Canada's first Tamil MP looks forward to challenge

Among the young New Democrats swept into office in Monday's federal election is 29-year-old Rathika Sitsabaiesan, Canada's first Tamil Member of Parliament.

Rathika Sitsabaiesan came to Canada when she was 5

Among the young New Democrats swept into office in Monday's federal election is 29-year-old Rathika Sitsabaiesan, now Canada's first ever Tamil Member of Parliament.

The Malvern community activist won the Ontario riding of Scarborough-Rouge River, taking a seat that had been Liberal since 1988. Now, along with scores of other rookie NDP MPs, she will help form the Official Opposition for the first time in the party's history.

First-time MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan won the riding of Scarborough Rouge-River, taking a riding that had elected Liberals since 1988. (CBC)

"I'm trying to figure out what the next steps are and continue working because this is just the beginning," she told CBC's Steven D'Souza on Tuesday. "It's very exciting."

Sitsabaiesan comes with a resume filled with community and advocacy work.

The first-time candidate has worked with the University of Toronto Student Union and is a member of the Malvern Community Association, a residents' group 8in the city's north end.

She has a commerce degree from Carleton University and a master's degree in industrial relations from Queen's. 

"I have a lot of experience in organizing in the community and working on community development and being an advocate for people," she said. "Being a strong advocate, that's what the community saw in me."

Sitsabaiesan carries a special sense of responsibility as Canada's first Tamil MP. "It's very significant for me but also the Diaspora," she said.

Some have trouble separating the Tamil community from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, a group that fought for an independent state in Sri Lanka and is on Canada's terrorist list. 

Sitsabaiesan, who came to Canada from Sri Lanka when she was five years old, said her election is a key step in the community's development in Canada.

"I've been a Tamil all my life and those negative stigmas on the community … we have the opportunity now to break through," she said. "We as a community cannot be thrown under that blanket statement. This is just another step in the development of the Canadian Tamil community."

Sitsabaiesan said her first step will be learning the ropes from more experienced members of the NDP caucus.

"Together we made history and together we will work for building on Canada and building the Canadian fabric."