Minorities and free speech: a comparative study of Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada and the U.S.
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This research fills a void of comparative studies of minorities in democracies and their perception of their "freedom of speech." This study compared a sample of the Tamil minority population in Canada (where Tamils total about 400,000) with one in the United States (where Tamils total about 40,000). It was hypothesized that when immigrant minorities settle together in communities in their adopted countries where there are large numbers of their own background, they feel emboldened to express controversial political opinions. A survey questionnaire was used to interview forty Tamil participants, consisting of twenty participants each in Toronto, Canada and New York City. A mixed methods approach, using both qualitative and quantitative analyses, was used to examine the hypothesis. A t-test revealed a significant difference between United States Tamils and Canadian Tamils in their perception of their freedom of expression, in that the United States Tamils report less freedom of expression than Canadian Tamils. Three ANCOVA analyses demonstrate that the difference in the perception of freedom of expression between these two Tamil groups remains intact even when adjusting for gender, education, and income. Qualitative data further shows that U.S. Tamils feel a fear of government reprisal if they express controversial political opinions. A two way ANCOVA confirms that the difference found in the perception of freedom of expression based on country depends on how much fear one has of "bad" consequences occurring if one expresses controversial political opinions. A chi-square test also revealed that compared to U.S. Tamils, significantly more Canadian Tamils (50%) live among other Tamils, which supports the original hypothesis that a larger settlement of ethnic minorities is correlated with a perception of greater freedom of expression. Further analysis of qualitative themes shows that U.S. Tamils distrust the U.S. government, have mixed feelings about the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), and are more hesitant to disclose controversial political opinions to the interviewer. In contrast, qualitative data demonstrates that Canadian Tamils have positive attitudes about their government, offer very positive comments about LTTE, demonstrate openness to this discussion, and are inclined toward activism.