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Tamils

Population in Canada
According to government figures, there are about 200,000 Tamils in Canada. The majority of Tamils are located in urban centres in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Approx. 150,000 live in Toronto's 416 area code, and approx. 70,000 more live in Scarborough. The rest of the population are scattered in Markham, Etobicoke and downtown Toronto. Nevertheless, some Tamil groups in Canada say these figures are highly inflated. They say the most accurate count of Tamils in Canada is the 2001 census data on languages spoken in Canada. It identified 92,010 people speaking Tamil as their mother tongue.

The majority of Tamils are located in urban centres in Toronto.

There are seven identified Tamil communities:
Tuxedo: Markham Road and Ellesmere Road
Silversprings: on Finch Avenue E., from Kennedy Road to Pharmacy Avenue
Kennedy Road and Eglinton Aveune
Malvern: Malvern Mall, around Neilson Road and Finch Avenue E.
Jane Street and Finch Avenue W.
Rexdale: Kipling Avenue and Steeles Avenue W.
St. Jamestown: the square of Wellesley Street E., Sherbourne Street, Bloor
Street E., and Parliament Street
Population in Montreal: approx 25,000

Two areas with a high number of recent Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants are Park Extension and Plamondon. More established Tamils are scattered throughout middle-class areas.

Population in Ottawa and Vancouver: approx 5,000 in each city.

History in Canada

The Tamil community is a relatively new group. Some Tamils settled in Canada as early as the 1960s, coming as independent immigrants. The vast majority, however, arrived in Canada after 1983 in the aftermath of the 1983 Colombo riots in Sri Lanka. In 1983, the Canadian government took Tamils into Canada under humanitarian and compassionate consideration. At the same time, a visa requirement was imposed on Sri Lankans, making it very difficult to get here legally. In 1986, Minister's permits were granted to some refugees allowing them to remain in Canada. Today Tamils continue to make up one of the largest group of refugees seeking asylum in Canada. Ten percent of the persons seeking asylum in Canada in 1999 originated from Sri Lanka.

Significant Religious and Cultural dates

January 14: Thai Pongal (Hindu)
April 13 or 14: Tamil New Year (celebrated by all kinds of Sri Lankans)
Late November: Deepavali, the Hindu Festival of Light

BRIEF POLITICAL HISTORY

The Sri Lanka ethnic conflict:
The current ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is between the majority Sinhalese (roughly 75 percent of the population; predominantly Buddhist, originally from Northern India) and the minority Tamils (15-20 percent; primarily Hindu, originating in Southern India, including what is currently the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which still has a large Tamil population). The Tamils have been fighting for an independent Tamil state since 1983 to separate the Tamil-majority regions of the north and east from the rest of Sri Lanka. The state of Tamil Eelam has been established by the people living there (and the militant groups fighting the Sinhalese government army) under the right of self-determination. Countries such as Israel, England, the United States and Canada continue to support the Sri Lankan governent -- backing the army through aid money and training.

The war in Sri Lanka has left 612,500 displaced within the country according to 1999 United Nations statistics.
1621 - Portuguese occupy Tamil Jaffna kingdom in the north of Ceylon
1656-1796 - Dutch occupy low country Sinhalese and Tamil areas
1833 - British establish control over the Jaffna, Kandyan and low-country kingdoms of Ceylon
1944 - Tamil Congress formed by G.G. Ponnambalam
1946 - United National Party (UNP) formed
1948 - Independence won from British

Ceylon Citizenship Act denies citizenship to Tamils of Indian origin (indentured labourers brought by British from South India to work in rubber, tea and coffee estates during the previous century)
1949 - Ceylon Amendment Act disenfranchises plantation Tamils. Federal Party formed by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam.
1956 - Sinhala only Official Language Act passed
1957 - Bandaranayake/Chelvanayakam Pact (BC Pact) signed to protect Tamil interests
1958 - under pressure from Sinhalese extremists, pact broken.
1965 - another pact was signed between UNP leader Dudley Senanayake and Chelvanayakam. This pact also died.
1972 - Ceylon becomes Republic of Sri Lanka; Tamil United Front formed
1975 - Chelvanayakam declares for a separate Tamil state
1979 - Prevention of Terrorism Act created
1981 - Police and army rampage in Jaffna; army sets fire to Jaffna library and newspaper office.
1983 - over 500 Tamils killed in Anti-Tamil pogroms organized by police and army. Tamils from the South and plantations flee to the North.
Long before independence, in the period between 1910-1917, the British brought troops from Malaysia to quell a Sinhalese/Muslim riot. Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, a Tamil, went to England to plead for the release of Sinhalese prisoners. He was the Tamil representative in the Legislative Council.

On Feb. 4, 1948, Sri Lanka gained its Independence from England. Many Tamils were not in favour of independence because they feared that as a minority group, they would not get adequate representation. A few Tamil MPs who were members of the ruling UNP -- namely V. Nalliah -- supported the move.

In 1955, the Sinhala Only Act was passed, and was overwhelmingly opposed by the Tamil federal party who were waging a parliamentary struggle to gain regional autonomy for Tamils in the north and east. Several sathyagrahas (peaceful protests) took place in protest against laws infringing on the rights of Tamils. The Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (predominantly Sinhalese parties) supported the sathyagraha movement.

Bandaranayake/Chelvanayakam Pact (BC Pact) was signed in 1957 to protect the rights of the Tamil minority. It was a fairly generous regional autonomy package. After protest from Buddhist monks and J.R. Jeyawardene (the then-opposition leader), the pact was scrapped. Even so, Bandaranayake was assassinated by an extremist Buddhist monk who later converted to Christianity. Bandaranayake's widow Sirimavo succeeded him becoming the world's first female head of state.

The UNP then came to power and another pact was signed between UNP leader Dudley Senanayake and Chelvanayakam. This pact also died.

Disenfranchisement of estate Tamils (indentured labourers brought by British from South India to work in rubber, tea and coffee estates during the previous century). This reduced the power of the Tamil vote further.

In 1976 and 1980, other riots in places such as Trincomalee and Mannar and Batticaloa occurred.

In the late 1970's, the Sri Lankan army burned down the Jaffna Library, one of the biggest libraries of Tamil literature in the world.

July 1983: anti-Tamil riots in Colombo

1983: Tamil refugees arrive in Canada in large numbers.

Aug. 11, 1986: 155 Tamil refugees are smuggled into Canada on the Aurigae, a 425-tonne ship driven by Captain Wolfgang Bindel. The group was dropped into lifeboats off the coast of Newfoundland, and eventually given stay for a year.

PROMINENT FIGURES

Sonya Jayaseelan - Canadian tennis player
Shayam Selvadurai - author of Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens
Sanjay Kumar - president and CEO of Computer Associates in New York
A. Sivanandan - author of When Memory Dies, and editor of the journal Race and Class
Yasmin Tamiah - lesbian author

Religions

Hinduism
Saivism - is a branch of Hinduism where Siva is worshipped as the principal deity
Christianity - In Sri Lanka, there are Anglicans, Catholics and other Christian denominations
Muslim - Tamil-speaking Muslims

Languages spoken
Tamil
English
Sinhalese: many Tamils due speak this due to the Sinhala Only Act, and depending on what part of Sri Lanka they're from.

Tamil Organizations
Tamil Eelam Society:
www.tesoc.com
Tel: (416) 463-7647

College and University Tamil Students Union:
Tel: (416) 854-0581

The Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre:
www.cantyd.org
Tel: (416) 396-4663

Tamil Rehabilitation Organization: (416) 751-8777

Tamil Resource Centre: (416) 928-0990

Pothikai Tamil Women's Organization: (416) 961-4691

World Tamil Movement of Ontario: (416) 461-3900

Canadian Ceylon Tamil Chamber Of Commerce - (416) 261-7442

Canadian Tamil Radio - (416) 264-8798

Academy of Tamil Arts and Technology: (416) 757-0890

Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT): ?

The Canadian Council for Refugees:
www.web.net/~ccr
Tel: (514) 277-7223

Websites
www.tamilcanadian.com
www.tamils.com
htp://reality.lanka.com htp://reality.lanka.com
www.tamileelam.com
www.theepam.com

Glossary
Deepavali or Diwali: the Festival of Lights that marks the victory of good over evil, celebrated in late November.

EPRLF: Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front, a Tamil independence militant group in Sri Lanka. Now defunct.

EROS: The Eelani Revolutionary Organization, a Tamil independence militant group in Sri Lanka.

Jallikkattu: a peaceful sport involving bulls celebrated by young men as a part of the three-day Thai Pongal.

LTTE: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This is the major armed organization fighting for Tamil independence in Sri Lanka. Presently under the leadership of Velupillai Pirabakaran, the LTTE was founded on May 5, 1976.

Maveera Thinum/Nal (Heroes Day) takes place each year on November 27. Events commemorating it begin on Nov 21. The reason that this particular day was chosen to remember all Tamil freedom fighters is this: around 1982 Lt. Shankar ( also known as Suresh) was injured in Jaffna and then died in India.

Tamil New Year: the new year for Hindu Tamils whose calendar is based on the solar year. This falls on the first day of the month Chithirai (in mid April, usually the 13th or 14th) .
Thai Pongal: a harvest festival - the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving. It's held on Jan. (the month of Thai) 14 to honour the Sun for a bountiful harvest. Families gather to share their joy and their harvests with others. The Sun is offered a "Pongal" of rice and milk. A full-scale Thai Pongal festival is held over three days.

Sources


Gitanjali Lena
Canadian Council for Refugees
Tel: (514) 277-7223

Gary Anandasangaree
Coordinator of CanTYD
Tel: (416) 564-9991

Thiru Thiruchelban
With the senior settlement program at Catholic Cross Cultural Services, also the editor-in-chief of Tamils Information, a monthly magazine.
Phone: (416) 757-9969 x211

Ranji
The Tamil Eelam Society
Tel: (416) 463-7647

Dr. R. Cheran
Research associate, journalist and educator
Centre for Refugee Studies
York University

Researched by Carly Foster

 
     
 
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