Gary Anandasangaree Canada’s First Sri Lankan Tamil Cabinet Minister

29 July 2023 04:50 am – 0      – 301

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Gary Anandasangaree Speaking after the Cabinet Reshuffle, Wednesday, July 26, 2023. 


History was made on July 26, 2023, when Sri Lanka-born Gary Anandasangaree was appointed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations to his Cabinet. Sathiyasangaree Anandasangaree – who abbreviated his first name to Gary – will go down in Canadian history as the first Sri Lankan Tamil to become a Cabinet Minister. Gary is the son of veteran Sri Lankan Tamil politician Veerasingham Anandasangaree.   

Gary was one of seven new Ministers inducted into the cabinet in a re-shuffle by Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Anandasangaree has been a member of the Canadian Parliament (House of Commons) since 2015. He has been elected thrice on the Liberal Party ticket from the federal electoral district of Scarborough -Rouge Park in the province of Ontario.

Prior to being appointed to the Cabinet, Gary served as Parliamentary Secretary to three different Ministers at different times.

The Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations is basically in charge of the affairs of Canada’s indigenous people and the lands reserved for indigenous people.

The indigenous people are Inuits, Metis and those who are neither Metis nor Inuit. 

These indigenous people are referred to as First Nations. There are 634 different bands or groups classified as First Nations.

The Ministry’s mandate is to “Renew the nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis; modernize Government of Canada structures to enable Indigenous peoples to build capacity and support their vision of self-determination; and lead the Government of Canada’s work in the North”.

In addition to being Canada’s first Sri Lankan Tamil Cabinet Minister, Gary is also Canada’s second Hindu Cabinet Minister.

The first Hindu Cabinet Minister is Anita Indira Anand who was appointed by PM Trudeau as the Federal Minister of public service and procurement in 2019.

She is currently the President of the Treasury Board in the cabinet. Anita’s parents are medical doctors. Her father V. Anand is from Tamil Nadu while her mother is from Punjab.

Even though Gary is the first Tamil Cabinet Minister, he is not the first Sri Lankan Tamil member of Parliament.

That laurel went to Sri Lanka-born Rathika Sitsabaiesan in 2011.

She was elected to Parliament from the Scarborough -Rouge River constituency on the New Democratic Party ticket. In 2015, she contested the Scarborough North riding and lost.


Veerasingham Anandasangaree

Gary Anandasangaree is the youngest son of former Kilinochchi and Jaffna MP and secretary-general of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Veerasingham Anandasangaree. The veteran Tamil political leader has a son and two daughters by his first wife. 

After her demise, Sangaree married Gary’s mother Yogam.

Gary was initially named Sathiyasangaree. He shortened it to Gary later. Gary’s father and his male siblings were all named Sangaree by their father Veerasingham a respected school Principal.

Each one’s name ended with Sangaree. This practice was followed by Veerasingham master’s sons as well. They named their sons Sangaree. Hence Gary was named Sathiyasangaree and his elder brother who also lives in Canada was named Jeyasangaree. Likewise, other male cousins are all Sangarees.

Gary and Harini belong to the second generation of Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada. Both have been extremely concerned about the plight of fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka

Sathiyasangaree born in Jaffna in 1973 had his primary schooling in Atchuvely. In fact Gary’s “Aedu Thuvakkal” (An auspicious ceremony for a child commencing studies) was conducted by his paternal grandfather Veerasingham himself. However, Gary’s parents got estranged after some years and split up in 1980. Gary’s mother relocated with him to Ireland where she had relatives.

Mother and son planned to return to Sri Lanka in July 1983. The eruption of Black July altered their life drastically.

Young Gary had his first taste of a political demonstration at the age of ten. Along with his mother, other Sri Lankan Tamils and sympathisers, Gary participated in a demonstration in Dublin. He distributed leaflets and carried a placard condemning the anti – Tamil pogrom of July 1983

With hopeful plans of returning home to Sri Lanka being shattered by Black July and fearfully anxious about the future, Mrs Anandasangaree and her son Sathiyasangaree decided to seek refuge in Canada. They arrived in Canada on 31 August 1983.


New Life in Canada

TULF secretary-general V.Ananda Sangaree is the father of Garry

Seeking a new life in Canada was an uphill task. Yogam worked hard as a ‘single mother’ to raise and educate her son. Sathiyasangaree transformed himself into Gary and studied earnestly. After graduating from High school, Gary entered Carleton University in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa.

He obtained a BA (Hons) degree in Political Science in 1996. Returning to Toronto, Gary qualified as a registered estate agent and engaged in real estate business.

After a while, he enrolled at the Toronto Osgoode Hall Law School which is the Law Faculty of York University.

After obtaining an LLB degree, Gary Anandasangaree was called to the bar in 2006. Gary received the Osgoode Hall Law School ‘One to Watch’ Gold Key Award in 2005.

Retiring from Real Estate, Gary set up his law firm ‘Gary Anandasangaree and Associates’ in Scarborough, Ontario.

The firm specialises in commercial, and real estate legal matters and international human rights law. As an ardent champion of human rights, Gary regularly represented Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada at the United Nations.

He also served as a strong advocate for local youth, intervening in cases of wrongful student expulsion and suspension. Gary was the recipient of the South Asian Bar Association’s Young Practitioner Award.

Apart from law, Gary involved himself in community welfare activities also. He has served as Chair of the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre, President of the Canadian Tamils’ Chamber of Commerce, and counsel to the Canadian Tamil Congress.

He was also a board member of the Youth Challenge Fund, a member of the Toronto Police Chief’s Advisory Board, and a member of the United Way Newcomers Grant Program.

In honour of his devotion to community service and local advocacy, Anandasangaree has received both the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He has also been awarded the TREB Award and Henry Marshall Tory Award for Service.


Scarborough-Rouge Park

Gary Anandasangaree is the youngest son of former Kilinochchi and Jaffna MP and secretary-general of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Veerasingham Anandasangaree. The veteran Tamil political leader has a son and two daughters by his first wife
Gary Anandasangaree was the Liberal Party candidate for Scarborough – Rouge Park in the 2015 Federal elections. He won polling 29,913 (60.24%) votes
The indigenous people are Inuits, Metis and those who are neither Metis nor Inuit

Being interested in politics from his student days, Gary Anandasangaree joined Canada’s Liberal Party. He sought nomination from the party to contest the newly created riding (electorate) of Scarborough-Rouge Park.

The constituency in the eastern part of Scarborough contains the neighbourhoods of Morningside Heights, Rouge, Port Union, West Rouge, Highland Creek, West Hill (east of Morningside Avenue) and Malvern (east of Neilson Road). Around 15% of the population is Tamil-speaking.

Gary Anandasangaree was the Liberal Party candidate for Scarborough – Rouge Park in the 2015 Federal elections. He won polling 29,913 (60.24%) votes.

Gary repeated his performance again at the 2019 elections by getting 31,360 (62.2%) votes. He won for the third time in succession at the 2021 elections garnering 28, 102 (62.8%) votes.

What is significant about Gary’s hat trick victory in Scarborough -Rouge Park is that he polled more than 60 % of the vote in all three elections. Moreover, 85 % of the constituency are non -Tamils.

Therefore it is obvious that Gary has got support from all ethnicities and not Tamils alone. Ironically several Tamils claiming to be Tamil nationalists backed the Conservative Party candidates unsuccessfully against the Liberal candidate Gary in all three elections.

Though Gary Anandasangaree became a Cabinet Minister only a few days ago, the Scarborough -Rouge Park MP has previously served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism (Multiculturalism).


Harini Sivalingam

Gary Anandasangaree is married to Harini Sivalingam, a lawyer herself. She is the daughter of N. Sivalingam a former President of the Tamil Eelam Society in Canada. They have two children named Bhairavi and Sahana after two classical Ragas in both Carnatic and Hindustani music.

Gary and Harini belong to the second generation of Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada. Both have been extremely concerned about the plight of fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka.

They are Tamil Canadians who campaign ardently against the alleged violation of Human rights in Sri Lanka. When Gary Anandasangaree sought nomination as a Liberal Party candidate, he issued a statement about himself and what he stood for.

Here are some excerpts –


I am a Tamil Nationalist

“I am a Tamil nationalist-through and through. I don’t have to say it—I have lived it. I have worked on issues of Tamil rights since I was ten years old when I used to distribute flyers for protests. I led demonstrations in Ottawa in the 1980s. I have organized hundreds of meetings to educate other Canadians on issues relevant to our community, both here and abroad. In my adult years, I became an advocate on every major issue relating to Tamils in Canada – labelling us as terrorists, gang violence, negative portrayal in the media, challenges in the workplace, refugee issues, demonstrations, and justice and accountability in Sri Lanka.”

”In 2009, Tamils around the world fell into a collective depression watching our kith and kin die—die for just being Tamils. We also saw the whole world watch the unfolding genocide with a careless disdain.”

“After thinking about this for weeks, my wife wrote a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights-a letter that changed the course of my life. As a result of this, we went to Geneva in March of 2009. We invited several other Tamils from different parts of the world to attend this meeting. We made our case to the UNHRC Chief, Navi Pillai. Over the next five years, I went to Geneva regularly-sometimes, both Harini and our toddler and I would go. We went for one singular reason—we could do more in Geneva with our skill sets than anywhere else.”


Geneva Resolutions

‘We focused on the issue of international accountability and were relentless. No one person can take credit for the resolutions in Geneva. However, the point is, throughout 30 odd visits to the UNHRC, we were pursuing what we believe to be the right path-that is to seek accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against Tamil peoples. “

Gary Anandasangaree’s committed campaign to seek accountability for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka seemed to have succeeded to some extent in Canada in May last year. Canada’s House of Commons (Parliament) unanimously adopted a motion recognising May 18 as “Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day” making it the first Parliament in the world to do so.

The motion stated that “This House acknowledges the Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and recognizes May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day”.


Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day

Gary Anandasangaree who brought forward the motion tweeted then –

“Today, the Canadian Parliament unanimously passed a motion to recognize May 18th as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day. On this very important day, Canada becomes the first national Parliament in the world to recognize May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.”

“This is the culmination of years of hard work and advocacy by so many members of the Tamil community, survivors, family members of survivors, and the many jurisdictions that recognized the genocide of Tamils,” stated Gary Anandasangaree, in a press release.

Speaking at a press conference shortly after the motion was passed, Gary Anandasangaree said “This a very historical day for the Tamil community, not just in Canada but around the world. This motion today, a unanimous consent motion brought forward to the House, acknowledges the genocide of the Tamil people and recognises Tamil genocide Remembrance Day, It is the first recognition of its kind anywhere in the world.”


D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com 

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