At about 6:30 p.m. last night, a group of Tamils walked up the Spadina ramps onto the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto and blocked eastbound traffic for five hours. They want the Canadian government to help end the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. Earlier this spring, Tamils held two weeks of protests in Ottawa that caused severe traffic tie-ups downtown. Those protests didn’t result in any government action.
The protesters left the expressway after the Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff’s deputy chief of staff agreed to bring up their concerns Monday in the Liberal caucus.
Multiple aspects of this situation really rub me the wrong way. For example, two thousand people walked on to one of Canada’s busiest expressways to block traffic. Some brought their children. What were they thinking? Perhaps the presence of their children was a deliberate strategy to give the police pause. Not cool.
In his eagerness to curry support, Ignatieff has shown that the easiest way to bend the ear of federal party leaders is to simply block the busiest local highway. At least we know who to blame if this becomes a common occurrence.
The Canadian government has labelled the Tamil Tigers a terrorist organization. I don’t think it’s wise to indicate that it’s perfectly okay to stop key aspects of our infrastructure from functioning on behalf of terrorists. Ignatieff’s agreeing to work on their behalf is an acknowledgement that their means are acceptable. And if the Tigers are not terrorists, then the first thing Canadian Tamils should be doing is working to get them off the terrorist list.
So what’s next? It seems the means by which the protesters make their presence known escalates every time they don’t get what they want. At what point is it no longer okay? One news report said that although the protest leader disbanded the assembly after Ignatieff’s chief of staff made his promise, many of the protesters did not want to give up. If that had happened, would they have been allowed to tie up the expressway indefinitely?
Another form the escalation has taken is that as far as I’m aware, the expressway was blocked with no warning. The Ottawa protests were planned and the authorities were informed beforehand.
The Canadian Tamils should carefully consider what they’re doing. Getting their message out is one thing, but at some point, these tactics will piss of the people from which they’re attempting to garner support. Local, provincial, and federal government departments had better figure out how far they intend to letting these protests go, and what they’ll do when things reach that point.