A right way and a wrong way to protest
In May 2009, before the civil war in Sri Lanka came to a fiery end with Sri Lanka armed forces killing tens of thousands of unarmed Tamil civilians in what has been labelled as the "crime of the century," several thousand Canadian Tamils, in protest, blocked the busy Gardiner Expressway angering Canadian motorists, and drawing condemnation from politicians. Gillian Philipupillai, a second generation Canadian Tamil, in a research paper, explores the position of diasporic Tamils in the "white settler state" through a focus on colonialism, movement, violence and sovereignty, and concludes, "[b]y racializing Tamil protesters as an intrusive mob of illegal occupiers, the Canadian state normalized and further justified mass Tamil civilian deaths and casualties on their homelands in the state of Sri Lanka."
The Gardiner protest is used to "examine racialized boundaries of dissent and the implications of resistance through occupation on indigenous land," Gillian says in the abstract to her paper.
"A group of unwanted, marked, targeted and racialized bodies asserting sovereignty on colonized land is then a powerful act of resistance," she asserts, and then asks, "[b]ut what are the implications of Tamils petitioning the Canadian state to intervene against genocide and war crimes by the government of Sri Lanka while genocide and colonial occupation is ongoing in Canada against indigenous peoples and nations? Where do diasporic subjects locate themselves in relation to indigenous sovereignty and solidarity when occupying already occupied land or making political demands as citizens or potential citizens of a white settler state?"
In a classic demonstration of the increasing involvement of Tamil diaspora youths in Tamils struggle for justice by entering academic fields including political science, sociology and law, which the earlier Tamil generations shunned, Gillian, a sociology post-graduate, focuses on the responses by four public figures of the Canadian State.
"The statements indicate how the state of exception around the genocide of Tamils was justified and further legitimized in the face of Tamil resistance against it," she asserts.
Gillian, in her paper points out for analysis, the statements by (a) Dalton McGuinty (Premier of Ontario) “I understand the passions which are here. But having said that, there is a right way and a wrong way to protest," by (b) Mayor Miller, “Endangering public safety by occupying the Gardiner or other public highways is not the right way to make that statement," by (c) Police Chief Bill Blair, “I’m very concerned about the safety of children. I think it’s an extremely dangerous situation to put children on the front line of a protest in that way, I think it puts them at tremendous risk," and by (d) Councilor Rob Ford, "if I was mayor “they [Tamils] would have been immediately removed from the Gardiner…We can’t have this bleeding heart approach anymore because people’s and kid’s lives are in danger.”
Both McGuinty and Miller’s statements appeal to implicit and explicit norms of settler colonial logic. Namely that the landscape and infrastructure of settler colonialism are legitimate because they are inherently capitalistic and exist for the purpose of facilitating white mobility and settler domination, Gillian writes, and adds, "Miller, Blair and Ford directly employ the discourse of safety, which is ironic because the only probable and apparent threat to the protesters’ safety was from the armed police forces on the Gardiner, threatening to disperse tear gas."
"Ford bluntly engages with several themes in his statements, relying upon the criminalization of dissent, the notion that racialized peoples are unfit parents and endanger their children, and that Tamils do not qualify for subjecthood and citizenship because of their inherent “hoodlumism," Gillian further criticizes Ford.
In concluding, the author reminds the readers that "[f]or Tamils we resist by acknowledging complicity in white supremacy. By acknowledging that of course it is possible, and more importantly, it is particularly necessary, for Tamils to be complicit within capitalist hierarchies of domination and slaveability. We resist within white supremacy, by examining how as Tamils, even when fleeing and resisting genocide in the state of Sri Lanka, we are complicit within colonialism and genocide against indigenous peoples, communities, nations and ways of being on Turtle Island."