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Citizen Journalists & Citizen Historians: Scenes from the Tamil Canadian Protest

I am in Ottawa, Ontario, this week working with the Canadian War Museum. It’s been an interesting first twelve hours, as I have been engaged non-stop since my arrival.

After leading a workshop with the staff from the War Museum, I caught a taxi to my hotel down from Parliament Hill. Blocking my path was a large protest of Tamil Canadians who have converged to demand action by the Canadian government to establish a cease-fire in the war between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers.

Between checking into my hotel and meeting friends for dinner, I walked up the hill and mingled with the protesters. It’s a peaceful demonstration with police redirecting traffic around the melange of ages, gender, and economic standing. With my iPhone camera and my Flip MinoHD, I captured sights and sounds of the daytime activities. After dinner, I returned for more and this time interviewed one of the student leaders involved.

Using the footage I took, I’ve pulled together this video to approximate my experience inside the protest:

In talking with the protesters, I was given the following website addresses. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information contained on them. In fact, I cannot even vouch for the facts and events the protesters shared with me about the current situation inside Sri Lanka.  I can just share what was shared with me, including these websites they wanted the world to visit:
UK Guardian News Article

As I burn the midnight oil to write this post, I am preparing my final thoughts for the lunch keynote I’m presenting in about 11 hours. It’s entitled “The Battle for the Human Mind: Hosting the Great Debates of History Online” and will be part of a day long historical conference. As the only non-professional historian presenting, I get to explore digital and social media’s role in historical understanding.

A major issue I will be exploring is the tension between Experts and Amateurs. Now that we walk around with mobile devices, cameras, and video cameras in our pocket, we all can become citizen journalists and can use the bright, shiny light of the Internet to bring awareness to specific events and causes.

This has great implications. As I prepare for the historical conference, I wonder about many things. Specifically, I wonder where is the line between reporting on news events and interpreting that news as history? How will this affect our perceptions of history? Can everyone become historians?

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8 Responses to “Citizen Journalists & Citizen Historians: Scenes from the Tamil Canadian Protest”

  1. Ravi S Says:

    Thanks for the fair article with understanding of the feelings of Tamil Canadians. I would like to urge all the Canadians to understand this genocide and support the Tamil Canadians in this rally.
    Stephan Happer should come out of the closet and listen to us then immediately lift the ban on LTTE and apologize for his act , lead the world to bring cease-fire immediately, send medicine and aid to the Tamils in Vanni directly and free the Tamils by recognize the Tamils’ homeland Tamil Eelam state.
    Thanks Again
    God Bless

  2. Ganes Selva Says:

    Sure, you can not only become historian, even may be more.

    Remember now Senator Romeo DeLaire, decorated Canadian soldier who warned imminent GENOCIDE in Rwanda 15 years ago, yet the whole International Community ignore. And as a result, more than a million people were killed.

    This month is also “Prevention of Genocide” and 15 years of Rwandan anniversary.

    What we are seeing under the disguise of War On Terror International Community has give an opportunity for Sri Lanka in golden platter to commit genocide on the entire Tamil race.

  3. Naga Navam Says:

    The dire situation we are in now is due to the inaction of United Nations and the International committee to stop a genocide against Tamils perpetrated by the Government of Sri Lanka.

    The Tamils have been systematically killed over the last few decades, and recently the killings have increased exponentially. The UN, bless their souls, have tried their best to protect the Sri Lankan government but a leaked document of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs obtained by Inner City Press

    shows 2683 Tamil civilian casualties killed and 7241 injured in 47 days; That is a staggering 57 Tamil civilians killed per day and 154 Tamil civilians injured per day. These are undisputed facts. This is genocide and Canada has signed the UN convention on genocide and so has a legal obligation to prevent it.

    The Canadian Tamils have demonstrated peacefully on many occasions asking for Canada to put strong pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka, including sanctions if necessary, to bring about a ceasefire and stop the slaughter of Tamils. Yet there was little or no media coverage. Canadian Tamils are law abiding, tax paying citizens whom out of grief have participated in the current protest outside parliament in the hope of stopping the genocide against the Tamil perpetrated by the Government of Sri Lanka. Canadian Tamils will never and has never caused any problems to their fellow citizens.

    Now for our fellow Canadian Citizens, a genocide has been perpetrated by the Government of Sri Lanka against the Tamils. According to the UN convention, Canada must act, but as one of my work colleague commented this lunchtime, what can Canada do?

    The Canadian taxpayer is paying for the genocidal Sri Lankan war through the IMF which is about to lend $1.9 billion to a bankrupt country to enable it to keep borrowing to pay for its cluster bombs, chemical weapons etc.

    Before I begin my essay on why it is genocide, lets ask one simple question. How does the Government of Sri Lanka manage to kill Tamil civilian on such large numbers daily? The answer is quite trivial, gather all Tamil civilians from towns & villages in one area, in this instance it is the Government declared Safe Zone and drop chemical weapons and cluster bombs on them.

    Why is it Genocide, well here are a few bullet points:
    1.The Government of Sri Lanka is bombing safe zones where the UN estimates that over 150,000 Tamil civilians are living. The Government of Sri Lanka claims that only a few hundred Tamil Tigers remain and that they are in the safe zone. That means that there are about 500 Tamil civilians for every Tamil Tiger, according to the Government of Sri Lanka’s own figures. The government is then bombing these safe zones claiming that it is trying to get at the Tamil Tigers, when in fact, the chances of hitting a Tamil civilian vs Tamil Tigers is about 500 to 1. This is genocide disguised as counter terrorism, as happened in Sudan.
    2.The Government of Sri Lanka’s is deliberately preventing aid from being sent to wounded Tamil civilians in Government hospitals – as reported by Human Rights Watch on February 24th 2009. This is genocide against Tamil civilians.
    3.The Government of Sri Lanka is deliberately saying that only a few thousand Tamil civilians still remain in the Safe Zone when in fact the UN reports that about 150,000 civilians are there. Therefore, the Government of Sri Lanka is effectively saying that it is not accountable for well over 100,000 Tamils in the Safe Zone, while it continues to bomb and shell the same Safe Zone. This is clear indication of intent to kill large numbers of Tamil civilians. This is genocide as per the UN Convention.
    4.The Government of Sri Lanka has bombed and shelled the only remaining hospitals in the Tamil areas depriving many thousands of wounded Tamil civilians of desperately needed medical care. This is not just a war crime, it is genocide, as all the victims are Tamil civilians.
    5.The Government of Sri Lanka has been blocking journalists and aid workers from visiting the war zone. They are therefore keeping the area free of witnesses, while UN reports indicate that about 3000 civilians have been killed and 7000 injured within the last two and a half months alone due to the Government of Sri Lanka bombing and shelling densely populated Tamil areas. This is genocide and they are trying to cover it up.

    This is genocide and Canada has signed the UN convention on genocide and so has a legal obligation to prevent it.

  4. Kalviyan Says:

    As you can see there is Genocide going on with world bless. Mainly India and Sri Lanka is part of this Genocide. How Indian also involved in Sri Lanka war. There military is there on the ground and fighting. There for they will be judged by world sooner. Tamils have been suffering in many ways in Sri Lanka last 62 years after British left and Hand over the power to one side. They being killed, kidnapped, no proper food, medical, or proper studies or not to follow their culture. Most of the people don’t know that Tamils had their own country before British come and By British it was joined as one country and made this conflict. More over where ever British were, that country still going through problems. The world made big mistake by Banning Tamil Tigers as Terrorist for no reason and Waving the White flag & boost to Sri Lanka to continue his Ethnic Cleansing. Under UN law and Geneva Convection There is not a single law applies for Tamil Tigers to be Terrorist, thus it applies to Tamil Tigers as a Legitimate Freedom fighters. Its clearly says that a group who has identification, Uniform, Land of control, Government, Armed militants and Divisions is not a Terrorist. Why can this world understand that Tamil Tigers does not target any civilians? If that so you would have seen Senegalese people dying everyday unlike they die one or two people in year, which is wasn’t meant to be targeted. Only solution for them is having them their own Country

  5. Shenthan Rajah Says:

    Hi Scott:
    As you prepare for your presentation I think it is important to keep in mind that without the citizen journalists and amateurs we would be completely in the dark as to the atrocities (some even call it a genocide) being committed against the minority Tamils by the brutal Sinhalese government. The government of Srilanka does NOT tolerate any form of free media. The government forces and their paramilitary units have systematically eliminated dozens of journalists who dared to question any aspect of the government. You may have heard of Lasantha Wickrematunge the editor of Sunday Leader who was assassinated by the government in February. I’m confounded by the silence of the international community who has NOT done anything to alleviate the suffering of the Tamil people. They are just content to take what the government says as the gospel of truth. Thanks to the citizen journalists at least we have some truth as to what is happening in the North and East Srilanka is coming to light.

  6. Mark Bell Says:

    Scott, nice meeting you on Thursday evening and thanks for posting this. The traffic snarls and headaches are unpleasant to say the least, but this provides some perspective to the local situation at least.

  7. Shirani Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to understand the issue faced by Tamils. I am not sure if you are aware of the history on this issue. To be brief, I left the country due to the eminent danger my family faced after the 1983 riots when we ended up as refugees in a camp in the capital loosing everything we had except for what was on ourselves. I personally witnessed killings and burnings of Tamils which to this date bring nightmares.

    Now the SL government has gone on an all out rampage of eliminating the Tamil race and we have no other choice but to get to the streets. I have lost a few relatives and have no idea where the rest are.

    Thanks for understanding and may our Lord Bless you

  8. Citizen Journalists & Citizen Historians: Scenes from the Tamil Canadian Protest « Rally the Cause Says:

    [...] Citizen Journalists & Citizen Historians: Scenes from the Tamil Canadian Protest 2009 July 5 by scottyhendo This post was originally posted on on 4/09/2009. Comments can be viewed here. [...]

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