Lawsan Thanapalan is currently completing his J.D. at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law, and has a B.A. (Hons.) in Sociology from the University of Waterloo. He is also working as a Caseworker at Windsor Community Legal Aid. He has volunteered in the diaspora community with the Old Students Association of Pungudutivu, Canadian Tamil Law Students and Lawyers, and also at the Toronto District School Board where he taught Tamil language. Lawsan was born and raised in Canada and India, and last visited Sri Lanka in 2006.

Lawsan will be placed in the position of English-as-a-second Language Teacher for two months under the Right of Return Program with the Church of the American Ceylon Mission near Puthukkudiyiruppu in the Mullaitivu district.

We asked Lawsan to share some of his thoughts on his upcoming experience as he heads out to Sri Lanka.

From 1983 to 2009, being Tamil and living in Sri Lanka was a deadly combination. It meant losing loved ones, facing persecution from the government, and daily existence was not guaranteed. For my family, it meant the loss of my eldest brother, who was killed when my parent’s neighbourhood was bombed. When my dad sought justice, he was threatened by officials to withdraw the complaint. Concerned for the rest of the family, my parents fled their war-ravaged homeland to provide a better life for their children. I knew they had given up a lot and I vowed not to let their sacrifices be in vain.

Growing up I heard plenty of stories from relatives and my parents regarding the situation back home and was appalled by some of the living conditions and atrocities that were taking place back home. With that being said, I always believed that I was living in a country free of such hate crimes. However through my schooling process I quickly came to realize that hate existed everywhere. In high school I was wrongly accused of theft and trespassing by my school officials. It had gotten to the point where they called the police and my father to school and had me seated in handcuffs.

I remember pleading my case to whoever would give me a chance to explain that I did not commit the offence. However, it all fell on deaf ears, as one police officer muttered, “I know about your people, and what you people do”. I was being reduced to a stereotype about Tamil people, one that affected how they treated Tamils. The discrimination coming from authority figures, especially in Canada, startled me.

It would later come to be realized that I was innocent, however this did not change anything. There was no apology, there was no remorse in the way I was treated. It was then that I realized that had I not been adamant in my self-defence, I might have been found guilty. I considered the many people who are unable to speak up for themselves because they lack the means or fear the consequence of doing so. I wanted to change that, I wanted to speak up for those, like my parents, who are rendered voiceless, and I felt the best way to do that was through a career in law.

At the start as a law school student I went through the saviour complex, this notion that I’m going to get my degree and go back home and save everyone back home. I quickly realized how inappropriate a thought process that was. Through my law school education, what I learned is that there seems to be a discrepancy between what the community in Sri Lanka wants or needs and what we as a Tamil community believe they want. Discrepancies such as transitional justice versus justice through international court processes. No efforts are being made to discover what the actual civilians need. Rather, we as a community focus on economic assistance and believe we are doing good for the people back home. In my opinion the only way to assist with the civilians back home is to work with them to build a system of sustainability and stability, one which will stand the test of time.

To quote David Allan, “It is not the beauty of the building you should look at; it is the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.” That’s what this amazing opportunity has presented me achieve, it will lay the groundwork and foundation for the youth of today and tomorrow to help, but more importantly help in the right manner – to create a better tomorrow.

Stay tuned to this blog to follow Lawsan’s work in Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka this summer.

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