With a diaspora estimated to be more than 100,000 people of Sri Lankan origin and descent in Canada, the bombings that rocked hotels and churches in the South Asian community Sunday were felt here, as well as by Canadians who were in the vicinity at the time.
Canadian Chris Plosaj was eating breakfast at Colombo’s Shangri-La Hotel — one site of the bombings — just 10 minutes before the restaurant was rocked by two massive explosions.
“The place we were eating less than 10 minutes prior is now a black hole with rubble,” said Plosaj, an Ottawa native now living in Hong Kong.
He added that he and his friend decided to head back up to their hotel room to pack when he heard a loud thud that sounded like someone falling off a bed a floor above. Then, a minute or so later, a much louder boom that shook the window and the floor.
Plosaj said that he knew “something was wrong” shortly after because he heard sirens and saw the military police running toward the hotel. Then, he the hotel alarm went off advising the guests to evacuate.
“We took the stairs from the 23rd floor. The lower we got, the more blood we saw. It started as drips and then pools of water and blood, gathered in the flooded hallways,” he added.
“I can’t believe it happened. It’s such a beautiful country and the people are so wonderful,” Plosaj said. “The Sri Lankan people have been so warm and welcoming here.”
Canada’s department of Global Affairs says it has no reports of any Canadians caught in the blasts. But those in Canada with personal ties to Sri Lanka were reeling on Sunday.
“Obviously, the Canadian Tamil Congress, we are saddened by this, and we strongly condemn this attack. We send our sympathies and condolences to those families and friends of those were affected due to this bomb blasts. And also, we call on the government of Sri Lanka to bring the perpetrators to justice, as quickly as possible,” said Sivan Ilangko, president of the Canadian Tamil Congress. “We are thinking of organizing a vigil in the next few days, here in the GTA, and will send out the information about that as soon as we have additional information.”
Ilangko said Sunday morning that at this point, he is not personally aware of any Canadian ties to anyone caught in the blasts, but admitted he was waiting for more information.
“At this point, we have not heard if there was anyone with a Canadian connection affected,” he said.
David Poopalapillai was at church in Mississauga for Easter Sunday services, and had already heard about members of his extended family that were affected by the blasts.
“Some of my relatives have relatives that died in the blast, back in Batticaloa. It’s an eastern coastal town. This has affected the entire community. This is so tragic. The entire community is mourning. The international community is mourning,” he said. “(My relatives) just called me, they are crying over the phone. it is so devastating. And what a loss. There are no words that I can comprehend to tell you how we feel about it.”
Poopalapillai hopes that a local memorial and vigil will be organized soon, as well as if there any foreign aid that may be necessary.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement condemning the attacks and declaring that he was “shocked and saddened to hear of the devastating terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka” and offered “heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost loved ones” on behalf of his government.
“Places of worship are sacred, where all should feel safe and secure. No one should be targeted because of their faith. For millions of people around the world, Easter is a time to reflect on Jesus’ message of compassion and kindness — a time to come together with friends and family. We cannot let attacks like these weaken the hope we share.
“To the people of Sri Lanka and other communities affected by today’s attacks: Canada stands with you. We will continue to work with you and other international partners to combat terrorism and violent extremism and to promote greater peace and stability around the world.”
Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto took to Twitter to note, “On a day that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Easter joy is numbed by the horrific attacks in Sri Lanka, targeting churches and hotels. We condemn the targeted violence against Christians that is taking place at an alarmingly frequent rate worldwide. The slaughter of innocent families in a place of worship is particularly heinous. I invite all of the faithful in the Archdiocese of Toronto to lift our collective voices in prayer for the hundreds killed and injured.”
Global Affairs now urges Canadian would-be travellers to Sri Lanka to “Exercise a high degree of caution in Sri Lanka due to the security situation.”