Hon. John McKay PC, MP speech on his visit to Sri Lanka, October 26, 2002


Thank you for this opportunity to speak. As you know, I traveled to Sri Lanka with the Secretary of State, David Kilgour and our Sri Lanka desk at DFAIT, Glen Hodgins. We spent our time in Colombo and Batticaloa. Unfortunately, we were under time constraints and not able to go to Trincomalee or Jaffna .

 I had never been to Sri Lanka and quickly I saw why it could be the jewel of the Indian Ocean . The hostilities in the country have prevented it from taking its proper place among the family of nations.    

Our agenda was very intense. As you can see we met many of the people who will have significant impact on the success of the peace process.

But today, I want to address my remarks to you- the people who will make or break the process- the Canadian diaspora community. Many of you are the best and the brightest in the Sri Lanka world- wide community. Your loyalties are divided. While you are on your way to becoming Canadians, you naturally keep a wary eye on what is going on back at home. There is not an immigrant or immigrant group in this country that doesn’t live with that tension. Your tension is heightened by the reality of a civil war.

The peace process is very fragile. At present the best that can be said is that the people are not shooting at each other; as one of the Peace Group people said, it is more an absence of war than a reality of peace. There are, however, violations on both sides of the ceasefire. That is not helpful, but certainly an improvement on the alternative.  

I would like to suggest that Sri Lanka has no alternative but to go forward into the peace process. Neither party has the ability to carry on hostilities with any hope of winning- whatever winning might mean. Each party has the ability to engage in a slugfest, which will further depopulate Sri Lanka and demoralize the population.

Clearly, the ability to raise funding post September 11 has been severely curtailed by Western governments. That is just a plain reality and it affects all entities which carry on various levels of hostilities around the world. It has a unique impact on LTTE. Clearly the government of Sri Lanka is broke and has no appetite for war. The Prime Minister has made that clear- what is less clear is whether some right- wing Singhalese parties are hearing the message.

Another reality is a geo-political reality. Clearly the United States is looking for safe-havens for its military- particularly its navy. Trincomalee is an attractive harbour. The United States will not tolerate a resumption of hostilities which imperils its personnel. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the U.S. will put heavy pressure on both sides to continue on the road to peace. It will also attempt to form relationships with both sides.

The United States and India are arriving at some form of accommodation. The U.S. intends to wage war on terrorism and sees India as an ally. Again, India will be expected to be a force for peace in Sri Lanka and will be expected to use its influence in that direction.

Those that think that they can return to hostilities (business as usual) have not conducted a realistic analysis in my opinion. The geo-political environment has changed dramatically in the past few months- wake up and smell the coffee. The only way to go is forward.

The progress of negotiations on the opening of a road to Jaffna will be a barometer for the success of the peace process. It brings into play many of the issues which will be very difficult for Sri Lanka - Who’s road is it? Will it be a central government responsibility or a sub-regional responsibility? Who will maintain it- collect the tolls- licence the vehicles, etc. By opening the road, the two sides will be forced to do what we in Canada do every day- and have been doing for 150 years- settling jurisdictional responsibilities and distributing the tax revenues equitably. This is a reality that is facing the parties and it will have to be settled sooner rather than later. The road to peace will likely be settled on the road to Jaffna .    

This raises the question of what Canada could do if asked. Each one of you experiences a working confederation on a daily basis- an asymmetrical federation based upon a bilingual/bicultural model in a multiethnic environment. Canada will be talked about- the question is whether it will be useful for Canada to be present during those talks. Certainly G. L. Peris understands how Canada works and I take some comfort from Mr. Balasingham’s recent remarks that he too could see Canada as a model for Sri Lanka .

Canada already contributes significantly through CIDA to humanitarian projects. While we were there, we saw a number of projects where Canada has been helpful. Canada has expertise in de-mining. Clearly, Sri Lanka will not achieve any kind of peace or prosperity without and enormous de-mining effort. That may be an area of assistance. It will also be a lifetime test on the Jaffna road negotiations. If there is no de-mining, there will be no road to Jaffna and there will be no peace

Finally, I think that you need to be engaged and to think independently. We are thinking about acceptable formats which would bring the people in Canada of Sri-Lankan origin together to talk about the peace process. We are not interested in providing a forum just so that people and harangue one another. Rather we are thinking of inviting significant players in the peace process to Toronto to report on the progress of negotiations- to give their opinion on the way forward- and to engage you in the peace process which leads Sri Lanka to a just settlement, a vibrant democracy, and finally to Sri Lanka taking its rightful place among the nations of the world- the Jewel of the Indian Ocean.

Hon. John McKay PC, MP