Terry Glavin: If the Tamils were Irish, would we help?

April 23, 2009 – A desperate humanitarian crisis is facing Northern Ireland, where over 100,000 civilians remain trapped in the crossfire between government forces and the Irish Republican Army. Since fighting intensified in mid-January 2009, available reports suggest 5,000 civilians, including at least 500 children, have died, and more than 10,000 have been injured. Despite reports that tens of thousands have managed to escape over the past few days, information from the ground suggests that more than 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the region.That’s what happens when you take this International Crisis Group assessment and replace ‘Sri Lanka’s northeastern region’ with ‘Northern Ireland’ and ‘Tamil Tigers’ with ‘Irish Republican Army.’ I’ve done this as a kind of thought experiment, to tentatively speculate what Ottawa would look like right now if it were 30,000 Irishmen descending upon Ottawa after months of peaceful mass protests in several Canadian cities for the purpose of urging a more full-throated Canadian response to the crisis.

Coming from an Irish Catholic immigrant family, I feel sufficiently confident to imagine that, by now, unlike the Tamil protesters, you can be quite certain that my crowd would not be taking pains to put away our offensive banners or limiting our sauciness to the wearing of green jackets, after the fashion of the protesting Tamils. I am more inclined to think that, by now, Parliament Hill would be a smouldering heap of ash and cinders, and there would not be a lamp post from the Byward Market to McKellar Heights without a Canadian politician hanging from it.

I point this out as a way of noticing Canada’s good fortune to count among its citizens the largest population of the Tamil Diaspora on earth, and also to notice that Canada would have a lot more to bitch about than longer than usual line-ups at Tim Horton’s lavatories if Paddy’s laments were treated to the same degree of indifference that Canada’s Tamils have had to face.

That is all.

Chronicles & Dissent

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Journalist, author and blogger Terry Glavin is an adjunct professor of creative writing at the University of British Columbia and editor of Transmontanus Books. He was awarded the 2009 B.C. Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.

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