Liberal MP Rob Oliphant was the first to bring up the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka during Question Period today (more in my daily recap on Question Period), following the weekend protests which shut down the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto. I caught up with him after Question Period.
Q: You brought up the Tamil question today in Question Period. Were you satisfied with the response that you heard?
A: No, I think that she’s repeating her answer time and time again. She’s constantly saying that they’re involved, and the reality is that there’s no evidence that they’re doing what they’re talking about. She had a Minister’s trip to Sri Lanka last week, and three million dollars of aid is not going to mean anything if the aid can’t get through. So you obviously need to have the UN presence there to open a corridor to let the people through, and then you can start getting aid through – but you need an international presence. If there’s no international presence, there’s no use sending aid.
Q: She has been over there – how better do you think she could be engaging the issue?
A: She’s a junior minister. Lawrence Cannon wasn’t in the house today – it’s his task and the Prime Minister’s task to be calling directly to, either through our High Commissioner, which I suggested today, or directly to the president or the Prime Minister, either one, or Sri Lanka, to put some pressure on it. I think secondly they have to talk to the United Nations – we have to give instructions to our UN Ambassador – to get the UN beefed up on this whole issue. And the third thing is that we have to be looking at the IMF loans that are coming up for discussion right now – $1.9 billion in loans that will go from the IMF to Sri Lanka, and I want Canada to put conditions on them. These are big issues for Bev Oda – they’re above her head.
Q: I noticed today, with her thanking Jack Layton for his involvement in the defusing of the situation, which wasn’t in the media at all…
A: Which I can’t find any record of at all. He may have had some private conversations. As of midnight, when I finally went to bed, Jack had not been involved that I knew of, at all, in defusing the situation, so I have a sense that because our leader’s office had made phone calls to get them to withdraw and to get off the road, somehow the Conservatives are afraid to give the Liberals credit for that, so I don’t know what Mr. Layton did, but certainly that wasn’t in the media today. I’ve just had my office to scan it to find out, but I can’t find anything.
Q: Now the protest itself on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto…
A: Obviously we’re concerned about safety and security – first for the Tamil protestors. The Tamil protesters – women, children – these are family groups that go out, and I don’t think it was all a case, as some are saying, that they put their children and women out in front – these are families that go out together. If anyone has seen any of the Tamil demonstrations, and followed it at all, they know they go in family groupings. I know from my own riding, they go in families. It’s not unusual to have children and women and men together. Also it reminds us that the Tamil society is an extremely egalitarian society – men aren’t the leaders only, it’s women and men together – there’s a role for women. So that’s missing [in the reports]. But we are concerned about their safety – we’re also concerned about legality. We’ve stressed to them that they can’t have illegal demonstrations – it hurts their cause. When asked my advice, I said make sure you have a permit to demonstrate, demonstrate legally, keep traffic flowing. Until last night, they’ve managed to do that. The demonstrations they had here on Parliament Hill, the RCMP told me it was the most well-organised, thoughtful, careful demonstration they’d ever seen here of that size. I think last night, the anger probably got out of control, and I know that the Tamil leaders, from what I had heard, were not able to talk to people. They simply feel they had to make their point, and their point was being heard. I would counsel them against doing that. But also counsel Torontonians to relax about this. The reality is men and women and children are dying in Sri Lanka. We don’t want to be inconvenience of course, but the reality is proportionality. It’s just take a step back, make sure the law is being kept, if they’ve broken the law, measures will be taken, but it’s not the end of the world to have traffic delayed on a Sunday evening. I was delayed, but my life goes on. Other people’s lives are being taken.