Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to speak to the motion sponsored by the member for Scarborough—Rouge Park, which asks that the government recognize the month of January as Tamil heritage month.
The motion also calls for recognition of the contributions that Tamil-Canadians have made to Canadian society, the richness of the Tamil language and culture, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon Tamil heritage for future generations.
This is something the NDP can and will support. It is something the NDP has supported consistently over the years. In fact, the wording in this motion is almost identical to the wording of a private member's bill that was introduced by then-NDP member for Scarborough—Rouge Park and Canada's first Tamil member of Parliament in 2013. That bill unfortunately died on the Order Paper.
Passing this motion does not necessarily mean the government will take action, as we know. Motions are non-binding, and the government has no obligation to act. However, I hope the government sees fit to recognize January, every year, as Tamil heritage month.
For the past few years, a member of the NDP has risen in this chamber to recognize Tamil heritage month and to ask the government to instill that recognition in a permanent and ongoing manner. In fact, in each of 2014 and 2015, the former NDP member for Davenport rose in the House and made the following statement:
On behalf of the New Democratic Party, I am pleased to recognize today as the beginning of Tamil Heritage Month. For the entire month of January, Canada’s Tamil community will be celebrating its history and culture with a variety of events, including the Thai Pongal – the Tamil monsoon celebration. For more than 75 years, Tamils have enriched our country, both on the economic and socio-cultural levels. We acknowledge their contributions and are proud to recognize them. The NDP is urging the government to support our bill to officially designate the month of January Tamil Heritage Month.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that, after a number of attempts and motions were presented over the years in the Ontario legislature, and one of those by the leader of the Ontario NDP, Bill 156, which recognizes January as Tamil Heritage Month in Ontario, was finally passed on March 25, 2014.
I find the preamble to that bill very interesting. It reads:
Tamils began migrating to Ontario as early as the 1940s. Since that time, Tamil Canadians have overcome tremendous obstacles and have made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of Ontario. January is an important month for Tamil Canadians. The Tamil Harvest Festival, Thai Pongal, as well as other Tamil artistic and cultural events, take place in January. By proclaiming the month of January as Tamil Heritage Month, the Province of Ontario recognizes the valuable contributions that Tamil Canadians have made to Ontario’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric. Tamil Heritage Month is an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Tamil Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across Ontario.
It goes on to proclaim that “The month of January in each year is proclaimed as Tamil Heritage Month.” Why is this important? Well, 150,000 people in Canada identify Tamil as their mother tongue. That means that the actual community, which would include those second and third generation members, is actually significantly larger.
I recently did a Google search regarding the Tamil community and was amazed at the sheer number of activities and events celebrating not only Tamil Heritage Month but other activities throughout the year. I was also impressed by the number of articles discussing the contributions of Tamils in our community.
Mr. Neethan Shan is presently a Toronto School Board Trustee, and the founder and chair of the Tamil Heritage Month initiative. I do not think I could ever truly explain the importance of the initiative, but I think Mr. Shan can and I quote from his message from the chair:
In 2009...it became more important than ever for the Tamils in the diaspora to identity ways to safeguard and promote our histories, heritage, language and unity. Consequently, I wanted to initiate a long term project that can help us, Tamils in diaspora, to remember, promote and celebrate the histories and heritage of Tamils around the world. Having participated and learnt from both our own Tamil Language Week initiatives of the past as well as from the various Heritage Months celebrated by other communities in Canada (such as Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, South Asian Heritage Month etc),
I thought it would be appropriate to have a month for the Tamils in Canada, not just to celebrate our arts and culture but, more importantly, to educate ourselves, our youth and non-Tamils about the contributions Tamils have made in social, economic, political, cultural, scientific and other spheres of life for centuries around the world. The idea became a reality in January 2010 with the incredible support of the two founding partner organizations, Arivakam Canada and Canada Tamil Academy; both of whom help many thousands of our students in their learning of the Tamil language and heritage [across Canada]. My sincere appreciation and thanks to these two organizations as well as to the other twenty plus prominent Tamil Canadian organizations for adding strength to the initiative. I am...proud to say that this initiative has been very successful in getting all of our major...organizations to work together for a common cause with mutual respect and understanding....
This year, as in the past, we...[have an] opening ceremony, over 25...events and activities across the country, closing cultural...event titled Thamizh Vizha, launch of our...website, publication of our official Tamil Heritage Month poster and the Tamil Heritage Guide and...many other media and [social media] awareness campaigns. More details of these activities will be published...through our..over twenty Tamil Canadian media partners (...tv stations, radio stations, print media and online media)....
It is important for us to celebrate our...arts and...language, but it is also important for us to celebrate and recognize the contributions of Tamils in...science, philosophy, literature, mathematics, architecture, civil administration, trade and commerce, political systems, sports and recreation, environmental protection, struggles against various oppressions etc. I am hopeful that as this initiative evolves..., [our] activities and events will start to reflect the multi-dimensional contributions of Tamils to the world in the past, present and future.
We live in a multicultural society, a country that has been built by those coming here from other countries and building new lives, new communities. We are all, as Canadians, very proud of those roots and we continue to welcome the contributions of those coming from other countries to this day.
Mr. Shan is just one of the many members of the Tamil community who have made significant contributions to this country. There are incredible stories of other Tamil individuals that show how much they have given to Canada.
It is time the government gave the Tamil community the recognition it deserves. We need to join with those jurisdictions that have already recognized January, officially, as Tamil heritage month. We need to pass the motion and we need to make it binding for each and every January from here forward.