Beach at St. Shott's, Newfoundland, June 9, 2007. Image by Peter Macdonald, via Flickr.
"Rock Against Racism" Poster, Anti-Racist Toronto, 1993. Courtesy of Alternative Toronto.
Dangers in a New Place
Issues at Work
In the difficult process of building new lives in Canada, many Tamil refugees also had to deal with discrimination in their new home. Beyond the lack of English language skills or Canadian work experience, they were also met with suspicion due to racism and xenophobia. Newspapers often published letters to the editor accusing Tamil refugees of lying about their experiences in Sri Lanka, or trying to “skip the queue” by claiming asylum.
When Tamils did find work, they were eager to keep it, sometimes having several jobs or working seven days a week. In the restaurant industry, refugees were sometimes treated very poorly, forced to do excessive work without breaks, or denied their tips. It was very easy to prey upon refugees who had no knowledge of the Canadian system nor the financial stability to leave exploitative work. According to Milan Nadarajah, an organizer with the Workers Action Centre, many of these issues persist today.
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Dangers in a New Place
Even when Tamil refugees found supportive workplaces, racism and xenophobia was still an issue navigating their new lives in Toronto. Sivarajah Vinasithamby was a math teacher in Sri Lanka, but when he arrived in Canada he took a job as a dishwasher to help support his wife and three children. His co-workers at the Tasty Restaurant on Clinton St. at Bloor St. W described him as a model worker. On June 6, 1993, Vinasithamby was attacked by a young neo-Nazi leaving a white supremacist rock concert. Vinasithamby was taking out the trash behind the restaurant.
Vinasithamby was left partially paralyzed by the attack, and relied heavily on his extended family and the community to help support him as well as his wife and three children. The attack also destroyed his hopes of returning to school so he could teach again. The attacker was eventually sentenced to four years for aggravated assault. This was one in a series of attacks on Tamil people in the city that June, prompting Tamil activists and community organizations such as the Tamil Eelam Society of Canada to call for more action to address racism against Tamils.