Tamils’ highway closure was ‘wrong way to protest’: Ont. premier
Last Updated: Monday, May 11, 2009
CBC News [Ontario]
The protest that shut down one of Toronto’s major roadways on Sunday moved to midtown and to Queen’s Park on Monday, where members of the city’s Tamil community are demanding the federal government do more to help end the civil war in their native Sri Lanka.
Premier Dalton McGuinty assailed the protesters’ tactics, saying the bloodshed in Sri Lanka does not justify blocking streets.
“I understand the passions which are here. But having said that, there is a right way and a wrong way to protest,” said McGuinty.
He said the demonstrators are welcome to protest on the front lawn of the legislature or Parliament Hill.
On Sunday, a protest by thousands of members of the city’s Tamil community, including women and children, blocked and shut down the Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto.
For more than five hours protesters jammed the highway demanding the federal government impose sanctions on Sri Lanka until it signs a ceasefire with Tamil rebels.
Toronto Mayor David Miller issued a statement Sunday night saying that while he understood the protesters’ deep concern over what is happening in Sri Lanka, “Endangering public safety by occupying the Gardiner or other public highways is not the right way to make that statement.”
Siva Vimal, a spokesman for the protesters, said they ended the blockade only after receiving a promise from federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s deputy chief of staff that their concerns would be brought up in Parliament, which the Liberals and the NDP did during Monday’s question period.
The protest was mostly peaceful. Police took three people into custody, charging them with assaulting an officer. Police estimate 5,000 people took part in the demonstration, which ended shortly at midnight.
Some protesters then marched to Queen’s Park and by mid-morning another group began demonstrating near the busy corner of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue where the Sri Lankan consulate is located.
In April, Tamil protests shut down a section of University Avenue for more than three days for a protest outside the United States Consulate. Toronto police moved in and forced the demonstrators onto the sidewalk and reopened the street once the crowd dwindled.
On Monday, police shut down University Avenue for several hours from Dundas Street West to Queen Street West, in front of the U.S. Consulate.
At least 50 Tamil Canadians gathered in Calgary at the U.S. Consulate on Monday, pleading that the United Nations intervene in the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka.
Sunday’s Toronto protest was the fourth major Tamil protest in the city this year.
About 200,000 Sri Lankan Canadians live in the Toronto area, which is home to one of the largest Tamil populations outside Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Canadians are calling for foreign governments to help arrange a ceasefire between Sri Lankan government troops and the rebel Tamil Tigers, a rebel group known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
In 2006, Canada added the Tamil Tigers to its official list of terrorist organizations.