A Minister takes rickety official car to Niagara



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A Sri Lankan cabinet minister visited Toronto on a ‘tie up’ between an institute in Niagara, Canada. He did meet officials of the institute and I hosted a dinner for all of them. However, I also learnt a good lesson from him. That is never to give your official car - even if it’s rickety and falling apart - to a visiting politician because it gets misused. Thanks to this minister who took the car for just an hour and did not return it until the following day, I couldn't attend one of the most important events held at the Brampton Buddhist Viharaya, where nearly 700 people including children were present. As the new consul general, I was to be the chief guest at the religious event. The chief priest was disappointed about the minister when I explained the situation to him later. This is what most Sri Lankan politicians still do. They break all the rules overseas; return to Sri Lanka and blame the Foreign Ministry and diplomats and get them recalled for THEIR faults.


At the Consular General’s Office, we made sure telephone greetings were played in all three languages to make callers feel welcomed. Certain staff members of the consulate were asked to change their attire to suit the work ethos and ambience of the consulate. We stopped visitors from using cellular phones and consuming food within the premises. Sri Lanka was no dumping ground, they were made to realise.


I called on Lt. Governor Hon David Onley and met with two Members of Parliament of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Joe Comartin and Brian Masse in Windsor with the help of another ardent Sri Lanka supporter, Cyril Weeratunga. Both MPs supported me until the very end and had a great understanding on Sri Lanka despite their leader late Jack Layton once comparing Velupillai Prabahkaran to Nelson Mandela.


During my term of office in Canada, I had an interesting encounter with Toronto City Councillor Pam McConnell, who seemed to have been influenced by a pro-LTTE engineer in Canada. I told her all communities lived harmoniously in Sri Lanka and we refer to ourselves as ‘Sri Lankans’ as opposed to Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim etc. I also reminded her that I was the Consul General of Sri Lanka in Toronto and represented the country and not any community. I asked her how she would feel if I referred to different nationalities living in Canada instead of referring to them as Canadians.


I also found out that various LTTE groups were either representing or trying to represent Sri Lanka at various multi-cultural events in Canada as representatives of Sri Lanka as the Consul General’s Office was defunct for almost a year. I started exposing them. I wrote to the Chinese Consul General exposing the LTTE members who had attended one of their events. This yielded the desired result with the Chinese Consul General’s Office advising the Chinese community in Toronto not to be misled by LTTE front groups and to contact only the Sri Lanka Consulate General’s Office in Toronto with regards to any invitations. I also developed an excellent rapport with the Israeli Consul General, who was very much under threat in Canada. He extended his fullest support to me. It is with pleasure I observe that most Consuls General I met in Canada understood and empthaised with Sri Lanka.


The Consul General’s Office acted promptly when information was received on LTTE front organisation activities and reported them to both political and intelligence officials in Canada. Therefore, LTTE sympathisers continued to attack me on websites issuing threats. However, we continued to gain the support of democratic Sri Lankan Tamil organisations and individuals who pledged their support to me at a great risk to their lives and property both in Canada and in Sri Lanka.


It saddened me to attend a memorial service organised by the old boys of Maris Stella College, Negombo and to meet a friend of late minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, who was assassinated by the LTTE in Sri Lanka.


For the very first time Vesak was celebrated at the residence of the Consul General with several diplomats in attendance. Some of them saw Buddhist monks for the first time in their lives at these celebrations. Canadians/Sri Lankans who attended the celebrations were surprised to see the Sri Lankan flag flying high in the garden for the first time. Most of them took photographs. It was one of the first things I did upon taking office. Previously, people had been scared to hoist the national flag fearing attacks by LTTE supporters. We left no stone unturned in our battle against the LTTE and its propaganda in Canada. The Consul General’s residence was Sri Lankan territory and we flew the national fag with pride. Following these celebrations, a Canadian TV channel ran a programme on Vesak celebrations in Canada. The message I gave at all the events I attended was that I was in Canada to protect Sri Lanka as anyone would protect their own mother and not let anyone discredit Sri Lanka, my mother. People accepted the message.


I addressed the editorial board of the ‘fearless’ National Post on their invitation. After my address, they asked me how they could help me and Sri Lanka. The National Post showed genuine interest ridding Canada of terrorists. I continued to meet several media organisations; explaining the situation in Sri Lanka and speaking to them freely. And they responded positively.


I also met with the Representative of Amnesty International in Canada, a man who was very biased towards Sri Lanka and questioned him why he was not critical of the atrocities committed by the LTTE terrorists.


Everyone worked tirelessly with new found enthusiasm. I networked at every opportunity; Sri Lanka needed it. Officials at Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada (SLUNA), Mahinda Gunasekara, Ira de Silva, Asoka Yapa, Hasaka Rathnamalala, Daya Hettiarachchi, Menaka Karunanayake and young Prathap Perera and others were fully behind me. We worked as one and they continued their campaign with more vigour when they knew that the Sri Lankan mission was fully with them. Diplomats come and go but, SLUNA had fought with the LTTE for many years using their personal funds, time and energy with serious threats to their life and even families. However, I still wanted to get one big SLUNA fish, Asoka Weerasinghe, to help me. He wouldn’t take my calls, answer my emails and even refused to meet me. He was a fighter and Sri Lanka needed him. Ravinatha Aryasinghe and Mohan Samarasinghe had told me, "You have to get Asoka Weerasinghe on board." Asoka was disgusted with Sri Lankan diplomats who mostly had done nothing but look after their self interests. He was patriotic to the core but wanted to have anything to do with Sri Lankan diplomats. I wanted him. I was not ready to give up at all.


Next Week: An encounter with a frontline LTTE supporter-The American Way.


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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