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Writings - Brian Senewiratne > My Canadian Experience in Intimidation
TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM
Brian Senewiratne, Australia
My Canadian Experience in Intimidation
8 April 2009
This is not an appeal or a request for help. It is to draw the attention of Canadians to what is going on in their country and how some of their citizens and invited guests are treated. Canada is a great country, probably one of the finest. This fine country does not need to get into bed (or into the gutter) with a brutal fascist politico-military 3rd world dictatorship that has the temerity to call itself the ‘Government’ of Sri Lanka, or inappropriately, the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic, being neither ‘Democratic’ nor ‘Socialist’.
I am setting out what I was recently subjected to at the Toronto airport. The damage done to the good name of Canada was far greater than that done to me. What followed in Malaysia, and, God help us, in Australia (where I have been a citizen for 32 years), will be dealt with in a separate article since this is of no concern to Canada.
I am a Sinhalese from the majority community who has campaigned for more than four decades for the right of the Sri Lankan Tamil ‘minority’ to live with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth. The violation of their human rights now has the features of genocide, as has been documented in a dozen DVDs I have recorded and distributed worldwide
Canadians for Genocide Education (CGE)
CGE is a multi-cultural coalition of almost 50 organizations committed to equity and inclusivity in education on Genocide. Any other approach promotes racism and not human rights. Their areas of interest and countries of concern are listed on www.genocidemuseum.org.
CGE has an annual ‘Genocide Education Week’ where one person “from internationally renowned scholars/speakers of high intellectual caliber and credibility” is selected as the “Distinguished Speaker”. The audience is mainly invited distinguished people – Canadians of diverse backgrounds, politicians, the media, intellectuals, students, human rights workers and humanitarian organizations, and members of the International Community.
Last year (2008), Dr. Ilan Peppe, an Israeli academic, spoke on Genocide of the Palestinians.
In 2009, I, a Sinhalese, was picked to address the meeting on “Peace with Justice in Sri Lanka: Genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils – its causes and solutions”.
My mandate was “to trace the development of the ethnic conflict that has resulted in the violation of human rights of both the Tamils and the Sinhalese, which now features the genocide of the Tamil people. The fundamentals underlying this problem were to be set out, and the possible solutions analysed. Unless these fundamental problems are addressed, without delay, there will neither be Peace nor Prosperity in Sri Lanka, as the country slides inexorably and irreversibly into a Fascist Dictatorship and a Failed State”.
The presentation was on 25 March 2009 at the University of Toronto.
My arrival in Toronto
Before I deal with this let me provide some background information.
I have been to Canada many times and have addressed several meetings, the last in June 2008 when I was invited to address a massive crowd of some 75,000 people.
I have been honoured by the Canadian Tamil Congress on 20 October 2006. The plaque reads,
”Presented to Dr Brian Senewiratne
I was honoured in the United States The plaque:-
“Illankai Tamil Sangam, USA, Honours Dr.Brian Senewiratne, An “International Crusader” for Human Rights and Dignity all over the World and a promoter of Justice for All”
Here was I coming to Canada, as a “Distinguished Speaker” for a meeting in the University of Toronto which had been widely advertised on the net. I was not creeping in for some underground meeting to meet some dubious group.
I had an appointment to address Canadian Congressmen and Senators in Ottawa on the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. I also had several widely advertised meetings in half a dozen Canadian Universities to address undergraduates on the background to this complex problem, since many were not around when all this started. It was a genuine educational effort to tell those who do not know what they wanted to know.
I had, on several occasions, publicly stated that Canada was one of the great counties in the world. My admiration for Canada was no secret. Had it been otherwise, I would not have agreed to travel halfway round the world, and at tremendous cost (to myself, in that I had to pay a locum some $2,000 a day to look after my patients in Brisbane).
As an invited guest, I had a right to expect reasonable treatment.
I arrived at 5.30pm 19 March 2009 after a 26 hour flight, cramped in an economy class seat (all I could afford), not exactly a walk in the park for a 77 year old. I was ‘dog tired’
I filled in the usual Immigration form, “Purpose of visit” “Conference” The lady at Immigration: “What conference?” I told her it was a meeting in the University of Toronto where I was the guest Speaker”
She checked her computer. “Í cannot find such a Conference”. Then she disappeared, and I was left standing at the counter. She appeared half an hour later, “I’m sorry, the computers have broken down and we cannot check this”. What? The computers in Toronto International airport have broken down? Well, that’s serious, if true. The clock ticks on and 45 minutes goes. I am left standing.
Then she says, “You will have to see the senior officer”. I am led to the waiting room and asked to sit there. Another half-hour goes. Immigration Officers pass me: “You will be attended to as soon as possible”. Finally I am ushered in for the interrogation. “I am sorry, but I cannot find any evidence of the Conference you refer to”. I said, “It is on the net”. Officer, “But I cannot find it”
I had a brainwave. “The person who has come to pick me up should know the link to the website”. He located the person and re-appears with a smile. “Í have got it”. As he sat down and downloaded the crucial evidence, I saw my photograph and all the blurb about me on his computer screen.
The Officer read the blurb, “This is not medical”. I replied, “It’s Genocide – humanitarian problems. Violations of human rights”. Officer, ”Tell me about yourself”. I did. In considerable detail. Officer, “Well, I guess it’s OK. Just a quick check of your baggage and you’ll be on your way”. I was about to find out what “quick” meant in Canada.
By now I had missed the Radio interview which I was scheduled to give, on the serious humanitarian crisis which thousands of Canadians were waiting to hear. I hoped that the person who had come to pick me up had called the Radio station to tell them that their guest was still struggling to get into the country and would not make it.
The Officer took me to the baggage checker. I struggled to lift my 27kg case on to the table. “Don’t open anything. I’ll be back”. The Officer and baggage checker disappeared, why I do not know. I was left standing with my case.
Half hour later they were back. “Open the case”. I did. Everything, quite literally, everything, was pulled out and inspected. “What are these?” I said “DVDs”. “What are they all about?” I said, it’s on the label. “By whom? I said “By the person whose photograph is on the label” (It was mine). “We will have to check these out”. I readily gave permission “Pease go ahead. But they are in PAL, not NTSC since they are for my next stop, Malaysia, not for Canada”.
He disappeared.. Another half hour ticks on. “They don’t work.” I said “I told you they are not in ntsc”. In an unnecessary gesture of generosity, I said, “Sir, here is a gift. All 13 dvds for you. Take them home, get them converted to ntsc and have a good look at them, and pass them around to your friends. You’d be doing me a favour”
The dvds out of the way, next came the books I was carrying. One was “Lost Opportunities. Past attempts of resolving the ethnic conflict” from the Centre for Policy, Research and Analysis, Faculty of Law, Sri Lanka. Why had I underlined so much? “Because I wanted to, it was worth underlining.” In any case, what law prevented me from underlining the whole book?
Next was Naomi Wolf’s End of America. What was that book all about? I don’t know. Haven’t read it yet. You should buy the book and read it.
Then came my hand written notes. Pages and pages. “I cannot read doctor’s handwriting”, to which I replied, “They are not meant for you”. Pointing to a word, “What’s this word?” I said, “After 32 hours since I left home, I could not care less”. He persisted, “But what is it?” I said, “conscription, consternation, constabulary, take your pick” (actually it was ‘constipation’ in a letter written to a referring doctor about his patient with bowel cancer). Was it appropriate for him to breach patient confidentiality? (because that is what he was doing).
What was he looking for? A plan to blow up Canada? Remember, by that time he already had every detail about me and my visit, and my visiting card, “Associate Professor of Medicine. Senior Specialist Consultant Physician”
There is more of this harassment , as tedious to relate as to was to undergo, So I’ll give it a miss. A total of about 4 hours.
At 10.30pm he had finished. And I was on my way. Halleluiah!
On the way to town, a Tamil who met me said, “Welcome to the real world, the world of the Tamils. Good to see a Sinhalese being subjected to what we, Tamils, have been subjected to for years”. What he was describing was criminalizing an entire ethnic group (Tamils). Now it is criminalizing a point of view.
Three days later I went to meet the Canadian MPs in Ottawa to apprise them of the humanitarian disaster with some 300,000 Tamil civilians facing death or life in detention centres. Hon Judy Sgro, one of Canada’s finest MPs, and one of the finest I have ever met anywhere in the world (and I’ve met a fair few MPs), was there, as was Dr Kirsty Duncan another fine MP. Judy was once the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister. I have not the slightest doubt that when the Government changes, as sure as day follows night, this outstanding lady will be a senior Minister. She is heading for bigger and better things, and is certainly ‘Prime Ministerial material’.
An early arrival was the charming Mark Meretic, who stayed till the bitter end! He was from the office of Mark Holland MP, Liberal critic for Public Safety and National Security. I was delighted to see him. Just the person I wanted to see, in the circumstances. He expressed deep concern at what I was put through at the airport and wanted details. He also told me that some 50 buses carrying Tamil Canadians, returning to Canada from Washington after protesting outside the Whitehouse, had been held up at the Canadian border for some 5 hours. Does Canada really have to do this to its citizens, some of them quite elderly?
The MPs listened spellbound to my presentation on the human disaster in Sri Lanka, with Hon Judy Sgro saying, “Where are the others? This is a presentation that must be made to the whole parliament”. I noted that after a while, Dr Duncan turned her face away from my presentation, unable to cope with the terrible killings which I projected.
After my presentation, throwing protocol to the winds, Judy gave me a huge hug (I had met her some two years ago in Toronto).
When they heard of what I was put through at the airport, they were shocked. Mark Holland’s Assistant assured me that he will take this further. Had Judy been what she was, she would have blown a fuse at the way I was treated by Immigration at the airport. Heads would surely have rolled.
Canada has some fine,
very fine, MPs who will always have a place in my heart. It was worth coming
halfway round the globe to meet them. When I said that if I was subjected to
what I had been on arrival in Toronto, this might be my last trip, Hon Sgro
said, “That will be disaster for Canada, since this is one of the most lucid and
balanced presentations I have heard on this confusing problem”. I will come back
to Canada, just to meet her.
Back in Toronto, I had addressed a group of young Socialists the day before my main meeting in Toronto University. One of them was at the meeting.
After my one hour address, there were ‘Questions and Answers’. Up went his hand. “Have you been subjected to any harassment here in Canada?” Here was my chance to tell the distinguished audience that their great country had got into bed with a bunch of 3rd world hoodlums. There were gasps of disbelief, “This is outrageous”. It was.
I left Toronto that night. The rest of the saga in Malaysia (where I was not even allowed to enter the country), and, God help us, in my home in Australia where I was Harassed exactly as I was in Toronto. I will deal with this later.
The up side
There is a huge up-side to this Canadian visit. That was meeting hundreds of young Tamils, the hope for the future. Never have I met such enthusiastic people. Rajapakse & Co can smash the Eelam Tamils in Sri Lanka, but what is he going to do with this lot and the equally enthusiastic lot in London who organized the massive protest that has gone on day after day, as I write. Rajapakse and Fonseka, too stupid to realize this, will have a problem on their hands silencing this lot. It will not be done – of that I am certain.
Then there were ordinary folk, the people I love to meet. A young Tamil lad stood up after my address, and said,” I have never been to Sri Lanka and know nothing about our people. I thank you sincerely for telling me all this. I am deeply………” and he stopped, overcome by emotion.
Then there was the little old lady who barely reached my waist. With tears filling her eyes, she looked up at me, “I am so grateful to you for helping my people”. An old man who could barely stand, bent down to touch my feet. As I bent down to pick him up, I said,”I should be on my knees bending to touch your feet to say how sorry I am for what my people have done to yours for half a century”. As I hugged him in a gesture of oneness, I felt the tears streaming down his cheeks, and then my cheeks. It must have been an amazing sight to see two old men who have never met, shedding tears for different reasons, one with gratitude and the other with genuine regret and sorrow.
These are the experiences that mean more to me than all the awards put together. I have repeatedly said that until the Sinhalese apologize to the Tamils for all that has been done to them, there will never be peace in Sri Lanka.
There were, of course, the expected Sinhalese ‘patriots’, there to breakup my meetings. Their interruptions did more damage to their ‘cause’ than anything that I could have said. Their stupidity, as shown by the questions they asked, helped me greatly by demonstrating how poorly educated and informed they were.
There is not the slightest doubt that today’s most dangerous Sri Lankan export, is Sinhalese hooligans. That is why I try to keep them out of my meetings because they violate the rights of the people who have come there to hear what I have to say. Civilised behaviour is not in their vocabulary.
Who was behind the trauma inflicted on me trying to enter Canada, and later deported from Malaysia, and harassed on my return to Australia?
Work it out yourself. Who was being threatened by my presentations on –“Genocide of Tamils, the disintegration of a Democracy and the establishment of a fascist politico-military dictatorship”? The finger points to those whose criminal activities were being exposed. Canada, Malaysia and my home, Australia, do not need get into bed (or into the drain) with this 3rd world fascist dictatorship. When that happens, it is time for all of us to sit up and worry.
Damage done to Canada. Canada’s responsibility
A great country like Canada does not need to behave like this, getting into the gutter with a 3rd World tin-pot fascist dictatorship. Canada was not just crucifying me, it was crucifying itself, which is much more serious.
I hope this is taken up in the Canadian parliament, and the media, since it is a matter of public interest.
We all admire, and are grateful to, Canada for giving refuge to some 400,000 Sri Lankan Tamils, the largest number in any country. The other side of the coin is that Canada has benefited in a big way from their expertise. In the medical area, some of the finest students I have trained are now in Canada, providing hard-to-get medical specialist services, in a world seriously short of this commodity. Ten times more are the businessmen, professionals across the board, and most important, a huge mass of highly trainable young people. There is not the slightest doubt that Canada has benefited massively from all this trained and trainable talent.
Canada cannot get into bed with a barbaric regime in Sri Lanka, brutalizing and murdering the kinsmen of these people. It is irresponsible and unacceptable.
I would like this taken up in the Canadian parliament. Despite my 77 years, and the trauma I have been through, I am happy to come to Ottawa and address you. It is for the good name of Canada, as it is for the terrible tragedy that Sri Lanka is heading for – a fascist dictatorship and a Failed State.
What I do not want you to do is to offer me your sympathy. What I want is action, both by Canadian politicians and citizens.
I am sending this message to Canadians “See your MP or Senator and ask if this is acceptable behaviour. If not, what is he/she going to do? If nothing, why not? Give him/her a week and see him/her again, and again, and again, till something is done”.. That is what ‘protest’ is all about. My dvds, all dozen of them, are available from me, and in Canada (email me for details – [email protected] . Remember, I am a Sinhalese, not a member of the brutalized Tamil community, who has nothing to gain from getting involved in this
All I can do is to bring all this to your attention, to the ‘Court of Public Opinion), and leave it to that ‘Court’ to act. Remember Pastor Niemoller’s famous poem on the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power – “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews…”. Modified, “First they came for Tamils, I did not speak up, because I was not a Tamil. Then they came for the Sinhalese activists who campaign for the Tamil cause. I did not speak up, because I am not an activist. Then they came for me….”.
“Canadians, all 400,000 expatriate Tamils, and those who support the Tamil struggle for justice, and others who are just decent people, the ball is in your court”.