Trudeau marks Tamil heritage in Markham

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been called a rock star of politics and, for anyone who was present at Bill Hogarth Secondary School in Markham for the Tamil Thai Pongal event, it was clear to see why.

Entering not through a back entrance but straight through the middle of the school full of excited students, a sudden whoop with screams went up outside the auditorium, heralding the arrival of the PM to local dignitaries and representatives from the Tamil community who waited within.

Prime Minister Trudeau greets well-wishers

Area MP and newly crowned treasury president and digital government minister, Jane Philpott was also on hand to celebrate Tamil culture and introduce the Prime Minister.

“It was such a pleasure to host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Markham-Stouffville for a Tamil Heritage Month celebration with members of the community, including staff and students from Bill Hogarth Secondary School. It was a fantastic opportunity to kick off Thai Pongal festivities, and to recognize the wonderful contributions of Tamil Canadians to our country.”

The PM warmly greeted the assembled for the celebration that traditionally marks an annual four-day harvest period, but in Canada is a perfect opportunity to celebrate Tamil heritage through song, dance, art and food – especially pongal, a sweet rice pudding.

“Thai Pongal is a time of celebration, joy and community,” said Trudeau. “Families and friends will gather to give thanks for a plentiful harvest.”

PM Trudeau with MP Jane Philpott (standing) celebrate the traditional harvest event of Thai Pongal with some Tamil children and community representatives

Trudeau also struck a sombre note remembering that 2019 is the 10th anniversary of the end of the Sri Lankan civil war that ended with the decimation of many Tamil communities. There were a number in the audience who had lost loved ones in the conflict and Trudeau promised them that Canada will keep up the pressure on the Sri Lankan government.

 “We will continue to reflect on that violence and call for better accountability,” he said. “We need to make sure that Sri Lanka is moving forward on UN resolution in regards to reconciliation and justice. We need, as a country, to make sure there is justice and accountability (for Tamils).”

After posing on stage for a few pictures, Trudeau exited much as he entered, weaving his way straight through a throng of well-wishers and selfie-seekers including one excited student who, showing a teacher a video on her phone of her PM encounter exclaimed, “Omigod, I touched him, I actually touched him.” 

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