Asoka Weerasinghe retires as political activist in Canada on August 4, 2013
Interviewed by Rajendra Alwis
Q: I understand that you have decided to retire from political activism in Canada on August 4th. Is there any particular reason or significance to choose this date for your retirement?
A: Yes indeed. That would be the 30th anniversary of the day when I decided to stand tall for my Motherland, Sri Lanka.
It was on August 4, 1983, along with my most dependable friend, Asoka Yapa, I decided to go on the ITV 6 o’clock National News to tell our side of the story about the riots in Colombo after the Tamil Tiger terrorists killed 13 of Sri Lanka’s army soldiers in the north and how their bodies were brought to Colombo for burial.
By August 4th 1983, we Sinhalese, mainly the Sinhalese-Buddhists endured insults and abuse from the separatist-Tamil community in Canada when we were spat at and howled at through the print and the audio-visual news media for 10 long days and I watched them spitting and stomping on Sri Lanka which I didn’t think she deserved that treatment, as the separatist Tamil community in my eyes were not paragons of virtue and they wanted the world to believe that they had been persecuted and discriminated when for over a century the Tamils were the ‘privileged-minority’ and the Sinhalese were the ‘wronged-majority’. And every one of them knows it.
It so happened that I was the eighth Sinhalese-Canadian that the TV reporter had approached for an interview as all the seven others had refused, for whatever reason.
By then I had lived by the edict prescribed by Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people,” so I said “Yes” and invited the articulate and moderate Sinhalese Asoka Yapa to join me. And that was the beginning of my 30 year journey, committing five hours each day to defend the good name of Sri Lanka in Canada. Hope this explains why I chose this date.
Q: What really motivated you to step into this area of political activism?
A: I took on this commitment, purely for two simple reasons. The first was when the extremist separatist–Tamils were talking of the Sinhalese-Buddhists in Sri Lanka that they were also talking of me, as I am a Sinhalese-Buddhist from Sri Lanka. And if they were going to talk of me and spit at me, then I wasn’t going to take it sitting down and I demanded from them that they tell the truth, if not I would. And that is exactly what happened.
The second reason was that my Motherland that nurtured me for the first 19-years of my life providing me with free-education and many other Buddhist cultural character moulding traits, and I wasn’t going to let anyone, I mean anyone bash and insult her unfairly. So I not only challenged the Tamil Tiger friendly Canadian-Tamils but also the Canadian Prime Ministers, their Ministers, the Eelam cause supporting politicians, academics, Human Rights Valla’s like Amnesty International and whoever who resorted to that unfriendly act. I stepped on to the war path for my Sri Lanka.
Q: Did you face any counter separatist retaliation due to your activism, especially in the form of threats or intimidation?
A:What surprised me a few months into my advocacy, was that I not only had to take on the Sri Lanka bashing extremist aggressive Eelamist -Tamils but also half the Sinhalese population in Ottawa who were against my activism, and criticized me at their dinner parties when I was not present to defend myself. Their dining room walls had ears and the following morning I heard all about it. I noted who they were and dismissed every one of them as I owed them nothing but my gut feeling was that I owed everything to my Motherland, Sri Lanka, and decided to continue to guard her good name every way I could possibly do even in a small way. And that was easy. And I dealt with my Ottawa Sinhalese critics by writing a poem – For My Ottawa Critics – which was therapeutic and had it published.
This was not the only hazard that I was confronted with. I and my family had life threatening phone calls from LTTE supporters; and there was a bomb threat to blow up the 15 storey Centennial Building at 200 Kent Street in Ottawa because I worked for a Federal Department in that building. I also received two letters from lawyers in Toronto giving me notice that I would be sued for defamation, on behalf of their separatist-Tamil organization clients; and two threatening phone calls from a Liberal MP from a Toronto riding. I resent intimidation and I wasn’t going to hide under a table or behind a door. And that would not be me! All these challenging hiccups gave me more strength to continue what I set out to do to defend the image of my Motherland, Sri Lanka that I left behind 57 years ago. It was easy for me to turn my back on her after living abroad for that long, but I didn’t, and sent out 871 letters to Sri Lanka bashers of all colours, of which 256 letters to Editors of newspapers across Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia and some political journals too were published.
Q: In the process of lobbying were you not invited to air your views in different forums?
A: My lobbying got me invited to present my views at two House of Commons Standing Committees: the Bill on the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Foreign Affairs on Sri Lanka’s Crisis. My efforts to fill the gap created by our Mission to inform what was going on during the last four months of the Eelam-war by sending out 30 ‘ASOKA WEERASINGHE COMMUNIQUE’ Ottawa-Vanier Riding for Canadian Parliamentarians interested in Sri Lanka’ were well received. This was mainly to counter separatist-Tamils exaggerated stories with the truth as it was happening on the ground of the war theatre.
I was also invited to be the Chairperson of the group ‘Project Peace for a United Sri Lanka’ from 1983 to 1986, which was passed on to Asoka Yapa later on. This was a group that was formed by students at Carleton University who came together to blunt the false information that was spread around by the Tamil students at campus, who they said were well organized and aggressive. It wasn’t long when the students faded away from ‘Project Peace’, perhaps their heavy University work load didn’t give them spare time to devote on their initial commitment as the crisis in Sri Lanka was so fluid and changing by the day that one had to be on top of the issues, as it was easy for the separatist-Tamils to weave fairy tales. So I with the two able friends, Harrison Perera and Asoka Yapa the two Vice-Chairpersons ran with the ball.
Q: Who supported you to continue your fight against the false propaganda of the separatists?
A: We had a fair support from patriots from around the world who funded us, even from faraway places like Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, England, Italy. In return they received copies of our well researched and professionally produced Sri Lanka-Fact Sheets : Sri Lankan Unitarianism, Sinhala and Tamil Conflict – An Historical Perspective; The Claim for Tamil Homelands in Sri Lanka; Holier than Thou : India looks at Sri Lanka; Three Views on Sri Lanka the One Paradise that should Never be Lost – What next in Sri Lanka?; Sri Lanka at the Crossroads, Sri Lanka: Looking to the Future; Beyond the Settlement; All Party Conference ’84, in Search for Solutions for the Sinhala-Tamil Conflict; Nationalism in Sri Lanka after Independence The Root of Conflict. We distributed 350 of each professionally produced Fact Sheets around the world. And it cost us a fortune.
Q: What do you think when you look back on what you did over the past three decades?
A: It was a good fight while it lasted to blunt the lies that the Eelamist-Canadians kept propagating wanting their mythical mono-ethnic, racist, separate Tamil State Eelam, carved out of one-third of the island of Sri Lanka bordered by 66% of the coastline. What I did find out in 30 years, was that they will keep trying to achieve their mythical Eelam using their most deterrent weapon –‘Intimidation’, which they tried on me, and they found that they couldn’t get anywhere. The tables that they expected me to hide under because of their threats to my life were miles away and too far for the trembling-me to crawl to reach them.
Q: Before winding up our interview, would you like to express your gratitude or extend your thanks to any person (s) who contributed to make your efforts a success?
A: While I take leave from this file, I want to thank all the patriotic friends who encouraged me with their generous words, and to those who funded ‘Project Peace’ from around the world, and I am indebted to all those in Canada, the States, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and the UK who helped me with funds to pay my lawyers.
And most importantly I thank my Canadian wife for not threatening me that she would meet me at the Divorce Court if I didn’t stop this which was harming our family with threats by the Tamil separatists. The strength that I derived from her were these words that are still ringing in my ears, when sometime in August of 1983 she told me: “Asoka, I know you are a good fighter when it comes for a cause that you believe in, and I will be disappointed in you if you don’t fight to uphold the good name of your motherland, Sri Lanka, that you love so much. If they take you, they will have to take me with you and we will take down one of them with us”.
I will now pick up my life and do things that have been dear to me which I held back since 30 years ago. My conscience is clean and clear as I did whatever I could do to uphold the good name of my motherland, Sri Lanka that I have been romancing in my poetry volume ‘The Land of Serendipity’.