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In Ottawa, protest part of the landscape

From some of the fuss about the demonstrations by Tamil supporters in front of Parliament Hill, you’d think we’d never seen a protest here in the nation’s capital.

From some of the fuss about the demonstrations by Tamil supporters in front of Parliament Hill, you’d think we’d never seen a protest here in the nation’s capital.

The most eccentric one I ever witnessed was a single bedraggled man standing motionless just outside the gates of the parliamentary precinct and favouring the Peace Tower with a silent one-finger salute. I didn’t ask what his point was, but I think I got the gist.

The most tense was those held during the G20 summit in November 2001, as massed anti-globalization protesters faced phalanxes of cops in riot armour. The entire scene was suffused with post-9-11 paranoia, but mercifully the peace mostly held.

I first learned of the Tamil demo from a local radio station noting the traffic disruption, expect delays, etc. Of who might be protesting or why, there was curiously no word.

A week and a half later, we’ve heard more about the dirty 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka that has killed more than 70,000, but many of us still can’t look past our own inconvenience. Why, some ask, didn’t police start making arrests as soon as the demonstrations began blocking traffic early last week?

But two years ago, when it was Canadian farmers jamming the city core with a convoy of tractors, I recall no similar demands for a crackdown. Civil disobedience, within the bounds of public safety, is fair ball.

The Sri Lankan High Commission has made much of tiger flags displayed by the protesters, which are associated both with both Tamil nationalism and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the latter banned in Canada as a terrorist organization. The Harper government, while affirming the demonstrators’ right to freedom of expression, has also used the flags as an excuse to avoid a meeting.

The protesters on Wednesday, some arriving in minivans full of kids and grannies, struck me as unlikely terrorists.

Afternoon commuters waited for their buses along Wellington Street undisturbed, either watching the demonstrators or completely ignoring them, for that, too, is democracy as practised in Ottawa.

 
 
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