheless, that a credible argument can be made that the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is entitled to self-determination. …. The fate of the Tamils in Sri Lanka remains a matter of international concern”.
    2.Inclusion the way to real peace by Howard Debenham(a former Australian Ambassador to Sri Lanka), 6 March 2009:
    ”It is often overlooked that Tamil militarism was, in the first place, spawned by the deliberate demonisation of Tamils. The essential interest of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese political parties and personalities is still how to exploit the struggle with the Tigers to maintain power in Colombo. ”
    The Honorable Jeffrey J. Lunstead, Former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka:
    ‘’Sri Lanka’s political leaders were divided and seemed to spend more time tearing each other down than seeking a way forward on peace. Sri Lanka’s Tamils have legitimate grievances which need to be addressed”.

  20. If media have been prevented from the Tamil areas for more than two years what sort of genocide has been going on there?

  21. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, UNHRC Seventh session, 3 June 2008 : ””In 2005 I sounded the alarm. I said that Sri Lanka was on the verge of a major crisis and I indicated to the General Assembly how to avoid the crisis. But nothing was done. The Sri Lankan government did not try and discuss the recommendations with me and it has not made any serious effort to resolve human rights problems. It only acted in Geneva to avoid the Council taking any measures against it”.

  22. World Federation of Scientists on ‘’war-on-terror’’, May 2006:
    ”We discussed at some length the relationship between terror intentionally inflicted by state actors and terrorism espoused by weaker players as a tactic in asymmetric struggles, and noted that one could scarcely be fully understood without reference to the other.”

    • Thanks for that quote–I just looked up the source (googled “World Federation of Scientists on ‘’war-on-terror’’, May 2006”) and found a bunch of great information. thx again :)

  23. Australian Senate Hansard, 13 March 1986 Senator A.L.Missen, Chairman, Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International:
    “Some 6000 Tamils have been killed altogether in the last few years…These events are not accidental. It can be seen that they are the result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Sri Lankan government…Democracy in Sri Lanka does not exist in any real sense…”

  24. I am sorry, but are you a Canadian? Do you vote? Do you live in a democratic state? It seems to me that you have a obvious problem with democracy. We as Canadians have a voice. We represent Canada, the Canadian government represent us, its citizens.
    Also, your last sentence, was very cheap! I can not believe that it was published in Maclean’s. You did not even talk about the political issues or the humanitarian issues. What was the point of this article? Did Daya Perera pay you to write this because the cheap shots and lack of information in this article really make it that way. Maybe you two wrote it together. You talk about it being bad if people started to support the Taliban, do you know how many war crimes were commited by the Sri Lankan government? Why do we have a high commisioner to represent a nation that is against the UN’s policies? Why do we as a nation tolerate the crimes of another nation? Also, how many of the Canadian population do you speak for? How dare you write a tiny part the Canadian population are concerned for the humanitarian issues in Canada. As a journalist your suppose to spread news of real issues not bias bullshit like you have done. I can not believe that Maclean’s magazine has published this. It is just really depressing.

    • I don’t think that was the intent of the article. I interpreted it to mean that we have a problem in this country and that is that powerful lobby groups influence the government into silencing certain voices. (George Galloway for instance) The fact that a protest by a group considered by the govt to be a terrorist organization is allowed and a speech by someone protesting what’s going on in Palestine is not allowed is depressing (and frightening) If the government actually meant what it claimed was their issue with Galloway they would investigate every single Tamil citizen and protestor to find out their ties and whether they have aided that organization in any way but the fact of the matter is, that is not the crux of the issue at all. It’s simply about one group not wanting a certain person’s opinion voiced in this country and that is wrong.

  25. I am a very sympathetic about the situation in Sri Lanka. Please do not insult our intelligence with your stupid article. I guess, you must be one of the Canadian suffering with free – press Bipolar disorder. Otherwise, you won’t write an article like this on MacLeans.
    I am an ordinary Canadian from Halifax, NS. The Government of Sri Lanka is seems to be going out of control. They are killing 1000 of innocent Tamils in the warfront every day. They have killed more innocent Tamils than Tamil Tigers so far. They do not have any respect for human rights. Its shame for us to watch these little kids and babies die like this. Canadian Government must do something to stop this bloodshed. If we do not act now we will regret it later like Genocide of Rwanda or Darfur.
    In my opinion, you do not have any first hand information about the present situation in Sri Lanka. Please take your time to learn about it before you insult rest of the Canadians.

    • Thank you Caroline Smith for your comments and insight. it looks like you did spend quite of bit of time studing what’s really happening in Sri Lanka. I wish everyone did the same before make any negative comments about Tamils struggle back in Sri Lanka.

  26. Well done : Hon.Jack Laton and Madam Irene Mathyssen were stood with us in solidarity yesterday in Parliament Hill with uncontrollable tears into world eyes.We Tamils thanked.


  27. If these protesters were, say, Palestinians in support of Hamas. They wouldn’t be protesting peacefully, they’d be throwing rocks.

    • Your words are evidence of a double standard. Both organizations are terrorist organizations that have done horrible things to innocent people. Why do you think one would behave differently than another?

      You’ve based your opinion on prejudiced thinking, and you’ve essentially demonstrated the article’s point.

  28. These demonstrators are Canadians and they have right to express their freedom of speech. They came out and tell their government what really happened in Sri Lanka and how their love ones affected by this barbaric killing in Sri Lanka. If our mains stream Medias brought these truths, these demonstrators dose not need to came out and protest days and nights. Unfortunate our Medias fail to bring the truth and influence by foreign diplomats.

    • Barbaric killing is the use of suicide bombers on civilian populations, something the LTTE uses on a regular basis. How does your foot taste?

      • The rotten SL Army is killing thosuands of innocent Tamils for years, under the guise of war against terror.
        Canadians dont know the meaning of suppression and ethnic cleansing. Only the ppl who suffered know the intolerable and unending pain. Please Please Pls if u cant help the suffering Tamil ppl, atleast dont dont insult them.

  29. I am surprised to see an hazy article like this in MacLean’s insult to the readers

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