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'We cannot be separated from our traumas or our histories' - Canadian MPP Gurratan Singh and PEARL host discussion on Black July

People for Equality and Relief Lanka (PEARL)’s Canadian Advocacy team co-hosted an online discussion yesterday with Canadian MPP Gurratan Singh about the horrors of Black July and its impact and importance for Tamil Canadians.

Abarna Selvarajah, PEARL Advocacy Officer, stated, “between July 23rd and July 30th in 1983 there were a series of brutal pilgrims and riots that took place and were sponsored by the Sri Lankan state, where Sinhala mobs inflicted a devastating amount of violence on Tamil people on the island.”

Black July “represents a very large escalation of anti-Tamil violence that had been ongoing for many, many decades,” Selvarajah continued.

Archana Ravichandradeva, PEARL Senior Advocacy Officer, added to the discussion stating, “this was systematic and intentional genocide. The mobs that committed the violence were transported in and around Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka where most of the violence occurred, in vehicles owned by the Sri Lankan Government. The majority Sinhalese police, soldiers and military officials watched the violence idly or even participated and encouraged the violence themselves.” 

“Black the July is seen as the spark that led to the 26-year long armed liberation struggle against the Sri Lankan government and also prompted one of the largest exoduses of Tamils from the island,” she continued.

"After Black July, over 500,000 Tamils left the island and settled in places like Canada, Germany and the US, which led to this very large Tamil diaspora we have now,” Archana stated. “Coming to places like this wasn’t voluntary, we left because we were persecuted,” she added.

Archana Ravichandradeva also spoke about the importance of Black July to Tamil Canadians, stating, “Many Tamil Canadian stories also start with Black July and the violence that occurred in the 1980s... From our perspective, even though Black July occurred 38 years ago, the collective trauma is still being experienced by the community today, and the consequences of that trauma are still being felt on a day-to-day basis which is why we can never forget.

In the discussion, MPP Gurratan Singh likened the Tamil Genocide to the Sikh Genocide stating, “they are the exact same thing; an organized state genocide targeting people on the voter's list.” 

“We cannot be separated from our traumas or our histories,” the MPP added. 

Commenting on PEARL’s advocacy work, Ravichandradeva stated, “a lot of [PEARL’s] advocacy is trying to get Canada to take a strong principled and human rights-oriented stand to ensure that justice and accountability is had for these historical and continuing crimes.”

There has been a consistent failure of domestic institutions in Sri Lanka to hold anyone accountable… when the state itself is unwilling to even let people mourn their dead, how can we rely on the state to actually hold itself accountable? That’s why so much of PEARL’s work is focused on international accountability mechanisms,” Ravichandradeva continued. 

Earlier this week, PEARL released a statement "remembering Black July 38 years on," which included renewed calls for justice and reflections on the "indelible impact of this genocide committed against Tamil people."

In addition, several other Canadian Parliamentarians marked the 38th anniversary of the Black July massacre, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who released an official statement remembering the “victim of the horrific events.”

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