Canada’s Tamil population voted in a referendum Saturday to gauge support for a sovereign Tamil state within Sri Lanka.

Originally published on CTV.ca – Dec. 19, 2009

Canada’s Tamil population voted in a referendum Saturday to gauge support for a sovereign Tamil state within Sri Lanka.

Canadians of Tamil descent were asked whether they still support the Vaddukkoaddai Resolution of 1976, which called for the recreation of an independent sovereign state for the Tamil people in the northern and eastern portions of Sri Lanka.

Saturday’s referendum was run by the Coalition for Tamil Elections Canada, a non-partisan group created exclusively to run surveys and opinion polls to measure the political pulse of Canada’s Tamil population. 

Internally displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians peep from over a fence at a camp for the displaced in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Internally displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians peep from over a fence at a camp for the displaced in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Their hope is to have a democratically-reached stance by Canadians of Tamil descent on the sovereignty issue.

“There have been various voices and opinions heard on the issue, whether for, whether against, and some undecided, but (political) agency isn’t available for those in Sri Lanka,” Coalition spokesperson Darshika Selvasivam told CTV.ca.

“Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have the right to be able to organize in this manner and to be able to voice our opinions.”

Tamils are an ethnic minority in Sri Lanka, where the separatist Tamil Tigers waged a decades-long civil war for independence until their defeat by government forces this year. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils who fled the violence now live in refugee camps.

The referendum is a different approach to the question of Tamil sovereignty, which brought protests to Canadian cities this year, most notably in Toronto, where demonstrators blocked a downtown expressway on May 10.

“There have been the rallies, there have been the demonstrations. But the current context in Sri Lanka leaves no agency for any sort of democratic or political referendum,” Selvasivam said.

“Any sort of democratic movement, any sort of organization or even a voicing of concerns — that’s not available to Tamils in Sri Lanka. And as their relatives — sisters, brothers and community members — who live in Canada they feel the need to democratically organize.”

While today’s vote will have no binding political power, the aim is to produce a consensus opinion that would be made available to think-tanks and NGOs for future research into the worldwide sentiment for or against Tamil sovereignty.

The Coalition did not specify whether any future referendums were planned in Canada or worldwide.

The majority of polling stations in Canada for the referendum are in the GTA and Southern Ontario. However, polls have been opened in most other major Canadian cities, including in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

The Coalition expected turnout to be just shy of 100,000 nationwide, factoring in lack of accessibility to polls for those not living in major cities. However, the day started off strong with over 3,000 votes cast at Toronto polling stations by 10 a.m.

Polls closed at 9 p.m. local time. Results were sent to Toronto headquarters shortly after closing. They will then be released in a national report collected from the data. No date has been set for the report’s release.