On the initiative of a few leading members of Sri Lankan expats living in Toronto, a concerned group of over thirty members both as representatives of different community associations as well as in their individual capacities met on Thursday, the 18th of June, 2014 at 7.30 p.m. at the Toronto Mahavihara Buddhist Temple to discuss ways of re-establishing peace and harmony in the affected areas of their motherland.
The meeting was chaired by Venerable Ahangama Rathanasiri Mahathera with the attendees being mainly from the Sinhala and Muslims communities whilst every other community too participated. The Venerable Mahathera opened the discussions by pointing out that it was a matter of regret that there had been serious confrontations in the affected area resulting in the loss of life, injury and damage to property. He said that the Buddhists and Muslims had coexisted peacefully for centuries, and that the actions of some extremist elements had contributed to the unfortunate breach of the peace. He said that our objective is not to undertake a post-mortem or apportion blame, but to send a message of unity and bring healing to the affected communities. He ended his remarks by adding that the country has just recovered from three decades of terrorism, and that disunity will only assist foreigners who want to create divisions and prevent Sri Lanka from developing to her full potential.
A draft statement was placed before the meeting based on known information with a set of recommendations to the authorities. The participants expressed their varied opinions keeping in mind the need to defuse the situation and prevent further escalation of the disturbances. One additional proposal that we condemn the actions of one of the offending parties was not agreed to, as there appeared to be provocative acts on both sides leading to the unfortunate events. It was also proposed that we organize community events where members of the Sri Lankan expat community could interact with each other and build closer ties. After every person with an opinion had spoken, the meeting was terminated at 9.40 p.m.
Based on the views expressed and the absence of any formal amendments to the statement tabled at the meeting, the draft has been updated with minor changes for release to the media and influential leaders. The updated statement forming the consensus of the meeting is given below:
As Canadians of Sri Lankan origin, we have been deeply affected by the violence which took place in Aluthgama, Beruwala and Welipenna on June 15th, following an incident of assault on the driver of
a vehicle carrying a Buddhist monk on Poson day, i.e. June 12th, which is a holy day in the Buddhist calendar. The unfortunate events took place on the day of a protest rally arranged by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), an organization led by monks, resulting in the protesters and resident groups confronting each other resulting in violent acts causing the death of 4 persons, injury to several said to number 80 and damage to homes, shops and public property belonging to the resident Muslim and Sinhala communities.
While extending our heartfelt sympathies to all those who suffered losses, we wish to express appreciation to the authorities for taking steps to deploy the Police and Army to quell the disturbances and provide protection to everyone in the area. We also commend those exemplary citizens who acted to provide comfort and safety to their neighbours from different communities in the midst of anger and rage which prevailed at the time. We are also pleased that the President has ordered the immediate restoration of the damaged properties, and trust that adequate relief will be provided to the affected people.
As a pre-dominantly Buddhist nation which has for centuries coexisted peacefully with minorities, we call on every member of the Sri Lankan family to act with responsibility and respect for one another and heal the wounds caused of disharmony. Our history shows that our constituent communities co-operated with one another especially when foreign invaders sought to persecute or harm a particular group. A shining example is the instance of the Muslim community of the west coast being persecuted by the Portuguese colonial power being granted refuge by King Senarath, the Sinhala Buddhist ruler of the Kandyan kingdom. It is ironic that these Portuguese and their Catholic converts had to similarly seek refuge in the Kandyan kingdom from harassment meted out by the Dutch colonial power that replaced the Portuguese.
We must build on our ties and make every effort to restore the goodwill and harmony that brings peace and prosperity to all. Such unity will at the same time prevent foreigners from exploiting differences to weaken the nation and hold Sri Lanka back.
As the public is not privy to the actual circumstances which led to the serious breach of peace, we call on individuals and groups to refrain from spreading various tales and rumours using the electronic media with their own spin, which amounts to adding fuel to the ugly fire that needs to be doused to bring back normalcy. All parties must ensure that the rights and freedoms of others are not violated at all times.
We call on the authorities to urgently conduct an impartial inquiry and take appropriate action against the wrongdoers in accordance with the law.
Signed: Mahinda Gunasekera, Toronto, Canada
Dated: June 24, 2014