Sivasundaram's article

S. Sivasundaram

2 min read

A good life remembered

My friendship with Sri Guhan began in 1975, the year he arrived in Canada from England. I had come to Canada from the U.K. a couple of years earlier, and upon completion of my graduate studies, I was looking for employment; so was Sri. Canada was going through a recession at that time, and finding suitable employment was tough. We got to know each other then and supported each other emotionally through those difficult times. Though I had forgotten this, Sri used to say that I called him often late at night to offer encouragement and support.

Sri was a very strong-willed person. He could not use his right arm, but that did not deter him from achieving anything he wanted. He was a good driver, and he used his left hand to tie his shoelaces. He was very independent and didn’t like receiving physical help, but he was very helpful to others, particularly on human rights issues, and worked with The Tamil Eelam Society of Canada.

I left Toronto and Moved to Alberta and we lost touch with each other for a few years. When I returned to Toronto in 1983, I stayed with the Sivalingams; Mr. Sivalingam was a pioneer among the Tamils in Canada. It was then the Black July event in Sri Lanka happened. A large number of Tamils were killed, and homes were looted and destroyed. This created Tamil refugee issues within Sri Lanka. Mr. Sivalingam’s home became a center where most of the Tamils in Toronto gathered and developed a plan of action to respond to events in Sri Lanka. At that time, there were at most around 100 Tamils living in Toronto. Sri used to come to these meetings regularly, and brought along little Aanya, his daughter, out of school for summer.

The Tamil Eelam Society of Canada was very active in lobbying the government of Canada to accept refugees affected by the Sri Lankan communal violence. Sri played a key and prominent role in these lobbying efforts. In response, the Canadian Government implemented a Special Program to accept refugees from Sri Lanka. By then, I had moved to Ottawa. Sri and a few others from the Tamil Eelam Society regularly came to Ottawa to meet with the officials within the Department of External Affairs, Dept of Immigration, and the Refugee Status Advisory Committee(RSAC). In addition, members of the Tamil Eelam Society lobbied and met with as many members of parliament as possible, such as Flora McDonald, former Foreign Affairs Minister. We talked to various national newspaper editors, and got several sympathetic articles and editorials published. Such news media included national radio and television broadcasts as well. Sri played a key role in most of these efforts. After meetings in Ottawa, we met at our home in Ottawa for supper and a discussion on how the meetings went. Sri became a friend of my family, playing with and telling stories to our young son.

Once again, I left Ontario for the Philippines in 1993. But, Sri continued to work in many aspects of human rights issues and in the resettlement of Tamil refugees, mainly in the Greater Toronto Area. I met him last at the nursing home he was in, before the pandemic struck; he was as energetic and articulate as before, discussing with a fellow member the by-laws and the constitution of a Disability group, of which he was a key member and co-founder.

Sri was a credit to the Tamil society in Canada, and by extension to the larger community in various capacities. We were blessed to have him among us.

S Sivasundaram