Overseas Ballots: Canadian Tamils Vote from Afar

By Unni, Upasana | Harvard International Review, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Overseas Ballots: Canadian Tamils Vote from Afar


Unni, Upasana, Harvard International Review


Canadian Tamils of Sri Lankan descent have expressed their support for the creation of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka through a novel approach: a national referendum. According to the Coalition for Tamil Elections in Canada, 99.8 percent of the 48,583 people who turned out for the December 2009 vote approved a statement calling for the "formation of the independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam in the North and East territory of the Island of Sri Lanka on the basis that the Tamils in the Island of Sri Lanka make a distinct nation, have a traditional homeland, and have the right to Self-Determination." The referendum was a reaction to last year's decisive victory for the Sri Lankan government in the 26-year-long civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant group that fought for the creation of an independent Tamil homeland encompassing the North and East provinces of Sri Lanka. The Coalition's organization of the referendum is a significant step in the international Tamil activist movement for an alternative, peaceful path to an autonomous Tamil state established via democratic means.

The referendum's relevance to Canadian Tamils is questionable. The number of voters represents a small fraction of the Tamils living in Canada; though the government reported 104,000 Tamils in 2006, some scholars estimate there may be over 200,000. Although the Coalition for Tamil Elections hired ES&S, a professional North American vote counting company, to ensure fairness of the ballots, questions of the Coalition's attempt to target every eligible voter--defined as an adult over 18 years of age who was born in Sri Lanka with Tamil as his mother tongue or is the descendant of such a Sri Lankan Tamil--still remain.

Yet even if the referendum has little significance within Canada, it still epitomizes an important international trend developing in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war. This referendum was the third of its kind held worldwide and the first to take place in Canada, the nation home to the largest number of Sri Lankan Tamils outside of Sri Lanka. The earlier referenda, organized in Norway and France in 2009, yielded similar support for a Tamil state. It further seems the Tamil cause is gaining some support in the Canadian political establishment. Adam Giambrone, a Toronto city councilor who is considering running for mayor in 2010, has expressed his support of the democratic process displayed by the participants of the referendum. While the Canadian government has not provided official explicit support of a Tamil Eelam state, vote organizers can claim Giambrone's statements in legitimizing their cause. …

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