Toronto Tiger rally falls flat

No zoo veterinarian really likes to give an enema to a tiger. But if the supporters of the Tamil Tigers in Canada are looking a bit off colour right now it’s because they just got one that they really didn’t need.

Families fleeing meeting halls; sudden changes to venues; black-outs, audio-equipment that didn’t work; and large strangers sauntering around on stages at solemn moments… A big event turned into a humiliation, and the Tigers don’t look so impressive anymore.

The front organizations for the LTTE in Toronto rarely make the paramilitary character of the Tigers too obvious, but the annual "Heroes Day" observations on November 27th are an exception. The high point is usually a meeting where supporters assemble, with former guerrillas in their old fatigue uniforms, to listen to the latest words from their old warlord on the other side of the world.

This year, with the Sri Lankan army closing in on the Tigers’ critical sanctuary areas, the Heroes Day rally was of vital importance to the Diaspora community in Toronto. Instead, it became a fiasco and nothing worked right.

Although World Tamil Movement has been banned in Canada, Tiger supporters have been flouting the law and running events anyway using a variety of different names. Canadian Tamils are told to await last-minute instructions over Tamil language radio shows about where rallies and protests might be held, while store owners are firmly ordered to close their shops in order to maximize attendance. Fear and intimidation keep much of the community in line.

The challenge for independent-minded Tamils has always been to find ways to break the hold of the Tiger establishment so that they can run their own lives; and Canadian police have always been limited in their abilities to restrain a group that pushes the limits of Canada’s laws as far as they can (and just a bit over). But, as ever, when there is a will, there is a way. As "Heroes Day" approached, helpful Canadian Tamils saw to it that various officials were kept fully informed of developments. While Tiger organizers tried to find space by masquerading their paramilitary rally as a "cultural event", they found that potential sites were already booked or suddenly ‘unavailable". This made it extremely difficult for organizers to advertise the location of events, and caused much confusion.

The owner of one major meeting hall that was booked became uncooperative when told who was really coming. As the Tigers trooped in to watch Prabhakaran’s annual broadcast, the video link was cut by the irate owner. Instead everyone got to view a butterfly screen-saver on the screen, while listening to the warlord’s speech. Elsewhere, microphones kept cutting out and stage lights kept flickering

Audiences were already much smaller than usual, and many more members vanished when word spread that police officers were busy recording the license plate numbers of cars in the parking lot. At one event, as uniformed Tigers stood to attention during the playing of their anthem, the moment was disrupted when a large man in a police raid jacket started wandering around on the stage, sneering at the former guerrillas. Not one of them moved to shoo him away.

Tiger supporters had been playing silly games and intimidation tactics in the past for Sri Lankan events in Toronto, and now found that these were being played on them as well. What goes around does indeed come around.

Canadian Tamils wouldn’t do things like this to the Tiger apparatus, unless they are feeling confident that the Tigers are weakening. Canadian police never do things like this, unless absolutely sure of high levels of political backing. Yet, as one Tamil explained, "This is community policing – the police are making sure I can keep my shop open when I want. They are telling us that they are not listening to our complaints, they are acting on them."

Tigers, like all carnivores in their natural state, don’t like being stared at and a show of teeth is a distinct challenge. When the Goon squads went out to confront the police outside Tiger events, they were extensively photographed and found Canadian police – who are usually extraordinarily civil — smiling back in a very predatory manner. Guess who backed off?

Ordinary Tamils saw the people that they have long been afraid of in retreat, and it was a revelation. Those who remain sympathetic to the Tiger cause have been served notice that there may be consequences from the authorities if they continue.

A weakened predator will grow even more feeble once its prey notices, or when its habitat changes. Tigers in Toronto face a hard future.

(John C Thompson is the President of The Mackenzie Institute in Toronto Canada.The Institute, cited by several major Canadian newspapers as one of Canada’s leading research organizations, prides itself on its objective and independent forays into some of the most contentious issues of the day. Its work often becomes a catalyst for informed debate and major change. He Directs its research into issues relating to domestic and international political instability and organized violence (e.g. terrorism, warfare, organized crime, conflict, causes of instability, political extremism, etc.) Former Intelligence Officer of the Canadian Army, Thompson was awarded the Canadian Forces Decoration in 1989. He left the service as a Captain. John is a member of Civitas, the Queen’s York Rangers Regimental Council, the Royal Canadian Military Institute – and its pistol club, Fair Vote Canada, the International

Counter-Terrorism Officers Association)

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