Canadians of Sri Lankan origin rallied on Monday to mourn those who were killed in the coordinated terrorist attacks in their homeland on Sunday as Ottawa advised Canadians currently in the country to demonstrate a “great caution”.
At least 290 people were killed and hundreds wounded in a series of coordinated bombings that rocked Sunday churches and hotels in three cities in Sri Lanka. Global Affairs Canada has confirmed that no Canadian was among the 39 foreigners killed. The authorities said that the numerous attacks, allegedly committed by suicide bombers belonging to an Islamist group, targeted worshipers gathered to celebrate Easter.
Sri Lankans in Canada have organized vigilantes from coast to pay homage to those who have been killed and seek comfort from those who have already witnessed violence in their country.
Edward Anura Ferdinand, president of the Sri Lanka-Canada Association in Ottawa, estimated that hundreds of Sri Lankans would gather in several Canadian cities to light candles, sing hymns and deal with recent attacks. Such a vigil had to take place Monday night on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Anura Ferdinand argued that the horror of Sunday’s violence was compounded by memories of the bloody civil war that left many Canadians of Sri Lankan origin, many of whom left their country behind. During this civil war, which ended in 2009, a powerful rebel army, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, was crushed by the government.
While a strong wind of Islamophobia has blown over the island in recent years, fed by Buddhist nationalists, the country has not experienced violent radical Islamist episodes. The small Christian community in this country has experienced only isolated incidents of harassment in recent years.
On Monday, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave the military more leeway to detain and arrest suspects – powers that had been used during the civil war, but which were later repealed.
Member of Parliament
Canadian MP Gary Anandasangaree, who fled Sri Lanka at the age of 10, said the attacks could destabilize a country still struggling to bring about a fragile peace. He also recalled that many of his expatriate compatriots were worried about the long-term consequences for their loved ones at home.
“Although peace has not been achieved on the island in the last 10 years, there was some semblance of order in some places,” Anandasangaree said. “All this has just stopped.”
The Toronto MP has also organized a vigil in the east of the city, which was scheduled for Monday evening religious leaders from Christian communities, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims.
For its part, Global Affairs Canada states in a travel warning on its website that the situation in Sri Lanka “remains unstable” and that “further attacks could occur across the country”.
In addition, Ottawa recalls that local authorities have declared a state of emergency and that a curfew could be put in place at any time. Local authorities have also temporarily blocked access to most social media.
Spokeswoman Amy Mills urged Canadians in Colombo, the capital of the country, to limit their travel as much as possible, to avoid the affected areas and to follow the instructions of local authorities.