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Vigil held at U of T Scarborough to mourn victims of terrorist attack in Sri Lanka

Chemi Lhamo of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union holds up a picture of victims of Sunday's attack in Sri Lanka during Friday's vigil (photo by Don Campbell)

Tharscika Ramaneekaran spent her childhood surviving Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war.

“Since the war ended, people at least had hope, they had confidence to dream about a peaceful life, and that’s being shaken again because of  [Sunday's] attack,” said Ramaneekaran, a third-year student and culture director of the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Tamil Students’ Association (TSA).

“I don’t want that division to happen again, so this is like a nightmare for me.”

U of T Scarborough hosted a vigil Friday for victims of the attack in Colombo, which left at least 253 dead and hundreds more injured. The event was organized by the TSA and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU).

“It is important that we come together to share our combined condemnation of this atrocious attack on individuals who were in places that you would hope to find sanctuary,” Wisdom Tettey, vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough, told the crowd.

“This pain does not just end with this service and this day. Members of our community will continue to feel the impact of this and it behooves all of us to be there with them, supporting them.”

Terrorists detonated a series of bombs in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Three churches across Sri Lanka – two Catholic and one Protestant – and several hotels were attacked.

Third-year student Kayona Karunakumar was born in Colombo and attended the vigil on behalf of U of T Scarborough’s branch of Power to Change, an interdenominational Christian organization. She says the attack brought back tragic and painful memories, but she hopes students left the vigil feeling loved.

“I do not grieve as someone who has no hope, because I believe that I will see those Christians one day in heaven,” she says.

Vigil participants sign a solidarity banner with messages of love and support (photo by Alex Wong)

Gary Anandasangaree, member of Parliament for Scarborough-Rouge Park, condemned the attacks and offered condolences on behalf of the Canadian government at the vigil. Anandasangaree was born in Sri Lanka and came to Canada as a refugee at age 10.

“It’s a country where racial and religious harmony isn’t being fostered, and it’s a message for us as Canadians, because we’re living in an era where we too are facing these challenges, where we too are being asked a question of who we are as a people,” he said.

Anandasangaree encouraged attendees to leave “with the resolve that we will not tolerate division, or the sense of hatred that’s permeating around the world.”

TSA president Kanitha Uthayakumar says this is why she prayed for the safety of Christians and Muslims, and the recovery of everyone affected.

“Because it is also exam time, we want to support all students who were impacted and have an open space to pray and come together,” says Uthayakumar, who came to Canada from Sri Lanka as a child. 

Two of U of T Scarborough’s chaplains, Pastor Mark Devanathan and Pastor Johnson Hsu, also addressed the crowd. Devanathan, lead pastor of U of T Scarborough’s Campus Church, was born in northern Sri Lanka and recounted his family’s terrified attempts to contact relatives in Colombo after the attacks. Thankfully, they were all safe.

But he said he is “broken that many did not hear back.”

After the speeches, attendees signed a solidarity banner with messages of love and support. The banner is hanging in the Student Centre, where a decompression space was also offered to students.

“No matter what, UTSC will continue to show up and continue to pledge to work together for a better world until there is no need for these vigils,” said Chemi Lhamo, vice-president of equity at the SCSU.   

Read U of T President Meric Gertler's statement on Sri Lanka