Rathika Sitsabaiesan

Rathika Sitsabaiesan

Sitsabaiesan at the Now Best of Toronto Awards in November 2012
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Scarborough—Rouge River
In office
Preceded by Derek Lee
Succeeded by Riding abolished
Personal details
Born (1981-12-23) December 23, 1981[1]
Jaffna, Sri Lanka[2][lower-alpha 1]
Citizenship Canadian
Political party New Democratic Party
Ontario Liberal Party
Residence Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater
Occupation Activist, community worker
Profession Labour Relations Specialist
Committees Standing Committee for Citizenship and Immigration, Canadian Heritage
Religion Hindu
Ethnicity Sri Lankan Tamil[3][5][6][7]
Website rathika.ca

Rathika Sitsabaiesan (born December 23, 1981) is a Canadian politician and activist of Sri Lankan-Canadian origin. She was formerly part of the New Democratic Party and represented Scarborough—Rouge River in the House of Commons of Canada as a Member of Parliament between 2011 and 2015. She was the first Tamil to be elected to the Canadian federal parliament as well the first woman and first person of color to be elected as Member of Parliament for Scarborough—Rouge River.[8][9][10] She was also the youngest Member of Parliament in the Greater Toronto Area.[9][10][11]

In 2016, Sitsabaiesan switched parties in order to seek the Ontario Liberal Party nomination for the vacant provincial Scarborough—Rouge River seat.[12] Piragal Thiru defeated Sitsabaiesan for the Liberal nomination on June 5, 2016.[13]

Early life

Rathika Sitsabaiesan is seen with her parents and Thomas Mulcair at the Scarborough United Fundraiser event on October 17, 2013.

Rathika Sitsabaiesan was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka on December 23, 1981.[1][2][lower-alpha 1][14] She has three elder sisters.[15] Sitsabaiesan and her family emigrated to Canada when she was five.[2][15][16]

Sitsabaiesan grew up in Mississauga, west of Toronto.[15] When her father was disabled following a workplace accident, her mother had to give up her nursing studies to work in a warehouse to support the family.[15] Sitsabaiesan attended the University of Toronto for two years.[2][8] While there, she served as Vice President of the Tamil Students Association.[2] She transferred to Carleton University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree.[2][16] Sitsabaiesan served as Operations Manager of the Rideau River Residence Association, Vice President of the Carleton University Students' Association, and Caucus Chair of the New University Government.[2] She also worked for the University of Toronto Students' Union and the Ontario Labour Relations Board.[2] She holds a Master's degree in Industrial Relations at Queen’s University.[2][16]

Sitsabaiesan is a member of the Board of Directors of the Malvern Community Coalition, a residents' group in Malvern, Toronto.[16]

Political career

Sitsabaiesan worked as a volunteer in Ed Broadbent's campaign for the 2004 federal election.[2][14] She has served in various roles in the New Democratic Party (NDP), including campaign manager during the 2008 Canadian federal election[2] and acting as an advisor to NDP leader Jack Layton on Tamil issues.[14]

In December 2009 Sitsabaiesan won the nomination to be the NDP's candidate in the Scarborough—Rouge River electoral district in Toronto.[15] Layton made his final campaign stop at Sitsabaiesan's campaign rally a day before the 2011 federal election with his wife and fellow NDP MP Olivia Chow. Scarborough—Rouge River was considered a safe Liberal seat that had been held by Derek Lee (who did not run for re-election in 2011) since its creation 1988.[14][15] Sitsabaiesan won the 2011 Canadian federal election after securing 18,935 votes (40.62%).[17] Sitsabaiesan became the first Tamil Canadian to be elected to the House of Commons of Canada,[1][14][16] the first female Member of Parliament to represent Scarborough-Rouge River,[18] and only the second Tamil woman to be elected to any federal parliament outside India or Sri Lanka, the first being Singaporean Member of Parliament Indranee Rajah.

Sitsabaiesan was subsequently appointed critic for Post-Secondary Education (Human Resources and Skills Development) in the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet in the 41st Canadian Parliament.[19]

Following the 2012 federal electoral boundaries redistribution Scarborough—Rouge River was split into two with largest share, 71%, going to Scarborough North with the remaining 29% going to Scarborough—Rouge Park.[20] Sitsabaiesan contested the 2015 federal election in Scarborough North but in the nationwide Liberal landslide she trailed in third with 8,648 votes (22.07%).[21][22]

On April 21, 2016 it was reported she was seeking the Ontario Liberal Party nomination for the vacant provincial Scarborough—Rouge River seat; the seat was previously held by Liberal Bas Balkissoon until he resigned on March 22, 2016.[12] However, her bid for the Liberal nomination was unsuccessful.

Sri Lankan Civil War

Sitsabaiesan said she will take the initiative to form an All Party Parliamentary Committee (APPC) to look into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka during the last stages of the war.[1] Furthermore, she would prioritize the formation of the APPC to "research and come up with recommendations" for the Canadian government over the report by the UN Experts Panel appointed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.[1] Sitsabaiesan added, "For me the focus is people being treated with fairness, equality, dignity and justice... it is important for the culprits to be identified as a move towards genuine reconciliation.[1]

During a fact finding mission in Sri Lanka, Sitsabaiesan was reportedly put under house arrest in Jaffna on December 31, 2013.[23] This claim has been denied by Sri Lankan Authorities,[24] and the Canadian High Commission has confirmed that she was not put under house arrest nor was any arrest warrant issued against her.[23]

In November 2014 Sitsabaiesan was criticised for comparing Maaveerar Naal, an annual commemoration for dead Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres, with Remembrance Day during a speech in the House of Commons.[25]


Sitsabaiesan is the recipient of The V. K. Krishna Menon Institute's "Personality of the Year Award" in 2012. The award was conferred on her for her untiring efforts on human rights issues in Sri Lanka, opposing the persecution of Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka and her ability to represent her constituency without racial and creed prejudices.[26]

Electoral record

Canadian federal election, 2011: Scarborough—Rouge River
Party Candidate Votes%∆%Expenditures
New DemocraticRathika Sitsabaiesan 18,935 40.6 +26.0 $55,192.59
Conservative Marlene Gallyot 13,935 29.9 +7.4
LiberalRana Sarkar 12,699 27.2 -31.0
GreenGeorge Singh 684 1.5 -2.4
IndependentMark Balack 357 0.8
Total valid votes/Expense limit 46,610 100.0
Total rejected ballots 221 0.5
Turnout 46,831 56.2
Eligible voters 83,285
Canadian federal election, 2015: Scarborough North
Party Candidate Votes%∆%Expenditures
LiberalShaun Chen 18,904 48.2
ConservativeRavinder Malhi 10,737 27.4
New DemocraticRathika Sitsabaiesan 8,648 22.1
GreenEleni MacDonald 579 1.5
IndependentRaphael Rosch 164 0.4
IndependentAasia Khatoon 156 0.4
Total valid votes/Expense limit 39,188100.0 $199,432.15
Total rejected ballots 2160.5
Turnout 39,40460.8
Eligible voters 64,827


  1. 1 2 Other sources state that Sitsabaiesan was born in Achchuveli[3] and Maviddapuram.[4]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Canada's Tamil MP wants probe on alleged war crimes". The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka). May 10, 2011. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "About Rathika Sitsabaiesan". New Democratic Party. Archived from the original on April 18, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  3. 1 2 Balachandran, P. K. (May 6, 2012). "Lankan Tamil Elected to Canada House". The New Indian Express.
  4. "Sri Lankan born Canadian MP tours Jaffna". Ceylon Today. January 1, 2014.
  5. "Canada MP to initiate All Party group on Lanka". BBC Sinhala. May 8, 2011.
  6. Zulfika, Sithy (2013). "Canada". In Reeves, Peter. The Encyclopedia of the Sri Lankan Diaspora. Editions Didier Millet. p. 114. ISBN 978-981-4260-83-1.
  7. "Rathika Sitsabaiesan trying to embarrass Sri Lanka, says commission". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. January 8, 2014.
  8. 1 2 Monsebraaten, Laurie (May 3, 2011). "Youthful confidence wins the day in engaged riding of Scarborough-Rouge River". Toronto Star.
  9. 1 2 "Canadian Tamils set to play a bigger role in Ontario elections". Tamil Guardian. October 1, 2011.
  10. 1 2 "Youth, Development, and Rights: Participant Biographies" (PDF). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. p. 2.
  11. Fraser, Laura (October 19, 2015). "Toronto turns red as Liberals capture the entire city". CBC News.
  12. 1 2 Raj, Althia (April 21, 2016). "Ex-NDP Rising Star Now Wants To Run For Ontario Liberals". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  13. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/06/05/liberals-nominate-candidate-for-toronto-byelection.html
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 "Rathika becomes the first Tamil MP in Canada". TamilNet. May 3, 2011. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Rathika makes history". Mississauga.com. May 4, 2011.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 "Canada's first Tamil MP looks forward to challenge". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. May 3, 2011.
  17. "2011 General Election - Results Validated by the Returning Officer - Scarborough--Rouge River". Elections Canada.
  18. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, MP inaugural Speech in the House of Commons
  19. "NDP Shadow Cabinet". New Democratic Party. Retrieved June 2, 2011.
  20. "Scarborough – Rouge River, ON (2003 Rep. Order)". Pundits Guide.
  21. 1 2 "Election Results - Electoral District: Scarborough North". Elections Canada.
  22. 1 2 "Federal Election 2015: Scarborough North riding results". Global News.
  23. 1 2 "Rathika Sitsabaiesan not under house arrest in Sri Lanka". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. December 31, 2013.
  24. "Canadian MP denies 'house arrest' claims". The Nation (Sri Lanka). January 2, 2014. Archived from the original on January 2, 2014.
  25. Bell, Stewart (November 27, 2014). "NDP MP commemorates event honouring fallen Tamil Tigers, likens it to Remembrance Day in parliament". National Post.
  26. "Canadian MP to be conferred with VK Krishna Menon award 2012". Hindustan Times. August 19, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2013.
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