Speech by Hon. Deepak Obhrai, PC, MP
On a Private Member’s Motion to proclaim every January
In Canada as Tamil Heritage Month
September 29, 2016. House of Commons, Ottawa
Hon. Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I stand today in support of the motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Rouge Park, to recognize the contributions the Tamil Canadians have made to Canadian society by declaring the month January every year as the Tamil heritage month.
The motion also calls for the recognition of the richness of the Tamil language and the culture, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon Tamil heritage for future generations.
As all members know, every January Tamils celebrate Thai Pongal, the harvest festival, when all over the world, the sun is being thanked for providing the energy for a wonderful harvest. In Canada we do something similar outside Tamil communities. I of course am referring to Thanksgiving coming up next weekend.
I am proud to stand with my Conservative caucus colleagues in support of Tamil Canadians, just like the former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did in the 1980s, when under his leadership, Tamil resettlement commenced in 1983.
Over 300,000 Tamils since then were resettled in Canada, and our society is very enriched because of it. One example of Tamil hard work is the Uthayan newspaper in Scarborough, which is turning 21 years of publication this fall. I wish it many more years to come.
I have been dealing with the Tamil community in Canada and abroad for over a decade now as the parliament secretary for the minister of foreign affairs. I have first-hand knowledge of the struggle and the challenges they have had to deal with whether settling in Canada or recovering after the tsunami that ravaged Sri Lanka in 2005. I visited Sri Lanka with Prime Minister Martin and the late Jack Layton.
I remain impressed with the dedication and commitment of those involved in the reconstruction of the community affected by this natural disaster. Our DART did an exemplary job during this crisis.
I have also learned firsthand of the Tamil spirit of engagement when it came to the transitional needs of internally displaced people, having visited one such camp in Vavuniya in 2009.
In November 2013, I represented former Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Again, I took the opportunity to forcefully express my government’s demand that Tamil rights be upheld by Sri Lankan authorities. During this visit, I laid a wreath at the northern outpost of Elephant Pass in memory of all civilians who died from Sri Lanka’s 30 yearlong ethnic conflict. I also met the Northern Province chief minister and listened to his concerns on rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts by the Tamil people.
I have witnessed how close the Canadian Tamil connection has been for over 10 years during which I have been directly involved with this community.
The Canadian government, indifferent of its political colours, has been a friend to the Tamil people for over 30 years. This has been the case both during the plight of the Tamil refugees coming to Canada as well as for those who remained in Sri Lanka, to whom the Canadian government offered assistance with reconstruction and reconciliation to enable Sri Lankans to live in freedom and security.
Canada has been a faithful partner to the Tamil people abroad in the areas of human rights, the rule of law and promotion of democracy. At home, Canada’s ethno cultural mosaic has been enriched with the accomplishment of the Tamil Canadians who have called Canada home from coast to coast to coast.
I would like to thank my colleague across the aisle for the important initiative. I look forward to celebrating the first Tamil heritage month in a little while.