Mayor John Tory’s Sri Lankan visit significant for Toronto’s Tamils

(TORONTO, LANKAPUVATH) – A brief stop on Toronto Mayor John Tory’s coming tour of South Asia is also a homecoming for Neethan Shan.

It will be the first time Mr. Shan, elected a Councillor for Scarborough-Rouge River last month, sets foot in Sri Lanka since leaving for Canada as a refugee, fleeing civil war at age 16, the Scarborough Mirror reported.

“I’m looking forward to it, going back as a City Councillor,” said Mr. Shan, acknowledging though his role is official, “you can’t take away the emotional aspect of it.”

Mayor Tory’s economic mission, which starts on March 15, will spend most of its 10-days in India, focusing on building ties with that nation’s booming movie industry, and with its education and technology sectors.

But Mayor Tory, Mr. Shan and Michael Thompson, a Scarborough Councillor and the City’s Economic Development Chairperson, will spend one full day in Sri Lanka’s Northern Jaffna Province, from which many Tamils emigrated to Toronto.

During the bitter, long-running war, which ended in defeat for separatist Tamils in 2009, many Tamil-Canadians boycotted Sri Lankan products and asked other Canadians to do the same.

In 2015, however, the island’s hardline regime changed when Mahinda Rajapaksa lost a Presidential Election.

As a result, more Tamil-Canadians felt free to reunite with relatives back home, and to do business in Sri Lanka.

“We saw a window of opportunity, a ray of hope,” said David Poopalapillai, National Spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress, which sees the brief visit as significant, given the large size of Toronto’s Tamil community.

“We are not saying everything is rosy and nice and great there,” he said this week, but if the visit by Toronto officials “can move something on the economic front, we welcome this.”

Both men say Sri Lanka has been slow to improve, even under the new Government, on human rights and in investigating what many Tamils say were war crimes by the island’s military.

Mr. Shan said the main goal of the visit is helping areas of Sri Lanka affected by the war, and bringing Jaffna and Toronto together, thus helping “The community that has contributed so much to Toronto.”


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