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World Sri Lanka bombings send ripples across diaspora in Canada

Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) personnel in gas masks are outside a house during a raid – after a suicide blast had killed police searching the property – in the Orugodawatta area of the capital Colombo on April 21, 2019.

"ISHARA S. KODIKARA"/AFP/Getty Images

Nine bombings at churches, hotels and other sites in Sri Lanka have sent ripples across its diaspora in Canada, leaving some waiting to hear whether they have been touched by the losses of nearly 300 killed in the Easter Day attacks.

There are more than 150,000 people who identify as being of Sri Lankan origin in Canada, according to the 2016 census. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that there are no reports of any Canadians hurt in the attacks, some members of the diaspora have already gotten word of deaths of their friends and family.

Attacks in Sri Lanka: What we know so far about the bombings

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Hemasiri Abeysirigoonawardena, vice-president of the Sri Lanka Canada Association in Calgary, said the organization has identified two deaths connected to a community member, whose sister lost her son and daughter-in-law.

“We cannot believe that such a thing could happen,” he said. “It’s a very tragic situation. We’re all very shocked.” The organization has set up a GoFundMe page for victims in Sri Lanka.

In a statement issued Sunday afternoon, Mr. Trudeau said he was “shocked and saddened” by reports of the attacks.

“Canada strongly condemns these heinous attacks," he added. "No one should be targeted because of their faith."

The government will close the high commission in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Monday for security reasons and has issued a travel advisory, cautioning, “The situation remains volatile. Others attacks could occur throughout the country.”

Still, some people are prepared to fly there to connect with loved ones affected by the blast, said Saliya Tissera, president of the Sinhalese Association of Canada.

Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a Jesus Christ statue at the St. Sebastian's Church after a blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019.

The Associated Pres/The Associated Press

Mr. Tissera, of Toronto, said a friend of his lost his daughter-in-law and her whole family of five people and their home worker at one of the church bombings. He said one body has been identified, but added, “The other five bodies, they cannot recognize yet.” His friend’s family is planning to fly out as soon as Sunday evening, he said.

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Pastor Vincent Sahayanathan of Toronto Harvest Missionary Church began his Easter holiday with a phone call just after midnight from a church director for whom he did mission work in Sri Lanka. Mr. Sahayanathan said he has preached “many times" in the city of Batticaloa at the Zion Church, one of the places of worship targeted in the attacks.

“That church is loved by everyone," he said.

Although the country is “brimming” with ethnic and religious conflict, no one expected attacks of this scale, said Amarnath Amarasingam, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo who has authored several books and papers on Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was dominated for many years by the sharp divide between the majority Sinhalese, who are overwhelmingly Buddhist, and the minority Tamil, who are Hindu, Muslim and Christian. A bloody civil conflict ended a decade ago.

“For the last 10 years, Sri Lanka was very peaceful after the war ended,” said Sarath Chandrasekere, a sociology lecturer at the University of Toronto and McMaster University. “I’m sure the people are devastated.”

Dr. Chandrasekere, a member of the West End Buddhist Temple in Mississauga, warns fellow Sri Lankans to be weary that “some people could make use of this opportunity to ignite any kind of ethnic tensions.”

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With reports from John Ibbitson and The Canadian Press

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