- Students are eager to enlighten the Canadian citizens on the humanitarian issue in Sri Lanka even though most of the institutions do not encourage it.
- They want to build up a wider dialogue about the issue, bringing forward the tragic stories of their relatives and friends who were victimized by it.
Carrying signs and calling out chants, hundreds of high school Tamil-Canadian students from across the city are protesting outside the North York headquarters of Toronto District School Board.
The 30-hour protest, which began Thursday at 10 a.m. and will wrap up Friday at 4 p.m., is aimed at bringing attention to the conflict situation in Sri Lanka, said Shoban Jayamohan, a Grade 10 student at Scarborough’s Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute.
“Basically, we’re students born in Canada, Canadian citizens born in a democracy with human rights,” said Jayamohan, one of the event organizers.
Students have tried to raise the issue at their schools but have been silenced because teachers say they are only presenting one side of a political issue, Jayamohan said.
“We don’t want to get into politics. We’re not mature enough for politics. What we are saying is Canadians should know about the issue,” he said.
“We want the school board to bring awareness to students in schools so they know what is happening in Sri Lanka. It is a humanitarian need.”
Board spokesperson Kelly Baker didn’t know about the specifics of the students’ complaints. But she said the board has a policy that says when controversial issues are raised at school, a balance of perspectives needs to be addressed.
“We want to always look at both sides of the issue. We have to look at a wider perspective, not just one side,” she said.
“We want our students to talk about important issues in the classroom but we want to present a balanced perspective.”
The issue must also be relevant to what is being taught in the class, Baker said, adding students can talk to the principal if they feel a teacher is unfairly limiting their dialogue.
Jayamohan said a distant aunt in his family was killed last week in the latest violence that is part of a civil war that has raged for years in Sri Lanka.
Board officials and teachers need to let Tamil students share stories of victims, such as his aunt, to help draw global attention to the crisis, he said.
“If nobody stands up, in four or five months, there will be no Tamil race,” Jayamohan said.
The students decided on a 30-hour protest regardless of the weather because they don’t want people to underestimate their commitment to the cause, he added.
Students carried signs with slogans such as “Tamils want justice,” “Canada are you silent witness to the genocide?” and “This is not a matter of race, it is a matter of humanity” and chanted sayings such as “Stop the genocide.”
There were about 150 students outside the board offices yesterday afternoon but Jayamohan said as many as 600 students would participate during the 30 hours of the protest.