The Commons: “To all our parliamentarians, where are you?”

While 30,000 Tamil supporters were protesting outside, the discussion in the House was of other matters entirely


protestThe Scene. Aside from the lonely man in religious garb who often spends his days pacing in front of pictures lamenting abortion, the sight of a public protest on Parliament Hill is perhaps rarer than you might assume. Yesterday, a couple hundred young people sat in circles and smoked pot, though this seemed less an act of defiance than a lazy way to spend a spring afternoon.

For a week now though, crowds of varying size have lined Wellington Street, near the imposing Langevin Block that houses the Prime Minister and his staff, and chanted incessantly about the civil war in Sri Lanka. This afternoon, in perhaps a climactic show of force, more than 30,000 Tamils filled the front lawn, waving black flags, denouncing violence and generally insisting on the world’s attention.

Not that many noticed. Or at least seemed interested in noticing. Indeed, for all the politicians in the immediate vicinity, only the NDP’s Jack Layton was reported to have addressed the crowd. In the midst of the demonstration, the matter merited just three queries in Question Period—ministers Lawrence Cannon and Bev Oda compelled to offer answers for a situation without an obvious solution. Afterwards, Liberal Jim Karygiannis rose on a point of order and requested that the House schedule an emergency debate on the matter. He was promptly shouted down.

It is not, of course, that the political class does not understand the value of direct democracy. Back a few months ago, in the midst of that minor democratic crisis of ours, John Baird vowed his government’s intention to “go over the heads of the members of Parliament; go over the heads, frankly, of the Governor General” and “go right to the Canadian people.” And so they did, staging various get-togethers under the banner of “Rally for Canada.” There Canadians of all persuasions met and participated in just the sort of nuanced and open-minded public debate to which Mr. Baird has dedicated his public life. The other side responded, predictably, in song.

By comparison, the gathering on Parliament Hill today was exceedingly principled. And altogether polite—taking a moment at one point to thank the city of Ottawa and the local constabulary for hosting their get-together.

But a few hundred yards away, within the House of Commons, the discussion was of other matters entirely. MPs offered statements on Martin Brodeur, world peace, the Holocaust, the seal hunt and the various evils of Michael Ignatieff. With his three questions, the Liberal leader asked the government about its funding—insufficient in his estimation—for the science community. Tony Clement, waving his arms and shrugging theatrically in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously, demanded to know more about Ignatieff’s recently revealed plan to destroy the country.

The Bloc and Conservatives traded accusations over the fate of the forestry industry. Jack Layton stood and asked if, in light of new and more ominous economic forecasts, the government would submit to further economic stimulus. “Mr. Speaker, I do not know why the honourable member would ask for a second stimulus package when he voted against the first one,” Jim Flaherty shot back to great applause from the government side.

The Liberals badgered the Conservatives about last year’s listeriosis outbreak. The Conservatives pointed to the insufficient regulations of the previous government. The Liberals wondered about inefficiencies in the delivery of employment insurance. The Conservatives blamed the current system, designed as it was, many years ago, by a Liberal government. The Liberals wondered why the government was listening to the advice of police officers on the matter of the gun registry. The Conservatives accused the Bloc and NDP of enabling criminals. The Conservatives, NDP and Liberals were all, at various points, cited for failing the environment.

In the foyer afterwards, Flaherty stood at a microphone and took questions. Someone asked about Mr. Layton’s question. The Finance Minister recounted the story of how he’d put the NDP leader in his place. All were impressed.

Out on the lawn though, there was anguished screaming, a pained-looking young lady with a microphone leading a series of call-and-response chants.

“Stop Killing! Innocent Tamils!”

“No More! Genocide!”

“Stop Using! Chemical Weapons!”

“Canada Take! Immediate Action!”

At the foot of the Peace Tower, the crowd yelled at whoever might be listening inside.

“What Do We Want? Permanent Ceasefire!”

“When Do We Want It? Right Now!”

“Prime Minister Harper! Don’t Be Silent!”

A month ago, Liberal Gurbax Malhi had made the obvious mistake of speaking to a similar rally, this one including visible symbols of the Tamil Tigers. Soon enough, video of his appearance was on YouTube and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was accusing him of “encouraging public manifestations of support for a terrorist organization.” A formal apology from Malhi was emailed out shortly thereafter.

In this crowd of 30,000, there was not an inappropriate flag to be seen. Still, the Liberals chose to meet privately with members of the Tamil community, a press release issued to report the meeting and explain Mr. Ignatieff’s concerns. “I think it was our consensus that the best way to meet with the Tamil community was to do it with their leadership, the best way to have thoughtful and intelligent conversation,” Liberal Rob Oliphant explained after QP.

By the widely accepted rules of Ottawa, this made much sense. By the estimation of the masses on the lawn, this was insufficient. “To all our parliamentarians,” someone yelled, “where are you?”

The Stats. Employment and the forestry industry, six questions each. Science, five questions. The environment, four questions. Sri Lanka, three questions. Listeriosis, firearms, taxation and credit cards, two questions each. Economy, crime, anti-semitism and the environment, one question each.

Diane Finley, six answers. Tony Clement, Mark Warawa and Jim Flaherty, five answers each. Denis Lebel, Stockwell Day, Pierre Lemieux, Bev Oda, Peter Van Loan and Lisa Raitt, two answers each. Rob Nicholson, Jason Kenney and Lawrence Cannon, one answer each.


The Commons: “To all our parliamentarians, where are you?”

  1. It doesn’t seem like much work was done. The answers never mean anything or committ to concrete action. Conclusion: they don’t want to talk to that crowd cause they may have to get up off their butts and do something.

  2. Peaceful protests happened everywhere: Ottawa, TO, England, Denmark, Norway, France, and many other countries. The media needs to pick up on it!

    For 2 weeks, in Ottawa, rallies have been SO respectful. It’s unbelievable. With so much anger and frustration building up I would have thrown at least one rock by now.

    Everyone was so careful to focus on tamil civilians’ human rights (NOT tamil tigers), calling for a ceasefire, asking for aid groups to be allowed in so called “safe zones”, and media to be called in war zones (no more CFRA bullcrap, they’re being told what to say). Specific, reasonable demands were done: Calling back our High Commissionner from Sri Lanka. Know what else? People cleaned up the entire street, at the end of every day, it was cleaner than in the morning.

    ….. Today was a sad day: It was very, very unfortunate for all of these people (tamil or not) to put so much time, energy and effort – for 14 days straight – only to get a simple “we can’t do anything for you, sorry!” from Layton. Our government is washing its hands of this! I’m so, so, so disappointed by my country, right now.

    A terrible decision like sending troops to Afghanistan can be done in 5 sec, behind closed doors. But then 20,000 canadians and tamils show up the Hill against GENOCIDE and Canada can’t even fire off a press release taking position against it? Give me a break!

    — Hoping this thread won’t turn into another battle about LTTE. That’s NOT what we came to support. We support peace, and human rights. There wasn’t a single Tamil Tiger flag in the air this afternoon. The respect from the crowd was spectacular, for TWO weeks straight. —

  3. I don’t know why do we, Canadian Tamils, have to even go to the elections and vote for any body in future !
    Stephen Harper, are you alive?
    Other party leaders, thank you for saying you can’t do anything !
    This is our fate, we have to watch thousands of our people die everyday in the hands of Sri Lanka’s state terrorism !

    • Yep – except for the Sri Lanka state terrorism thing.
      And please do stay away from the elections. You’d only vote for a rabid socialist who will make you unattainable promises that Canada would somehow change the internal politics of a country half a world away. And Canada needs leaders a little more realistic and practical than that in this troubled world ….

  4. There wasn’t a single Tamil Tiger flag in the air this afternoon.

    Is that really material? “Not visibly endorsing terrorist groups at this moment, if there are cameras nearby” isn’t exactly the moral high ground. I think the protests to this point have made it fairly obvious where the crowd’s sympathies lie.

    • Yes it is, as Jason Kenny has specifically said that the reason he wasn’t addressing the crowd is because he saw the LTTE flag (even though it was just one or two).

      It’s amazing that in a protest that big the organizers actually managed to get people not to fly the LTTE flag — quite a feat. The organizers should get a meeting for sure.

      • So your logic is that Kenney should have ignored the previous 14 days of protests, when the Tiger flag flew high and the rhetoric was thick, just because these zealots tucked their terrorist symbols away for a final last day that they knew was their last chance?
        You consider that a true Road to Damascus conversion by these protesters, do you?
        Layton and Iggy fell for that kind of reasoning, but then again socialists are all about surface appearances. They’re thinking seems to follow the line that, ‘Oh, someone has cleaned the mess in the toilet, so now I can ignore what really goes on in it.’

        • The vast majority of the protesters have/had a legitimate reason to meet with the Minister, and the organizers were not supporters of the LTTE. Just because some showed up with the flag doesn’t mean they represent everyone.

          Protests around the Human Rights Tribunal’s dalliance into Mark Steyn’s work included some neo-Nazi groups and some anarchists. Does this mean that the people who were there to support unfettered free speech were all racists and terrorists? I think not.

  5. Canada ! You banned LTTE as a terrorist organization. But today in front of your eyes the Sri Lankan terrorist government is killing thousands of innocent Tamil civilians, including children, in their homeland and you can’t take any actions agains that terrorist government !!!
    Is this what you are capable of ? Is this how your justice system work ?

    • Our justice system applies within our own jurisdiction. We are not the world’s policeman, nor should we be counted on to assume such a role. Sri Lanka doesn’t allow independent journalism inside the war zone, and hence no independent means of verifying each side’s claims of genocidal practice.

      However, I should like to note that it has been independently verified that the LTTE employs suicide bombers against civilian populations. As for the Sri Lankan governments methods, because of the aforementioned journalistic ban, we don’t know. I think it’s best if we stay out of this altogether.

      So long as it doesn’t affect the national security interests of Canada, I see no reason at all to involve ourselves.

      • To brick tamlin, We are not asking the government of Canada to be a policeman to the world but rather raise its voice when their is atrocities committed against innocent woman and children. Why are they taking sides? Clearly Sri Lankan government banned media to hide its atrocities. I thought this country stood for some deep values like humanity and respects toward fellow citizens. I guess those values only apply to “Western Lives”!!!!

        • You don’t roll in guns a-blazing or crying bloody murder until you know the facts of the matter at hand. I think Canada’s military history attests to this quite clearly. Suez Canal Crisis was in clear breach of international law, Iraq had insufficient information to compel action by Canada’s forces, Rwanda had clear cut evidence of genocidal practice. All we have is in this case is anecdotal evidence from a terrorist organization.

          We do stand for said values, but not without qualification. We also respect due process and the rule of law, as in getting your facts straight and working through the appropriate multilateral channels before taking any action and siding with a group which may prove to be a regrettable allegiance. Again, I’d reiterate that the LTTE has used suicide bombers on civilian population. I don’t yet see any independent confirmation of government practice being similarly barbaric, thus I see no compelling reason to do anything.

          We’ve already asked for an end to the fighting through the foreign affairs minister. I don’t see how we can do much more beyond verbal requests.

          • Amen and ditto.

          • So your point is that if atrocities committed without any witness you can’t take any action, even to varify that ! right? You want some one else to do the homework for you and if US take any action, just go with them ! right ?

          • No, what I’m saying is that if someone *other* than a radical terrorist group that uses suicide bombers on innocent civilians were to make these claims (a.k.a. an unbiased source). Noel, I’m not sure you understood my last post. Remember, we stayed out of Iraq because we saw no cause beyond the biased information being bandied about. One could press the point that this situation bears far too many analogies to Iraq to ignore them. Further, we invaded Afghanistan under the auspices of the United Nations and remain there at the invitation of the democratically elected government there. We did not go in riding on the coattails of the U.S.
            My point is that taking your leads on foreign policy towards a developing country based on the demands of terrorist sympathizers is without a doubt the lowest form of diplomacy and tact that ever was.

          • brick tamlin,
            So, did you think that it was only LTTE confirmed the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government? What about the UN figures about the casualty caused by the Sri Lankan state terrorism ? I hope you trust them.

  6. I get it. The Prime Minister is supposed to press some red button on his desk and all the things that these folks want will be instantly granted. So where were all these protestors over the years that this conflict in Sri Lanka has been going on? Could it be that the righteous indignation has only come out when the rebels appear to be losing? I would give my eyeteeth to know who is footing the bill for this “spontaneous grass roots” protest.

    • “So where were all these protestors over the years that this conflict in Sri Lanka has been going on? Could it be that the righteous indignation has only come out when the rebels appear to be losing”
      -I’m sorry you feel this way….. Few years back Sri Lankan Government did not trap 300,000 people in a SO CALLED “safe zone” and kill them. They did not kill women and children!!!!!! This is an act of GENOCIDE. Do you know what is actually happening there? Do u think this government can defeat the LTTE?
      This is a struggle for FREEDOM, until freedom is achieved, the war will never end!!!
      If you people think this is because of LTTE, you are dead wrong!!!! LTTTE can manage themselves!!
      This is because, every day there is force abortion, regular rapes, and murder in the government camps. Please take time to educate yourself before you make any comments.
      Please watch this video!!!

  7. On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon issued a statement calling for both parties in the conflict to work on a quick resolution

    Does the Foreign Minister think Canadians are a bunch of brain dead idiots to issue a statement calling both parties in the conflict to work on a quick resolution?

    Hello….. …

    The minute Conservatives came to power the utmost priority above all other matters in this country, was to ban the LTTE that was engaged in a ceasefire by a peace pact with the SL Government. After wining & dinning with the axis of evil they were gullible enough to swallow the PR campaign that was launched spending thousands of dollars. Although time and time again Tamil Canadians kept saying the ban will allow the failed state of SL to walk away from the Peace talks that will eventually lead to genocide, what did this government do? Aid and abet in the killing of innocent Tamils. Now HRW and Medécins sans Frontières are claiming without an immediate ceasefire a blood bath is inevitable.

    Where is this Government?

    Hiding behind the Parliament walls with the blood soaked hands. Shame!
    Of course you need to hide behind excuses, excuses and more excuses. What are you so afraid of? The optics these Tamil Canadians carry? After all it is the identity of the ¼ million people who you represent.

    You aided and abetted in death of Journalists, Parliamentarians, thousands of innocent babies and children that perished without living to see the day and the persecution of Christians.

    You are the same government that denounces abortion, promotes Christian values, law and order and who do you support – a corrupted government that murders all these values and lays a red carpet for their Iranian friends. Who do you think you are kidding? The ¼ million Tamil Canadians, or the voters who believe you will uphold these principles?

    • A classic case of anger transference and specious reasoning.

  8. From this I have realized that no body actually care about others until it happens to them. I do not know how fellow Canadian can say that we should not get involved. Thousands of kids are dieing everyday and you sit here and talk about animal rights.

    • A German theologian, Martin Niem”ller in his youth was an admirer of Hitler. However, he later realized Nazism was just about killing anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and was very nearly executed.

      While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that will awaken the soul within you:

      “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

      Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

      Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

  9. Watching Jim Flaherty on television during QP I noticed Diane Ablonczy behind him looking quite fatigued. In fact I thought I saw her nodding off. I wonder what is wrong. She used to have so much passion. She used to really get into it for the TV cameras. Could someone please cover and explain the fall of Diane Ablonczy.

  10. As a Tamil Canadian thanking Mr. Hon. Stephan Harper & all MPs, that how they respect Tamils Canadian yesterday, we all joint together i am really prod about it.

    But it is really shame to All MPs, you can not make a decision with in 8hrs for this people, it made black mark in Canadian histrory, it is never come back again, why at least a peace full word to calm down our request, we had a hope at least the Goverment takes action.

    Not even one Mps except NDP, we are really thanking NDP at least few words for us, we can not forget in our life time, why not Liberal, why not Conservative at least one MP

  11. It’s more than a little disingenious for this writer to state in the story: “In this crowd of 30,000, there was not an inappropriate flag to be seen.”
    What this writer should have more correctly said was: “On the final day of their protest, in a last-ditch effort to publicize their propoganda to a Canadian public that had been infuritated and offended by previous displays of terrorist paraphernalia, there was not an in appropriate flag to be seen.”
    I work in Ottawa, and I can tell you, for 14 of the 15 days that these people clogged our downtown streets and cost taxpayers untold dollars for security measures, there were a multitude of inappropriate flags to be seen.
    Not only were inappropriate flags seen, but offence was shown to Canada as the protestors flew the terrorist symbol alongside the Maple Leaf – the flag of the country that has declared the Tamil Tigers a terrorist organization, and to which these protesters profess to owe their allegiance.
    And Canadian authorities allowed this – for 14 days!
    A more sorry spectacle I have not seen.

    • Ceeger, the protest was not a show off of anything. We never intended to insult Canada anyway either. I’m a Canadian and my first priority is upholding the Canadian culture and value with full respect to the country. We came to the protest to raise our voice in support for our relatives in Sri Lanka who is being killed in masses every day by the state terrorism and begging Canada to take some actions to stop the on going killing of Tamils.
      I’m not hoping for our Prime Minister to press any magic red button. Canada has been and still funding lots of projects in Sri Lanka and is a big trade partner with Sri Lanka in which Sri Lanka benefits the most. Canada is in common wealth, Canada has the power to make changes in the lives of civilians, brutelly getting killed every day by the Sri Lankan state terrorism.
      But, unfortunately, we don’t have the right leaders to take any actions.

      • Noel, I can’t help but notice that you replied to a post about the waving of terrorist-symbol flags in Canada with absolutely no mention of the terrorist flag-waving activity that preceded the final day protest by 14 days.
        Put down your list of talking points and please address the issue: Why are people who profess to be committed Canadian citizens raising atrocious symbols of terrorism at a rally that you say was only about trying to help your relatives in a country you left behind?
        And should you dispute the premise of the terrorist-logo flag-waving, then I could e-mail you some nice digital photographs I took over 14 days of walking to work this month, just to refresh your memory.
        Care and worry for your relatives caught in the dispute, by all means. But don’t insult Canadians’ intelligence by saying you are doing so with the purest of motives, while those around you wave the flag and chant the slogans of a group branded as terrorists by the government of the country that you profess to value and now to be a part of.

        • Ceeger, if you are a true Canadian you would understand one of the important core value of Canada, I hope you know it, “the freedom of expression”!. Majority of the Tamils (not only among Sri Lanka Tamils, but also among the 75 Million Tamils all over the world) believe that LTTE represents the Sri Lankan Tamils and the solution to this problem can be achieved only by negotiating with them.
          You have to understand the reason behind all the countries, including Canada, in a very short period of time, while LTTE was engaged in a ceasefire, banned the Tamil Tigers. If LTTE was banned before the beginning of the ceasefire, you can argue that it was due to what they have done. But, why does all those 31 countries (other than India) ban LTTE, before even the LTTE was banned in Sri Lanka itself? Can you answer this question genuinely, other than by explaining the world politics? Do you at least recognize that it the Indian Congress Government running this war on behalf of Sri Lankan government.
          Also, you have to understand that lots of Tamils went to the protest were oppose to raising LTTE flags, but it’s not always possible to controls (perhaps, it’s even wrong to do so) the emotions of the people and their support for LTTE.

  12. Cegar, time and again it was stated by the high ranking police officials in consultation with their lawyers that rasing any flag doesn’t violate the law of this country. If you did not get it, please visit a police station near to you and clarify yourself.

    Being a canadian, you should know what your previlage and the others are. Knowing that rasing tiger flag is not a law breaking offence, you should not keep repeating again and again the same thing like a parrot. Obviously you don’t have anything else to take on. Cry baby, wait for something else to show up to point your finger at.

    Ceegar = a Canadian citizen of a sinhalease mentality. Simple as that.

    • Your sympathies with terrorism is what is causing the government to ignore you, and rightly so. You have a right to wave your soon to be obsolete flag anywhere you wish, but that by no means gives you an entitlement to have the government lend an ear. Peace, order and good government are hardly comparable with terrorism.

  13. A well examined piece by Maclean’s. I hope you guys would continue to step-up coverage on this issue.

    I also came across some interesting set of comments from Tamil youth to the reaction from the public at large and the response of Canadian politicos to these protests in the links below:



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