Tamil-Canadians vote for independent state in Sri Lanka

Canadian Tamils of Sri Lankan descent have voted almost unanimously in favour of the creation of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, claims a group that organized a "referendum" on the issue.

Canadian Tamils of Sri Lankan descent have voted almost unanimously in favour of the creation of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, claims a group that organized a "referendum" on the issue.

The Coalition for Tamil Elections in Canada said  99.8 per cent of the 48,583 people who turned out to vote Saturday supported an autonomous state in the island nation.

The voting process was managed and monitored by ES&S, a voting machine manufacturer, the coalition said. Voters were registered before casting their ballots, following instructions from ES&S.

Similar votes in Norway and France have also yielded overwhelming support for an independent Tamil state, organizers say.

"I aspire for the formation of the independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam in the North and East territory of the Island of Sri Lanka on the basis that the Tamils in the Island of Sri Lanka make a distinct nation, have a traditional homeland and have the right to self-determination," Saturday's vote statement read.

It was drafted 33 years ago when Tamil discontent over the majority Sinhalese government prompted calls for the creation of a separate state.

The issue of Tamil autonomy has loomed large over much of Sri Lanka's recent history. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Tamil rebel group, fought the Sinhalese government for 23 years for an independent state. That rebellion was crushed in May by the government.

Most votes in GTA

The latest vote occurred between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time Saturday across Canada. Most of the polling stations were in the Greater Toronto Area, where most Canadian Tamils of Sri Lankan descent are believed to be concentrated.

Ballots were also cast in Montreal, Ottawa, Cornwall, Ont., Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Halifax.

"This will, they hope, give them a stronger political voice both on the world scene and also on the Canadian scene, in the sense that they can say to the government: 'This is what Tamil Canadians — who are Canadian voters after all — want,'" said Arthur Sheps, a history professor at the University of Toronto.

Tamilnet.com, a pro-Tamil website, reported that Adam Giambrone — a Toronto councillor who is considering running for the city's mayoralty next year — gave the vote his blessing.

"As a government official in the city of Toronto, I think that is incredibly important to recognize the importance of democratic process, of the fact that close to 50,000 people from the country — many of them right here in Toronto — have got out, got informed and stood with the elections when they went out and voted in the free and fair elections," Tamilnet.com quoted Giambrone as saying.

A group of 29 Canadians plan on holding a vote in April to elect Tamil representatives to a de facto government-in-exile. 

Estimates vary on the number of Sri Lankan Tamils living in Canada. The 2006 census shows there are about 104,000 people of Sri Lankan descent — including both Tamil and Sinhalese people — living in the entire country.

But some academic papers have suggested there may be as many as 200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in Canada.