by Harrish Thirukumaran
On January 17, 2015, the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) held its 8th annual Thai Pongal Gala at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel in Richmond Hill, Ontario. As with previous dinners, the occasion is proudly set under the symbolic backdrop of Thai Pongal.
This week-long festival seeks to celebrate the prosperity that emerges from a meaningful harvest season among the Tamil people. Accordingly, in one regular instance, this is accomplished with the traditional Tamil dish of Pongal, overflowing in its cooking pot to represent an abundant harvest. It is often affectionately termed the ‘Tamil Thanksgiving.’
While this event serves to signify the special holiday, it also commemorates the positive contributions made from Canadians of Tamil descent. Indeed, since migrating to Canada, Tamils have been able to reach great heights in Canada, as remarked by Raj Thavaratnasingham, CTC president. They have become heavily involved in affairs within all aspects of Canadian life, such as business. The gala was also keen on presenting aspects of Tamil culture, such as traditional dances.
Within the context of Tamil struggles in Sri Lanka, its recent election was a topic consistently addressed throughout the night. As such, the poll resulted in the defeat of nine-year ruler Mahinda Rajapaksa by his former political ally, Maithripala Sirsena. Leading up to his loss, Rajapaksa had become accused of war crimes against Tamil civilians in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and authoritarianism following its conclusion.
A number of Canadian politicians, from various political stripes, were in attendance of this event to showcase support for these major changes. Elected officials included Bonnie Crombie, Justin Trudeau, and Chris Alexander, among other individuals. Some also had the privilege to deliver speeches to further convey the significance of the CTC to Tamil community development.
Talking points from most of the politicians seemed to thoroughly resonate with many of the guests. In her speech, Ms. Crombie, who succeeded famous longtime mayor Hazel Mccallion in Mississauga, interpreted Thai Pongal as an indicator for new hopes and beginnings. Although the festival coincides with Tamil Heritage Month in Ontario, Ms. Crombie revealed it is not formally recognized in Mississauga, as the city government does not issue proclamations. However, she firmly assured that this would change with an advisory committee in her administration, focused on discovering ways to promote inclusive diversity in Mississauga.
Chris Alexander, the Conservative Member of Parliament and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, noted that a “genuine process of reconciliation” could now gain traction from Rajapaksa’s loss. Accordingly, with the ousting of his dictatorial regime, country could begin moving towards Canadian values, which are part of a larger universal framework. Additionally, he recalled his support for the Conservative government’s boycott of the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo in 2013.
Even Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau expressed his own brand of enthusiasm when addressing the crowd at the prestigious CTC event. Like the festive holiday itself, Mr. Trudeau was thankful for the many hallmarks of the Tamil community, including the parliamentary work of Tamil New Democrat MP, Rathika Sitsabeisan. He asserted that the recent outcome in the Sri Lankan election had notably altered the tone of the 2015 gala in comparison to the one last year. In that sense, he wittingly remarked that the voters’ desire for political change in Sri Lanka would be a recognizable trait of the Canadian electorate with the upcoming October election too.
Mr. Trudeau also invoked the words of Pope Francis, whom visited Sri Lanka in the immediate aftermath of the presidential election. “The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing, and unity,” as quoted by Mr. Trudeau. Therefore, he implied, that the new Sri Lankan government must work to enhance the credibility of a war crimes investigation into the civil war, and improve the lives of all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity.
With this side of things at the event, altogether, the CTC received warm impressions by a great deal of attending members among the Tamil community.