tamil-cbcw-090510

Tamil protesters sit on the pavement of the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto, one of Canada's busiest highways, as the sun sets Sunday. The red flags are the flags of the Sri Lankan guerilla group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which Canada categorizes as a terrorist group. ((Nick Czernkovitch/CBC))

The Conservative government says Tamil-Canadian protests, including one that shut down a Toronto highway on the weekend, are giving people the idea that a terrorist group is part of the demonstrations.

Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda says she noticed red flags being flown at the protests bearing the symbol of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Sri Lankan guerilla group that has been engaged in a prolonged civil war with government troops in that country on behalf of the ethnic Tamil community.

The Tamil Tigers are considered a terrorist group by the Canadian government.

Oda told CBC Newsworld that the flags being flown "would say to Canadians that ... the terrorist organization is part of the demonstrations that happened."

Some protesters chanted their support for the Tamil Tigers at Sunday's highway protest.

The thousands of people who flooded onto the Gardiner Expressway left only after receiving assurances that the Liberals would raise their plight in Parliament.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says he will continue to press the Harper Conservatives on the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka but is distancing the party from the demonstration itself.

Ignatieff issued a statement urging that future protests be lawful and stressing that Liberal MPs took no part in the protest.

He also says the Liberals unequivocally condemn the Tamil Tigers.

"The Liberal Party of Canada stands firmly against terrorism, and I restate our unequivocal condemnation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam," said the statement.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty also assailed the tactics of the protesters who shut down the highway, saying the bloodshed in Sri Lanka does not justify such action.

The rage and frustration over Sri Lanka's civil war boiled over after reports that an all-night artillery barrage in the country's war zone killed more than 370 people and forced thousands to flee to makeshift shelters along a beach.

McGuinty says Sri Lanka should open the northern part of the country to journalists, aid workers and international observers.

The highway protest trapped dozens of motorists and forced police to close the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway for up to six hours.

"My daughter worked in Sri Lanka for close to a year as an aid worker, so I have some understanding of the nature of the challenges," McGuinty said.

"I understand the passions which are here, but having said that, there is a right way and a wrong way to protest."

A small handful of Tamil protesters gathered on the front lawn of the Ontario legislature Monday, which is exactly the place McGuinty said they should take their concerns rather than blocking city streets.

"They're always welcome to protest on the front lawn of Queen's Park or Parliament Hill," he said.

McGuinty also said he would not second-guess the police's decision to close the highways for hours Sunday to accommodate the protesters.

"I believe they've made the right kind of decisions to deal with these kinds of issues," the premier said.

The highway protest ended just after midnight after the federal Liberals promised to raise the Tamil concerns in Parliament.