Mr. Gary Anandasangaree (Scarborough—Rouge Park, Lib.)
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the contributions that Tamil-Canadians have made to Canadian society, the richness of the Tamil language and culture, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon Tamil heritage for future generations by declaring January, every year, Tamil Heritage Month.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of my private member's motion, Motion No. 24, Tamil Heritage Month, celebrating the contributions of Tamil Canadians in our country.
Canada is truly enriched by the Tamil language, culture, and history. Multiculturalism is indigenous to Canada. Canada has always had a plurality of languages and peoples living here since time immemorial.
Any discussion on a settler community in Canada cannot start without first acknowledging and thanking the traditional keepers of this land. We are grateful to our indigenous peoples, and as we are gathered here today on the traditional, unceded lands of the Algonquin people, let us reflect on the enormous, collective responsibility of all Canadians toward building a more equitable country, one that respects our indigenous peoples.
I want to thank the Conservative Party, the NDP, and the Green Party for supporting my motion. I want to thank our Minister of Canadian Heritage, the government, my Liberal colleagues, and our respective staff for their hard work, their constant feedback, and their support for this motion.
We would not be here today had it not been for the municipalities of Markham, Stouffville, Ajax, Pickering, Oshawa, Whitby, Brampton, Toronto, Ottawa, York Region, and school boards such as the Toronto District School Board, that took the lead in entrenching Tamil heritage month in their respective jurisdictions.
I want to particularly acknowledge the Province of Ontario for recognizing Tamil heritage month in 2014.
I wish to thank the many individuals and organizations in the Tamil community and many allies of the community for their hard work over the years that have allowed us to bring this to the national stage.
Except for indigenous peoples, all of us in Canada have come together in this great country from around the world. In Canada our diversity makes us stronger. In many ways, it is this diversity that unifies us and brings us closer. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures that no matter who people are, in Canada they have the right to be themselves, to keep their identity and culture without being any less Canadian.
Our late prime minister Pierre Trudeau established Canada's official multiculturalism policy in 1971. This bold action opened Canada's doors to the world. With this policy, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau saw multiculturalism as the most powerful tool for, “preserving human rights, developing Canadian identity, strengthening citizenship...[and] reinforcing Canadian unity”. Multiculturalism was later entrenched in section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in 1988, the Multiculturalism Act went into effect.
Our Prime Minister said it best, “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”. In Canada there is space for us all.
The Tamil language dates back 500 BC. It is considered to be one of the oldest living ancient languages in the world with a written tradition dating back to the same period. This linguistic tradition ties Tamils to a deep and unbroken cultural history that stretches generations.
The Tamil language is recognized throughout the world. It has received recognition from India as a classical language. Singapore declared it an official language. It is a national language in Sri Lanka and has been recognized as the official state language of Tamil Nadu.
Let me repeat that in Tamil.
[Member spoke in Tamil]
There is a very important proverb in classical Tamil poetry that reads, “Yaathum Oore, Yaavarum Kelir”, meaning every country is my country and every person is my kin.
The transnational Tamil experience has meant that Tamils have moved extensively over the years. The origins of the Tamil people can be traced to South Asia, but they started to migrate all over the world, first in search of better opportunities, then as indentured labourers, and more recently, for safety and security.
Tamils initially went to the British colonies such as South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, and also to places like Mauritius. In the 20th century, Tamil migration led to significant, permanent communities being established in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.
Tamils are a diverse people. It means we can practise any faith, come from any corner of the world, and still be a proud Tamil.
Tamils have called Canada home since the 1940s. However, the first real community did not come together until the 1960s. Tamils initially came as students from different parts of the world, such as India, South Africa, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. Many went back to their home countries after their studies while many more ended up settling in Canada. This was followed by professionals, some of whom settled in towns across the country, from Belleville, Ontario to Dawson Creek, British Columbia and anywhere in-between.
The first recorded Tamil cultural organization in Canada was the Bharathi Kala Manram, established in 1969. This was followed by the Tamil Eelam Society of Canada in 1978. The community took shape in many urban centres, including the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, Halifax, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver. By 1983, 3,000 Tamils were living across the country.
The most significant arrival of Tamils in Canada began in 1983, as refugees from Sri Lanka sought safety from persecution. As a response to the anti-Tamil pogroms on the island of Sri Lanka and due to the hard work of the community at that time, Canada opened its doors to refugees by establishing a special measures program. It enabled Canadians to sponsor their extended family members and normalize status to refugees already in the country. Due to ongoing violence on the island, Sri Lanka became a top refugee-producing country for many years.
Tamils have taken extraordinary risks to come to Canada over the years. Like many refugees, they bet everything for the promise of a better life where they would no longer have to live in fear or be treated as second-class citizens. While waves of refugees came to Canada by boat, many more recent refugees came to Canada by conventional means with the support of their families.
In 1986, 155 Tamil refugees came to our country seeking safety off the coast of St. Shott's, Newfoundland. They were saved at sea by Captain Gus Dalton and his crew from Admiral's Beach. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first group of Tamil refugees that arrived by boat. While it is a celebration of the success of this community, it is also an opportune time to recognize and thank the people of Newfoundland for their generosity.
The next group of Tamils that came to Canada by boat did not receive as generous a welcome.
As members are aware, on Wednesday our Prime Minister issued a moving apology on behalf of our government for Canada's failure to welcome those arriving on board the SS Komagata Maru in 1914. While Canada has come a long way in the last century since that incident, from time to time our deeply buried prejudices have been allowed to surface.
As a direct result of the war in Sri Lanka, two more boats carrying Tamil refugees, the MV Ocean Lady in 2009 carrying 76 Tamils and MV Sun Sea in 2010 carrying 492 Tamils, arrived off our western coast in Victoria, British Columbia. These refugees arrived and shared their stories of being victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Thankfully, Canada did not turn these refugees away. However, we failed to understand their plight. From the moment they arrived, we treated these refugees as criminals, keeping hundreds of men, women, and even children in detention for several months. Many of these refugees continue to live in legal limbo today.
I had the opportunity to meet with most of those who arrived aboard those two boats, and their stories are heart-wrenching. Just this month, I met a young man whose parents were killed when he was 10 years old. He came to Canada on the MV Sun Sea at the age of 19. Today, he is 26 years old and thriving, and Canada is his home. It is this shared sense of a history of perseverance that in many ways defines the Tamil community in Canada and around the world.
Now I want to acknowledge the work that Tamil Canadians do to preserve their language and culture.
Today, we have a number of very important organizations that work on promoting the Tamil Language and Culture. The University of Toronto, under the leadership of the late Professor Chelva Kanaganayakam, and more recently, York University under the leadership of Professor Philip Kelly, and the University of Windsor, under the Poet Laureate of the Tamil community, Rudhramoorthy Cheran, have sparked a great deal of interest in advancing Tamil studies in Canada. Additional courses are continuing to be developed and annual Tamil studies conferences, lectures and symposiums have attracted many local and international academics to our great country.
The interdisciplinary study of the Tamil people, language, and culture is further supported by awards, such as the N. Sivalingam Award in Tamil Studies at York University and the Tamil Literary Garden's essay award. At a primary and secondary school level, there are many organizations that are teaching tens of thousands of students the precious Tamil language, organizations such as Arivakam, Tamil Academy, and the many school boards offering Tamil heritage language classes. There are other programs that teach bharatanatyam, sangeetam, and other fine arts. Many young people undertake extensive training in these fine arts for their arangetrams.
I want to acknowledge the keepers and teachers, parents and grandparents, for their hard work in instilling the love of the Tamil language, arts, and culture in our young people.
[Member spoke in Tamil ]
Nothing makes me prouder than to reflect on the enormous strides made by young Canadians. We will recall the recent story of 17-year-old Prasanthan Aruchunan, who is the first Ontarian to win the NHL Thurgood Marshall scholarship, or young professionals like Anusha Aruliah, a lawyer with the Department of Justice, who moved to Nunavut to work for legal aid for a period of time, and that of the recent winners of Google's Demo Day Game Changer Award, Knowledgehook, led by Travis Ratnam.
I am equally inspired by the leadership undertaken by Tamil Canadians in giving back to our country. Geetha Moorthy founded the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre and has inspired much needed focus on autism. Devi Arasanayagam and Ravi Sreedharan help run the Fort York Food Bank, and Manjula Selvarajah is a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. These achievements not only speak to the great contributions that Tamil Canadians currently make to our country, but give us a glimpse into the future potential of this community.
I must confess that every time I go into a restaurant in a major city, I find myself peeking into the kitchen. More often than not, I see a very tired middle-aged man in the kitchen working his second job. Inevitably, he will be Tamil, and I will end up having a long conversation about how hard his daughter is studying. I can see the father's pride, but I can also see the enormous sacrifice in his eyes.
Tamil heritage month is a very important way for us to celebrate and recognize Tamil Canadians and their contributions to our society. Tamil heritage month in Canada is as much about being Tamil as it is about being Canadian. This means not just preserving the Tamil language and culture for future generations of Tamils, but also celebrating and instilling shared Canadian values and responsibilities. I am confident that Tamil Canadians will fulfill their historical obligation, especially to repair and reset the relationship with our indigenous brothers and sisters.
From the labs of Goose Bay to the restaurants of Montreal, to the financial towers of Toronto, to the factories of Vaughan, to the innovative hubs in Waterloo, to the oil fields of Alberta, and to the truckers of British Columbia, Tamil Canadians are a proud part of this country, and today the House will ensure that their experiences will forever be recognized each and every January from coast to coast to coast through recognizing Tamil heritage month.
Hon. K. Kellie Leitch (Simcoe—Grey, CPC):
[Member spoke in Tamil]
I rise to speak to Motion No. 24 which, if adopted, would recognize January as Tamil heritage month every year. This holiday would underline the contributions made by members of the Tamil Canadian community and provide opportunities for educational experiences and events for Tamil culture.
The month of January is significant to the timing of Tamil heritage month because it includes Thai Pongal, the Tamil harvest festival. As the president of the National Council of Canadian Tamils, Dr. Ranjan Sri Ranjan has said, Tamils all over the world celebrate Thai Pongal in the month of January to give thanks to the sun for providing the energy for a bountiful harvest. It is similar to our Thanksgiving. Many events celebrating the arts and cultural richness of the heritage are held during this festival. Any new venture is initiated with Thai Pongal making it a time for new beginnings. These new ventures are new ventures that helped build our country by Tamil Canadians.
The Conservative Party, and I think all Canadians, has a proud history of opening its arms to the Tamil community across the country. We recognize how Tamil Canadians are helping build our nation.
What is not so well known though is that a Conservative prime minister, the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney, initiated direct action to allow the resettlement of Tamils after the attempted ethnic cleansing of Tamils in Sri Lanka in 1983. This single act of generosity eventually led to the resettlement of over 300,000 Tamils here in Canada, many of whom many of us call friends—I call friends—from across the country.
As part of the last Conservative government, I fully supported and applauded our government's decision to condemn Sri Lanka, boycott the Commonwealth Summit, cut off funding to the Commonwealth for its refusal to change the venue, while denouncing the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, and the release of the statement on the genocide in Sri Lanka, denouncing these atrocities.
Tamil Canadians are one of the fastest growing communities in Canada, boasting thousands of successful professionals in academia, lawyers, doctors, and engineers, just to name a few. In fact, the current president of the National Council of Canadian Tamils, Dr. Sri Ranjan, is an engineer himself at the University of Manitoba. He is a professor there, contributing to the education of not just Tamil Canadians but obviously a wealth of young engineers.
Additionally, the community is well known for its entrepreneurial ventures in important sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, hospitality, education, and technology.
Canada's Tamil community is well integrated and is made up of roughly 300,000 people. They share the Canadian values of liberty, human rights, democracy, and sharing. They arrived in Canada in the mid-1980s as refugees. They had quickly fled a very difficult situation.
Most came to our country after atrocious experiences of genocide and oppression in their own country. They deeply understand the value and importance of freedom and justice, and stand firm with our Canadian identity and our Canadian values. As the member opposite also mentioned earlier, they advocated for human rights, freedom, tolerance, and generosity.
Many arrived in Canada as refugees decades ago, and now are proudly part of the Canadian fabric. The community's success can be attributed to hard-working individuals and highly valuing education and fiscal responsibility.
The community has long-standing commitments to the arts, culture, and literature. In fact, Canadian Tamils were able to preserve one of the longest surviving classical languages, with literature spanning over 2,000 years. Tamil language studies at Canadian universities, along with their annual conferences, enrich our communities and has made Canada, and in particular Toronto, the centre for Tamil studies across all of North America.
Tamil Canadians have been and continue to be generous and supportive of many charities, including a place where I currently work, CHEO here in Ottawa. The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, as well as the Canadian Cancer Society, SickKids have been huge beneficiaries as have charities that Tamil Canadians participate in, including the ones they host individually among their community members.
The Tamil community in Canada makes an enormous contribution to our society. Tamil people are involved in charities and give their time and money to help other Canadians.
I support this motion, because it also serves to recognize this important contribution.
I join the Tamil community here in Canada and the National Council of Canadian Tamils in celebrating their vibrant heritage, which I understand has flourished for more than 2,500 years and, today, flourishes in Canada.
Nandri. Merci. I thank all members in this House and encourage them to support the motion.
Mr. Scott Duvall (Hamilton Mountain, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to speak to the motion sponsored by the member for Scarborough—Rouge Park, which asks that the government recognize the month of January as Tamil heritage month.
The motion also calls for recognition of the contributions that Tamil-Canadians have made to Canadian society, the richness of the Tamil language and culture, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon Tamil heritage for future generations.
This is something the NDP can and will support. It is something the NDP has supported consistently over the years. In fact, the wording in this motion is almost identical to the wording of a private member's bill that was introduced by then-NDP member for Scarborough—Rouge Park and Canada's first Tamil member of Parliament in 2013. That bill unfortunately died on the Order Paper.
Passing this motion does not necessarily mean the government will take action, as we know. Motions are non-binding, and the government has no obligation to act. However, I hope the government sees fit to recognize January, every year, as Tamil heritage month.
For the past few years, a member of the NDP has risen in this chamber to recognize Tamil heritage month and to ask the government to instill that recognition in a permanent and ongoing manner. In fact, in each of 2014 and 2015, the former NDP member for Davenport rose in the House and made the following statement:
|| On behalf of the New Democratic Party, I am pleased to recognize today as the beginning of Tamil Heritage Month. For the entire month of January, Canada’s Tamil community will be celebrating its history and culture with a variety of events, including the Thai Pongal – the Tamil monsoon celebration. For more than 75 years, Tamils have enriched our country, both on the economic and socio-cultural levels. We acknowledge their contributions and are proud to recognize them. The NDP is urging the government to support our bill to officially designate the month of January Tamil Heritage Month.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that, after a number of attempts and motions were presented over the years in the Ontario legislature, and one of those by the leader of the Ontario NDP, Bill 156, which recognizes January as Tamil Heritage Month in Ontario, was finally passed on March 25, 2014.
I find the preamble to that bill very interesting. It reads:
|| Tamils began migrating to Ontario as early as the 1940s. Since that time, Tamil Canadians have overcome tremendous obstacles and have made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of Ontario. January is an important month for Tamil Canadians. The Tamil Harvest Festival, Thai Pongal, as well as other Tamil artistic and cultural events, take place in January. By proclaiming the month of January as Tamil Heritage Month, the Province of Ontario recognizes the valuable contributions that Tamil Canadians have made to Ontario’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric. Tamil Heritage Month is an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Tamil Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across Ontario.
It goes on to proclaim that “The month of January in each year is proclaimed as Tamil Heritage Month.” Why is this important? Well, 150,000 people in Canada identify Tamil as their mother tongue. That means that the actual community, which would include those second and third generation members, is actually significantly larger.
I recently did a Google search regarding the Tamil community and was amazed at the sheer number of activities and events celebrating not only Tamil Heritage Month but other activities throughout the year. I was also impressed by the number of articles discussing the contributions of Tamils in our community.
Mr. Neethan Shan is presently a Toronto School Board Trustee, and the founder and chair of the Tamil Heritage Month initiative. I do not think I could ever truly explain the importance of the initiative, but I think Mr. Shan can and I quote from his message from the chair:
|| In 2009...it became more important than ever for the Tamils in the diaspora to identity ways to safeguard and promote our histories, heritage, language and unity. Consequently, I wanted to initiate a long term project that can help us, Tamils in diaspora, to remember, promote and celebrate the histories and heritage of Tamils around the world. Having participated and learnt from both our own Tamil Language Week initiatives of the past as well as from the various Heritage Months celebrated by other communities in Canada (such as Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, South Asian Heritage Month etc),
|| I thought it would be appropriate to have a month for the Tamils in Canada, not just to celebrate our arts and culture but, more importantly, to educate ourselves, our youth and non-Tamils about the contributions Tamils have made in social, economic, political, cultural, scientific and other spheres of life for centuries around the world. The idea became a reality in January 2010 with the incredible support of the two founding partner organizations, Arivakam Canada and Canada Tamil Academy; both of whom help many thousands of our students in their learning of the Tamil language and heritage [across Canada]. My sincere appreciation and thanks to these two organizations as well as to the other twenty plus prominent Tamil Canadian organizations for adding strength to the initiative. I am...proud to say that this initiative has been very successful in getting all of our major...organizations to work together for a common cause with mutual respect and understanding....
|| This year, as in the past, we...[have an] opening ceremony, over 25...events and activities across the country, closing cultural...event titled Thamizh Vizha, launch of our...website, publication of our official Tamil Heritage Month poster and the Tamil Heritage Guide and...many other media and [social media] awareness campaigns. More details of these activities will be published...through our..over twenty Tamil Canadian media partners (...tv stations, radio stations, print media and online media)....
|| It is important for us to celebrate our...arts and...language, but it is also important for us to celebrate and recognize the contributions of Tamils in...science, philosophy, literature, mathematics, architecture, civil administration, trade and commerce, political systems, sports and recreation, environmental protection, struggles against various oppressions etc. I am hopeful that as this initiative evolves..., [our] activities and events will start to reflect the multi-dimensional contributions of Tamils to the world in the past, present and future.
We live in a multicultural society, a country that has been built by those coming here from other countries and building new lives, new communities. We are all, as Canadians, very proud of those roots and we continue to welcome the contributions of those coming from other countries to this day.
Mr. Shan is just one of the many members of the Tamil community who have made significant contributions to this country. There are incredible stories of other Tamil individuals that show how much they have given to Canada.
It is time the government gave the Tamil community the recognition it deserves. We need to join with those jurisdictions that have already recognized January, officially, as Tamil heritage month. We need to pass the motion and we need to make it binding for each and every January from here forward.
Mr. Bill Blair (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to have the opportunity to speak to the House today in support of Motion No. 24 introduced by my colleague and friend, the member for Scarborough—Rouge Park, which seeks to have the House recognize the Tamil community's contributions to Canada and to establish January as Tamil heritage month.
Canada has a long and proud tradition of opening its arms to newcomers from around the globe. Because of this, we have become one of the most diverse countries in the world. The presence of Tamils in Canada has made a very significant contribution to that diversity and to our success.
People come from all over the world, speaking every language, practising every faith tradition, and knowing every culture. They come to this country to live in peace, harmony, and safety. They know that they will enjoy, in Canada, a sense of belonging in our multicultural society, and each of them will play an important role in developing our economic strength and our cultural diversity.
In 1988, Canada became one of the first nations to pass a multiculturalism act. This law requires that we preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of all Canadians. It also requires that we work to ensure that all Canadians are equal in our economic, social, cultural, and political life.
Our government is committed to promoting and upholding Canadian diversity and strengthening our multicultural and pluralistic society. We know that Canada is strong, not in spite of our diversity but because of it. Parliament's support for Tamil heritage month would be consistent and in line with that recognition.
As Canadians, we celebrate the diversity of our country together. We try to learn more about our common challenges and our shared values. We are moving forward together.
Tamil Heritage Month will be an ideal opportunity to celebrate our diversity and an occasion for the Tamil community to share its culture, traditions, and history with all Canadians.
January is an important month in the Tamil community, with the first month of the Tamil calendar beginning in mid-January. As well, the Tamil community celebrates Thai Pongal, a harvest festival that brings together friends and family to share in a traditional meal, music, and festivities. It is a chance for reflection and to give thanks for good fortune and opportunities to come.
Tamil Heritage Month has already been declared in many communities in Ontario, for example, Mississauga, Durham, Ottawa, Toronto, Markham, and Pickering.
In 2014, the Province of Ontario proclaimed January as Tamil Heritage Month.
In 2015, the Toronto District School Board, one of the largest and most diverse school boards in Canada, unanimously passed a motion recognizing January as Tamil Heritage Month. This will allow public schools in the Toronto district to celebrate Tamil heritage, culture, language, and history, not just among Tamil students but with students from all backgrounds.
Significant migration of Tamils to Canada began in the 1940s, with most arriving as economic immigrants, and, for some, there was opportunity to be reunited with family that were already here. The 1980s, as members have heard, saw a large influx of Tamils fleeing from civil war in Sri Lanka. Canada proudly opened its doors to provide a safe haven for those citizens.
In 2011, the national household survey indicated that approximately 49,000 people in Canada reported their ethnic origin as Tamil, but, perhaps much more significantly, 180,000 reported that they speak Tamil.
Tamil heritage month would provide an opportunity for all Canadians to get to know more about this important community and how much it has contributed to Canada.
Tamils are involved in a remarkably wide range of fields: technical, skilled trades, science, medical, legal, entrepreneurial, political, and so much more. Some notable individuals who are part of the Tamil community include the writer Shyam Selvadurai, and athletes, such as table tennis player Pradeeban Peter-Paul and cricketer Sanjayan Thuraisingam.
Members of Canada's Tamil community have in the past been key players in the creation of Canadian history, identity, and society. They will continue today and in the future to shape our national story.
This acknowledgement is a personal one for me. In 2009, when tens of thousands of Tamil Canadians took to the street in demonstrations, it was a challenge to our pluralism and our values of embracing our diversity. Together, my friends and neighbours who are Tamil Canadians from Scarborough and Toronto worked with all of us to help us understand the importance of those values. The Tamil heritage has made an enormous contribution to Canadian heritage, and it needs to be recognized.
I hope Canadians of all backgrounds will see Tamil Heritage Month as an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate Tamil culture, while also celebrating our common Canadian identity.
Celebrating diversity also means participating. This means that we must all take part in activities to promote cross-cultural understanding and build ties between communities.
The Tamil community has already taken the initiative to introduce itself to the greater Toronto area through last year's Tamil Fest. This inaugural event provided an opportunity for the Tamil community to introduce its culture to the greater Toronto community. People were also able to learn more about the history of this community in Canada, through a mobile museum that was on site during the event.
I am confident that in the days ahead, with the establishment of Tamil heritage month, there will be numerous activities and festivities such as Tamil Fest across the country to showcase Tamil culture and history, and the further opportunities that the community will have to build bridges with all Canadians.
I would like to conclude by reiterating my support for the motion and highlighting that it is essential that Canadians celebrate the well-known and lesser-known communities that have helped to make Canada one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world.
I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge Park for his efforts in making this possible.
Based on this, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all members of the House to vote in favour of the member's motion.
Mr. Bob Saroya (Markham—Unionville, CPC):
[Member spoke in Tamil]
I am pleased to rise today to add my voice in support of Motion No. 24, recognizing Tamil heritage month. The motion would recognize January as Tamil heritage month each and every year. Tamil heritage month would recognize the contributions made by members of Tamil Canadian communities and provide opportunities for educational events and celebration of Tamil culture.
The month of January is significant to the timing of Tamil heritage month because it includes Thai Pongal, and the Tamil harvest festival, as well as other Tamil artistic and cultural events.
Tamil heritage month would provide an opportunity to showcase and share the Tamil community's vibrant culture, traditions, and long-standing history with fellow Canadians.
While a similar commemorative month exists in May to recognize South Asian Heritage Month, this month celebrates the contribution of Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and people of Bangladeshi descent. However, the Tamils form a distinct ethno-linguistic group in these regions with a population of 200,000 in Canada and over 77 million worldwide. The distinct culture merits a separate commemoration.
Many cities throughout the greater Toronto area have proclaimed the month of January to be Tamil heritage month, including Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, and Brampton. A similar private member's bill was proposed by a Progressive Conservative member of the provincial parliament in Ontario, which was supported by both the Liberals and NDP.
In the past, Conservative Party members have commemorated the occasion in the House of Commons. More recently, the former Conservative member of Parliament and minister of immigration read an S.0. 31 to celebrate Tamil heritage month. Clearly, cross-partisan support for Tamil heritage month is evident at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.
With their culture rooted in the Indris Valley civilization, Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages, which contains enormous classical traditions and literature. Tamils began migrating to Canada as early as the 1940s. Since that time, Tamil Canadians have overcome tremendous obstacles and have made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of Canada. The Tamil community is committed to preserving its rich heritage and has contributed greatly to Canada's cultural mosaic.
After fleeing their native Sri Lanka following the outbreak of civil war in the 1980s, many sought freedom and security in Canada. Changes in the Canadian immigration and refugee policy largely facilitated the arrival of many of post-1983 migrants. Sympathetic to their plight, Canadian policies facilitated the entrance of Tamils by allowing most Tamil asylum seekers to bypass one or more stages of the refugee hearing process. The Tamil asylum claims filed with the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board between 1989 and 1998 had an average acceptance rate of 85%.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, tens of thousands of Tamils arrived in Canada and settled in large metropolitan cities like Toronto and Montreal. The Sri Lankan Tamil community can rightly claim to be a model for any refugee community and one of which Canada can be proud. They were determined to succeed and prosper in a country that gave them a second life.
It is remarkable that within a relatively short span of time, Tamils have established themselves in Canada. Empowered by their high level of literacy, education, and professional competency in all walks of life, they have planted deep roots in Canada and are flourishing in the entrepreneurial sphere with numerous prosperous business establishments.
I wish to take this opportunity to quote a Tamil dictum proffered by a Tamil poet 2,000 years ago, reflecting the inner soul of the Tamil people as it existed then and as it does today. He said, “Yaathum Oore, Yaavarum Kelir ,” which simply means the earth belongs to all and all are equal. When expanded further, it says let there be a peaceful coexistence among the nations of the earth and let us treat others, our neighbours, as brothers and sisters. This is what the Tamils offered to the world 2,000 years ago, and continue to offer today.
Tamil verses and epithets, both in their oral and written traditions, have been maintained and preserved for over 2,600 years. They worship nature and treat the environment as the place of their worship. They follow their traditions and patronize their art and culture without causing any hindrance to others, because they believe that the earth belongs to all.
Their neighbours are their brothers and sisters, as dictated by their ancient dictum. Wherever Tamils migrate or settle, they take their culture and traditions with them, and persevere to maintain them in full to the best of their ability with no hindrance to their neighbours.
Throughout the decades in Canada, the Tamils have proved their worth with their contributions to society and respect of the law of the land. Their cultural displays and festivals have brought colour, vibrancy, and pride to Canada.
Many non-Tamil Canadians have had the pleasure of intermingling with Tamils at Tamil cultural serenades, experiencing Tamil hospitality and cultural entertainments. With their dance and music, art and theatre, language and culture, the Tamil community in Canada deserves merit for further enriching the Canadian cultural mosaic.
It is only fitting that Tamil heritage month be dedicated to celebrate the Canadian Tamil community's unique cultural life and to recognize their contribution to Canadian society.
Ms. Niki Ashton (Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House in support of the motion. My colleague from Hamilton Mountain also conveyed the support of the NDP on this important motion.
Certainly, as someone who is the daughter of immigrants, I understand well what it means to be both a proud Canadian and to be connected to my heritage and to my community, as one would say, here in Canada. In my case, that is the Greek community, a community to which I am proud to belong.
As I pointed out in the House before, I am also someone who understands how important it is to maintain that connection to our heritage. That is really what today's motion is about, the need to recognize that whether it is for Tamil-Canadians who immigrated to Canada, or their children or their grandchildren who were born and raised in Canada, the recognition that our Parliament would give a time to honour who they are, to honour their language, their culture, is obviously an important message.
Many of us in this House share that same sentiment vis-a-vis other communities as well, and the need to support immigrant communities, linguistic diversity, and cultural programming for ethnic communities or multicultural communities in the country.
While the federal government has played a role on this front, we have seen that in some cases there has been a penchant to go for the symbolic rather than the substantive. The resources have not always been there in terms of making sure that our language schools are supported, that our cultural programming is supported, that festivals are supported that celebrate our multicultural identity. That is something I certainly hope the government will take seriously in terms of its budgetary commitment.
As someone whose first language is neither English nor French, I know how important it is to make sure there is government funding in order for second and third-generation kids, and whoever, to learn their mother tongue. By supporting that kind of work, supporting our diverse communities on that front, we build a stronger sense of what it is to be Canadian.
As I stand here in support of Motion No. 24, I also send a message that it is important that we move from supporting only the symbolic to also recognizing that there is a government role in terms of funding commitments. There is a government role in terms of partnering, including with our provinces, our multicultural organizations, our community centres, in order to make sure we are building the diversity that we are all so very proud of.
As I pointed out, while my heritage may not be Tamil in this case, I certainly recognize the importance of the contributions of the Tamil community, the contributions of immigrant communities to Canada, the contributions of the children and the grandchildren of immigrants to our country, and that we build a stronger Canada when we support diversity, both in the case of Motion No. 24 and legislation of this kind.
It is a real honour to rise in this House and speak to this motion. Certainly I would also add that this allows for more conversations in terms of how we can be supporting communities.
Another area, I should note, that is a very important issue for many immigrant communities, many ethnic communities in Canada, is immigration. Yesterday, in fact, I was in Toronto, and I had the opportunity to visit with a number of young racialized youth, in Scarborough in particular. We had very good conversations about the challenges they face. A number of them were born and raised in Canada to immigrant parents. Some were born overseas and grew up in Canada, and many of them shared their challenges.
One of the challenges that also came up in our discussions was the desire to improve our immigration system whereby families could more easily access family reunification. We know that under previous Liberal and Conservative governments there were significant cuts in the area of family sponsorship and family reunification.
I should note at this juncture that I am very proud of my home province of Manitoba. Thanks to the work of the NDP government, we were able to develop a very robust provincial nominee program that allowed for us to welcome immigrants to our province in a very sincere way. It ensured that people were supported when they came, that families could come together, and that people were able to access language programming and services, as well as job opportunities. This was at a period of time when unfortunately we saw the federal government moving further and further away from family reunification in the context of immigration.
This is a huge issue in many communities across Canada. It is an issue that, sadly, we have yet to see the government act on. While there have been important commitments and certainly important action when it comes to dealing with the refugee crisis and welcoming many Syrian families to Canada, we have also been very outspoken in the NDP that there needs to be that same kind of compassion shown when it comes to our immigration system. We hope the government will take that seriously.
In the spirit of building a more diverse country, let it not just be about the statements of support. Let it be about action, including supporting family reunification in our immigration system when it comes to language training. Also, let it be about offering support, as the federal government used to do in a much bigger way, to communities that want to ensure their languages continue and that their kids and grandkids can still be connected to who they are and their identity. Also, let it be about support for community centres.
I want to acknowledge that there have been instances where the federal government has played a key role, including contributing funds to building the Greek community centre in my province of Winnipeg, which I hold very dear. The federal government stepped up, worked with our provincial government, adding to the many charitable donations made by Greek Canadians in my province, and was able to construct a beautiful community centre of which we are all very proud.
When it comes to cultural communities, that commitment to infrastructure is critical. It is part of how we should see the need to support immigrant communities. I hope, in going forward, we look at the symbolic. However, it is also very important to look at the substantive and where the government and all of us can work with our communities to build a stronger and more diverse country of which we can all be proud.
Mrs. Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Motion No. 24, moved by my good friend and neighbour, the hon. member Scarborough—Rouge Park.
I am pleased to support the motion, which in my opinion would do something that is very long overdue: recognize every January in Canada as Tamil heritage month.
Other jurisdictions have already led the way. In Ontario's legislature, the Tamil Heritage Month Act was passed in 2014 to proclaim every January as Tamil heritage month, a time to celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role Tamil Canadians have played in Canadian society.
The City of Toronto has also recognized January as Tamil heritage month for some time, and every year a wide variety of events take place across the city to celebrate the richness of Tamil arts, culture, and cuisine, and recognize outstanding Tamil Canadians. Cities across Ontario, such as Mississauga, Markham, Ottawa, Brampton, Pickering, Ajax, and Whitby have all long recognized the contributions of Tamil Canadians with Tamil heritage month celebrations.
Last January saw members from all parties come together for the first Thai Pongal on Parliament Hill, celebrating the Tamil Hindu harvest festival with dancing, music, and sweets. It was a great evening enjoyed by all who attended.
Therefore, is it not time that all Canadians recognize January as Tamil heritage month?
It is only fitting that a member from the great community of Scarborough is moving the motion to recognize the Canadian Tamil community, because in Scarborough, we are blessed to have one of the largest Tamil communities in Canada.
In Scarborough and across Canada, the Tamil community adds so much to the rich cultural diversity that makes our country great. The richness of the Tamil language and the Tamil culture is an asset to Canada, and a living example of what the Prime Minister likes to say, that we are stronger not in spite of our diversity but because of our diversity.
In fact, the Tamil language is one of the oldest and longest surviving classical languages in the world, tracing its roots back to Tamil Brahmi inscriptions that were found in an archaeological site in Tamil Nadu dated to 500 BC. This is truly a rich and diverse culture worth celebrating.
Tamil Canadians are making a difference in all walks of Canadian life. They are the business owners who are creating our jobs, the teachers who are helping to guide our children into adulthood, and the doctors and nurses who care for us when we are sick. On many weekends, I enjoy the Tamil food in Scarborough.