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Sri Lanka is facing a fuel crisis. But Canadian Tamil group says sanctions are keeping it from helping –



Sri Lanka’s consul general in Toronto is appealing for financial help as his country grapples with an acute fuel shortage, but a group that represents Canadian Tamils says it can’t send badly needed aid because the Sri Lankan government has slapped it with sanctions. 

“Sri Lanka is now in a difficult situation, so now we’re expecting if the friendly countries can help Sri Lanka on the financial front because we want to re-energize [and] reactivate our economy,” Thustara Rodrigo told CBC News Friday at the Sri Lankan Consulate.

Sri Lanka is now almost without gasoline and faces an acute shortage of other fuels as well. The government has been struggling to find money to pay for the importation of fuel, gas and other essentials in recent months as the Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy.  A new government was sworn in last month after thousands took to the streets to protest against the economic crisis.

Rodrigo says his country has suffered a series of crises starting with the Easter Sunday bomb attack in 2019, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic — which shuttered the country’s factories and forced Sri Lankan labourers who were working in the Middle East to return home after losing their jobs

“We lost all the foreign revenues during those two years because of the COVID. The increasing of the oil prices and some other regional matters made some impact on us,” he said.

People carry empty tanks as they line up to buy domestic gas at a distribution centre on Friday in the capital Colombo. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Rodrigo says Sri Lankans living in Toronto have been contacting the consulate because they want to help. But Ken Kandeepan, a member of the Canadian Tamil Congress advisory board, says the Sri Lankan government has made sending aid difficult.

“The Canadian Tamil Congress co-ordinated a substantial degree of relief at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic … [but] we cannot do that now because under this new government, they placed sanctions on the Canadian Tamil Congress and a number of the other Tamil organizations,” Kandeepan said.

“So, we are unable to provide any assistance directly.”

It’s not clear why the new government would be targeting Tamil organizations abroad. But tensions between the country’s Tamil minority and the largely Sinhalese-led government remain high, even though the bloody civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ended 13 years ago, dashing the guerrilla group’s hopes for an independent homeland.

Ken Kandeepan, a member of the Canadian Tamil Congress advisory board, says his organization cannot send aid to Sri Lanka due to sanctions. (CBC)

Kandeepan says the Jaffna teaching hospital has sent out an appeal for medication, including rabies medication, and while his group wants to respond to the appeal, they can’t.

“They don’t have that medication and we are unable to supply that medication. So, it’s very unfortunate that the government has not lifted those sanctions.”

Rodrigo denies that there are sanctions. He says while it might be difficult to purchase medication to send to Sri Lanka, individuals and organizations have found a solution.

“No sanctions, there are no sanctions,” the consul general said. 

“Actually, there’s a list given by the health authorities in Colombo. They said these are the medicines that are seriously needed … but it is difficult [for the community] to purchase such items from the pharmacies without the proper prescriptions, and that is the main problem.” 

Rodrigo says people have been collecting funds, which they send to their contacts in India who then purchase the medications and send them to Sri Lanka.

‘A tremendous degree of sadness’

According to Kandeepan, “there is a tremendous degree of sadness and anger” in Sri Lanka.

“They are absolutely mad about this. They think that all of this could have been avoided.”

Sri Lankan High Commissioner Harsha Navaratne, who is based in Ottawa, says his country is passing through “a real difficult situation.”

But he says some of the shortages are being addressed.

“Two shipments [of gas] were landed and the diesel also coming from Indian assistance. So slowly, some of these areas are addressed,” Navaratne told CBC News. 

“But still, when it comes to the food and essential medicine items [these] are very much immediate needs. So, we have already discussed with Canadian government and they have already allocated funds for $1 million for essential medication.”

Navaratne says there are discussions ongoing with Global Affairs Canada about sending fertilizer, gas and various food items. He says another meeting will be held next Tuesday to discuss some of the areas where Canada and Sri Lanka can work together.

Sri Lankan High Commissioner Harsha Navaratne, who is based in Ottawa, says his country is passing through ‘a real difficult situation.’ (CBC)

Navaratne says both the high commission in Ottawa and the consulate in Toronto have been communicating with nearly half a million Sri Lankans in Canada.

“We had several rounds of meetings in Toronto and here and they are very much worried about [what’s happening in Sri Lanka],” he said. 

“They are organizing themselves to do some immediate humanitarian assistance and … we also invite them to send dollars in official funds from Canadian banks. Just use official channels and send as much as possible dollars, because that’s the main issue in Sri Lanka.” 

“So, we are mobilizing the Sri Lankan Canadians here and their organizations to assist in this grave situation back at our former homeland,” Navaratne added.

Fuel shortages not new for Tamils

Katpana Nagendra, spokesperson for the GTA-based Tamil Rights Group, says fuel shortages and power outages are not new for the minority Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

“We as a community have been facing this for 30 or 40-odd years with rolling power cuts in the north and east. But for the people of [the capital Colombo], this is new to them,” Nagendra said. 

“Now the majority Sinhalese population is taking to the streets and is protesting against these shortages and the mismanagement by the Sri Lankan government. 

“People may say it’s just because of the current economic or COVID-19 crisis, but if you dig a little bit deeper, a lot deeper, you’ll see that it is mismanagement of government policies over decades that has led to the situation that we’re in today in Sri Lanka,” Nagendra added. 

Nagendra says people are “feeling very desperate right now” and the immediate need is for fuel, electricity and life-saving medication.

But she says people are also of the feeling that there cannot just be a temporary solution for the economic crisis, such as a financial bailout or help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

“If there is no systematic change fundamentally to the government, an economic solution or a bailout or any of the conditions that the IMF is looking at right now is not going to solve this problem.”

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to take part in G20 despite Russia’s presence



OTTAWA — Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will take part in a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, this week, even though Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also expected to attend.

In March, Joly joined many others in walking out of a United Nations meeting in Geneva when Lavrov, whom Canada had brought sanctions against days earlier, began speaking.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined a walkout of a G20 meeting for finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng joined her counterparts from the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand in leaving an APEC meeting in Bangkok when the Russian representative began to speak.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would take part in the G20 leaders’ meeting in November, even if President Vladimir Putin goes too, saying it is important to counteract the voice that Russia will have at that table.

Joly, who recently said it was unacceptable for a Canadian official to attend a reception hosted by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, is expected to join other foreign ministers at the G20 meeting in opposing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.


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From good job to no job, life in Canada taught me to go with the flow –



This First Person article is the experience of Erlinda Tan, a Filipino immigrant who believes hard work is a prerequisite to a good, middle-class life in Canada. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

It was a memorable day in 2014 when I bought a vacation house in my hometown in the Philippines. I visit my family every other year and being able to gather everyone in that house is like a dream come true. 

I had no idea the property would become a souvenir from my Alberta days. Two years later, the oil and gas industry took a turn for the worse — and took my job with it.

But it’s all part of what I call a beautiful journey of ebb and flow in the 13 years since I arrived from the Philippines. Those ups and downs have made me a strong Canadian and solidified my love for this country.

Working hard to get a foot in the door 

I came to Edmonton in late 2009 as the Alberta economy was emerging from a severe financial crisis that had been felt globally. Timing is everything, they say. This was true for me.

My first job was as a clerical worker earning minimum wage. To get by, I took a second job as a supermarket cashier — three days a week, four hours a shift. 

A note of thanks written for a grocery store clerk.
Tan treasures this note which was submitted by a customer and posted for a time on the bulletin board of the grocery store where she worked. ‘It reminds me of that lovely chapter in my life,’ Tan says. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Doing two jobs was hard and some days were really long but I needed the extra income. Plus, working in the service industry taught me to blend into my new home and honed my confidence speaking with Canadians from all walks of life — a skill I would later need in my professional journey.     

After 20 months of working two jobs, I had the so-called “Canadian experience” that my resume so badly needed and I felt ready for the corporate world. With my background in engineering, I was hired in 2012 as a document controller in the oil and gas industry. 

In those days, the oil price was on its way to $100 per barrel and there was opportunity aplenty. I changed jobs three times in three years. I was a part of the rise of Alberta’s economy.

Becoming a Canadian

A group of Filipino women smile and pose for a photograph. One woman holds a bouquet of flowers.
Tan, fourth from the right, celebrates with friends from the Edmonton Filipino community after her citizenship ceremony at Canada Place in February 2015. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

I was excited about my promising career but was even more excited when I became a Canadian citizen in early 2015. 

At the swearing-in ceremony, I became emotional singing O Canada for the first time as a citizen. I felt like I belonged, that I was secure. My definition of home changed in that instant — the Philippines was “back home” but Canada is my current one. 

And all of a sudden, I felt a solemn duty to become a good Canadian. 

During the federal election in October, I followed the campaign on TV like a soap opera. If the citizenship ceremony was emotionally moving, then voting was empowering. That day, I realized how important I was in nation-building.

Blind faith

But as the saying goes, every flow must have its ebb. 

In 2015, an oil downturn rippled into a global crisis. Energy companies laid off employees by the thousands; I was one of them. 

Career websites in Alberta were empty.  I didn’t want to move but I needed to survive.

A Filipino woman poses with view of Edmonton river valley behind her.
Tan poses for a photograph at one of her favourite places to unwind: overlooking the Edmonton river valley. After being laid off in 2015, Tan was faced with the difficult decision of leaving the city she’d come to love. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Friends and relatives sent invitations to come work in the U.S., U.K., Singapore and Dubai.  It was very tempting. But I had just become a Canadian citizen. I had invested time and hard work: the long hours on my feet as a cashier, following the news on TV every night to understand the politics. Should I put all that in the past and leave? 

I’m a Filipino Canadian, I said. I have the genes of resilience. I’ll tough this out. 

In a move of blind faith, I decided to move to Vancouver in May 2016. I didn’t have any employment connections, I had no family in the city, and my church community became my support system.         

I was grateful for the employment insurance that I lived on for a few months and I received the insurance money with pride. I had contributed premiums and I knew I was entitled to it.       

Looking for a new job in Vancouver was not easy. British Columbia is rich in forestry and my job experience in the oil industry was not in demand. I decided to accept any job offer, even if I had to start at the bottom. 

I took a contract job where the pay wasn’t much but it brought me to the door of a Crown corporation. Five months into the job — when my savings from Alberta were almost gone — I was hired by that corporation. Sometimes God’s perfect timing leaves you in awe.

I worked as a records administrator for a $1-billion project. Then I moved on to a $10-billion project. When I’m retired, I can look back with pride in my heart for being a part of two big infrastructure projects in British Columbia. 

Silver linings

A Filipino woman in winter clothing stands with two clocks behind her.
Tan smiles for a photograph on a typical morning in Edmonton. One of the clocks behind her shows Edmonton time, the other is set to the time in the Philippines. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

In hindsight, I see my job layoff in Alberta was an advantage. It forced me to leave my comfort zone. I saw more of Canada, I gained new friends and grew in my career. My horizon got bigger. Thank you, Edmonton, for preparing me. 

I joke to friends in the Philippines that I am the definition of a middle-class Canadian: poor in money but rich in benefits. I couldn’t be more appreciative.   

Sometimes I ask myself, do I regret staying in Canada when I hit rock bottom? Do I regret not working in other countries? The answer is no. I believe if God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. But it’s up to me to find it. 

A Filipino family gathers for portrait at Christmas.
Tan, third from right, celebrates Christmas with family members at her house in the Philippines. It’s their family tradition to gather for dinner and photos every time she visits. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Speaking of doors and windows, my house in the Philippines is now much more than just a vacation property. The concrete house, located in the heart of a commercial district and within walking distance to malls and supermarkets, has become a refuge for family members from the typhoons that regularly visit the Philippines. 

I’m even more proud that it has become the place that my mother can call home.

Do you have a compelling personal story that can bring understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Here’s more info on how to pitch to us.

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Is Canada too 'smug' about abortion? These doulas say access is worse than you think –



A pair of abortion doulas in southwestern Ontario say Canadians shouldn’t take access to safe, legal abortions for granted because there are still barriers to care that are difficult to overcome, including time off work, a lack of financial resources and the distance from urban-centred clinics. 

Christal Malone of London and Jennifer Surerus of St. Thomas help make access to safe abortions as seamless and easy as possible for people across the country.

Unlike doctors or nurses, their roles stop short of medical care. Instead, they provide physical and emotional support that runs the gamut from picking someone up from the airport to holding a thermometer in their mouth, even just giving someone a shoulder to cry on. 

“We are trying to support people to make the choices they need, and we are not trying to persuade people to do anything,” said Surerus. “Often people don’t have [support] from family and friends.” 

Abortion is legal, but access a problem 

Unlike the United States, where the legal landscape of abortion is undergoing a radical shift following the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down a constitutional right to abortion for the first time in 50 years, Canada has no laws restricting access to the procedure. 

Malone, left and Surerus attend an anti-abortion counter-demonstration outside the London Health Sciences Centre in southwestern Ontario. They’re shown with Surerus’s sister Tiffany, middle. (Supplied by Christal Malone)

In this country, abortion is legal, regardless of the reason. The procedure is also publicly paid for through a combination of the federal and provincial health systems, but just because it’s not illegal in Canada doesn’t mean Canadians should take it for granted, Surerus said. 

“I think we’re a little too smug here. Transportation, child care, being able to get time off work — that all plays into the access equation.”

It’s a problem all over the country, but perhaps the most acutely felt in Canada’s Atlantic region, where restrictions to abortions are the highest, and the federal government has withheld health-care funding to provinces that didn’t provide adequate access.

In Ontario, 21,428 abortions were performed in 2020, according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. More than 15,000 of them were done at private clinics, while just over 5,000 were at the province’s hospitals.

Urban and rural divide

Despite the number of procedures, disparities exist between urban and rural areas in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where abortion services are only in urban settings, despite 35 to 40 per cent of the population living in rural or remote communities.

The charity says more than half of its callers need help with costs of flights, accommodations and other travel expenses, citing the place where they live as the biggest barrier to accessing safe care. 

“It’s pretty dire,” said Malone. “It is very hard to access an abortion if you live in a rural area, and it is very time-consuming and expensive to access certain types of abortions.”

Even in Malone’s hometown of London, a city of more than 400,000, there is only one clinic. It serves a huge catchment in southwestern Ontario as well as people as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — provinces where access to abortion is the most restricted. 

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When a patient does get to the London clinic, the person must attend a minimum of three appointments before health-care workers will agree to perform the procedure. 

“It can be really challenging to get the time off work, or to get transportation, and a lot of them start early in the morning. So if the person is not local, they have to come the day before to access the service,” Malone said. 

Pro-choice charities such as Action Canada step in to help fill the financial gap and help connect people seeking an abortion with doulas like Surerus and Malone.

In Ontario, there are nearly double the number of crisis pregnancy centres. at 77, compared to 38 hospitals and clinics that provide abortion access, according to Action Canada. 

“The anti-choice is strong here, and there is a political component to it,” Surerus said.

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