For the third straight day, throngs of demonstrators from Toronto’s Tamil community—the world’s largest outside Sri Lanka—have congregated on University Avenue between Queen Street and Dundas, holding court outside the U.S. consulate. As of nine o’clock this morning, the percussive rhythm of drums and rallying cries continued to resound along the artery, hemmed in on either side by watchful, horse-mounted members of the Toronto Police Service.
“The Toronto Police Service is committed to working with those who wish to express their views in a peaceful and safe manner,” said the TPS in a release this morning, crediting the protest’s co-operation. At 7 a.m., police had confined demonstrators to the east side of University, opening the southbound flow of traffic. Despite this, the cops suggested that “the public consider alternate routes in the affected area until further notice,” suggesting that this passionate assembly of Tamil expats isn’t going away any time soon.
While this week’s resolute vigil is impressive (Nick Kozak’s photographs above document the latter half of yesterday’s protest, which continued through the afternoon and into the night), its numbers have dwindled from the thousands that overwhelmed University on Sunday night, a sudden upswelling that, as The Star reports, “[forced] police to block off a section of the street and call in its crowd-control officers and mounted units as well as the city’s public order unit—a body of volunteers consisting of off-duty firefighters, EMS and police officers.” The latest in a series of demonstrations that have been choking intersections—not to mention Parliament Hill—for a few months, the vigil repeats a familiar, desperately simple plea: “Canada, help us.”
The weekend’s crowd surge was especially and none-too-surprisingly timely. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, called Sunday for a unilateral ceasefire to the twenty-five-year-old civil war, which flared in 1983 over the killing of Sri Lankan soldiers in the island nation’s north. In the years since, the conflict’s ongoing—and, in recent months, horrifically escalating—violence has earned the Tamil Tigers a place on the federal government’s terror blacklist, while over seventy thousand people have been killed. In response, the Sri Lankan government rejected the ceasefire.
Demonstrators implore the Canadian government to influence an end to the war, saying Canada has missed too many chances to save Tamil civilians from a death toll they feel has genocidal severity. “The more our fellow Canadians support us,” The Star quotes Lavanya Nithiyanantharasan, 20, as saying, “the sooner this protest will end.”
The Toronto Police Service, meanwhile, reports that “traffic congestion on the roadways and within the transit system is to be expected.” And if the rumblings on the street are correct, the city can also expect the vigil to continue for another few days.
Photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.