This article is to provide a historical analysis of the Ottawa Tamil Association (OTA) in the last five years. Five years is quite a long time but for a noble cause like creating awareness for justice and achieving tangible progress in that time frame is not easy. Especially when a community is in mode of quite ignorant or in a state of depression. Ottawa Tamil Association emerged for a time of need in 2014 to fill a void and fully functional in 2015. In 2014, it was felt that even though many educated Tamils in Canada’s capital city Ottawa, there is no organization to raise an awareness for Sri lanka’s genocide against Tamils. Few activities, conferences, parliament gatherings were organized by Toronto based Tamil organizations, but obviously those were not enough. In 2012 and 2013, a small group of Tamils supported human rights conferences, meetings and documentaries such as Callume Macrae’s No Fire Zone — Killing field of Sri Lanka, etc. These groups of Tamils eventually felt that a registered non-profit Tamil organization is required to fill the vacuum.
During 2014 and 2015, it was mostly meeting politicians, human rights activists, educators to raise awareness for Sri Lanka’s genocide against Tamils. Tamil Heritage Month also part of effort to raise awareness of not only appreciating the contribution of Canadian Tamils and their heritage, but also it highlights the history of genocide that made most of them escape and refuge in Canada. Ottawa Tamil Association provided factual details and requested parliamentarians to support the Tamil heritage Month motion. Once the motion unanimously passed, OTA invited the parliamentarians and others for a formal dinner called Tamil Heritage Month Gala in 2017 January. The dinner keynote speech and other speeches focus on human rights and justice and programs focus on Tamil heritage. The literature such as banners, books, displays also reflects both. This was the first time such a big scale community organization organized formal dinner took place at Canada’s capital and it was very well received. OTA decided to make it as an annual dinner and provides a venue once a year for activists and community leaders to meet and representatives from Toronto, Montreal, Cornwall, USA and Tamil Nadu. Followings are the past four years keynote speeches that alone should be enough to summarize the dinner and its purpose.
- Dr. Varatharah Thurairajah, a medical doctor who served at Vaharai and Mullivaikkal — Sri Lanka’s killing field during 2009 and a witness at UN.
- Dr. Brian Seneviratne who is also a medical doctor and human rights activist wrote several books about Tamil Genocide and justice.
- Prof. Richard Mann, Carleton University associate dean at faculty of social science. He provided key support for the 2018 Second International Tamil conference.
- Prof. Ramu Mannivanan, head of political science department at university of Jaffna and author of Hiding the Elephant in Sri Lanka — Documenting Genocide book.
Each of these annual dinners were attended by over 300 people including community leaders, politicians, business leaders, educators, organizations, etc. Around an hour long meet and greet followed by two hours of short speeches and programs takes place on the last Sunday in January. The dinner also shows the resilience of the Tamil Canadian community and an encouragement for the community’s next generation to be proud of their heritage, do more for Canada and be loyal to Canada. Many of Canadian Tamils escaped from Sri Lanka’s genocide and several suffered a lot in their homeland Canada gave them not only refuge but also plenty of opportunities to succeed. In return, Tamil Canadians are also grateful and contribute in several different ways possible. The OTA’s annual Tamil Heritage Month Gala’s essence is simply appreciating Tamil’s contribution to Canada, meet and greet while valuing Tamil heritage such as Tamil literature, history and arts, celebrating Thai Pongal (month of Tamil’s thanksgiving) and highlighting Human Rights and justice.
OTA annually rides Big Bike in spring for heart and stroke foundation fundraising. Each year Big Bike ride, OTA raises about two thousand dollars for this good cause. Heart and stroke foundations use the raised money for research in the health and research sector as many Canadians suffer heart disease. OTA members from time to time take part in disaster relief and contribute to other Canadian charities every year. Encouraging giving to charities is part of the spirit in these activities.
While highlighting justice and human rights, OTA also support humanitarian efforts to Eelam Tamils who suffered not only genocide in the past but also continuous oppression and genocide as well. Annual fall donation campaigns provide about a thousand five hundred dollars average every year to different organizations who provide humanitarian efforts.
Entrepreneurship and education is the other area of work OTA expanded over the years and every year several workshops and sessions held ranging from young students to adults. As part of encouraging skill development, OTA also annually hires summer students with Canadian Government partnership. This allows the students to learn new skills while contributing to important community work.
While continue to focus on advocacy of justice for Sri Lanka’s genocide, OTA was able to collaborate with many partners to organize big scale programs as well. During 2017, when the Northern provincial council Chief minister visited Canada, OTA was one of the six organizations that arranged several of his programs. During 2018, with seven organizations, it played a key role in organizing 2nd International conference of Tamil Nationhood and Genocide in Sri Lanka. Around 30 scholars presented their research papers and work at this conference. This was a very big scale academic conference and it’s significant because it’s the 2nd conference in Ottawa following the 1999 conference. Collaborative effort during lack of coordination among Tamil organizations is difficult but the conference resolution united 21 major Tamil organizations world wide including student organizations. Historically, it’s a very significant work as this bridge generation gap also set a platform for a third conference in future.
Finally, the most important fundamental for organization is transparency and accountability. OTA publishes annual financial statements every year and those were published in their website and social media. From it’s financial statements, it’s easier to see the year’s activities. This level of transparency is a role model for other Canadian Tamil organizations as well. After 2009, Tamils lost their trust with their organizations because of lack of transparency. Once a trust is lost, it is extremely difficult to rebuild. Being transparent is one of the easy ways to build trust and the Ottawa Tamil Association shows it with being an example.
In conclusion, even though OTA was started to fill a void, after five years, it became a full scale organization to satisfy several community needs. If more support is provided in coming years, the great work done so far may be expanded in future.
- 2nd International Conference Web: https://tamilconferences.org/media/press-releases/second-itc-resolutions/
- OTA Web: https://www.ottawatamilassociation.ca/events/events.php
- OTA Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/ottawatamilassociation
- Keynote speeches:
- Financial Statements : https://www.ottawatamilassociation.ca/archive/archive.php