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PM, MPs to meet with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi in Canada next week

By Kristen Shane      

The country's de facto leader is set to meet with members of the newly renamed Canada-Myanmar Parliamentary Friendship Group, where the rights of her country’s Muslim minority will be raised.

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to visit Canada June 5 to 9. Rick Bajornas photograph courtesy of the UN
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to meet next week with the Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, considered by many to be the de facto leader of the country also known as Burma.

This appears to be the first visit to Canada of the leader of Myanmar’s democracy movement since she was released from house arrest in 2010. Ms. Suu Kyi was in detention for more than 15 years because of her political activism against the military government at the time.

She is one of six people to receive Canadian honorary citizenship. In 2012, John Baird, the Conservative foreign minister at the time, presented it to her during a visit to Myanmar.

Ms. Suu Kyi, who is also her country’s foreign minister, is scheduled to visit Canada June 5 to 9, according to a news release from the prime minister’s office.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner will start her visit in Toronto, according to Tin Maung Htoo, a member of the Myanmar community in Canada, and then spend two days in Ottawa. She will be meeting with Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) on June 7, according to the PMO. She will head back to Toronto to take part in a public meeting on June 9, Mr. Maung said.

She will also meet with Governor General David Johnston.

The chair and two vice-chairs of the Canada-Myanmar Parliamentary Friendship Group, Conservative MP Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North, Ont.), Liberal MP Larry Bagnell (Yukon), and Conservative Senator Thanh Hai Ngo (Ontario), are set to meet with Ms. Suu Kyi in private at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa on June 8.

The night before, members of the friendship group will also meet with a delegation of Parliamentarians from Myanmar at a Forum of Federations event in the parliamentary dining room, said Mr. Stanton in an interview. The Forum of Federations is an international governance organization helping to build democracy in fragile states. Canadian Parliamentarians have for several years taken an interest in helping to nurture Myanmar’s fledgling democratic institutions, including its national legislature.

Mr. Stanton’s friendship group in January changed its name from the Parliamentary Friends of Burma, reflecting the Canadian government’s name change last year following Myanmar’s democratic elections in November 2015 that led to the overwhelming victory of the opposition National League for Democracy, the party Ms. Suu Kyi leads.

The country’s constitution prevents her from becoming president, though Canada’s then-foreign minister Stéphane Dion last year said he considered her to be Myanmar’s de facto national leader. Her ally Htin Kyaw is president, while she has the new title of “state counsellor” that gives her similar powers to a prime minister.

Though Western leaders have praised the southeast Asian country for transitioning relatively peacefully to democracy in recent years, Ms. Suu Kyi’s reputation as the darling of human rights activists has taken a hit since she’s taken the reins of the country. She has been criticized for not doing enough to stop violence against Muslim Rohingya people and speak out against the persecution of minorities in the country, something the Prime Minister’s Office hinted Mr. Trudeau would speak to her about in its statement this afternoon.

They will “discuss federalism and democratic reforms in Myanmar, as well as regional peace and security and the importance of promoting democracy, good governance, and human rights,” the PMO release stated.

Mr. Stanton said concerns about the Rohingya population’s treatment would be raised in his meeting with Ms. Suu Kyi.

In Question Period on May 10, Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), his party’s human rights and religious freedom critic, asked the prime minister to “commit to personally contacting Aung San Suu Kyi and pushing her to step up,” to allow UN investigators access to Rakhine state, the centre of violence related to the Rohingya, and to “stop the ongoing slaughter of Muslim Rohingya.”

“Honorary Canadian citizenship should mean something,” he said.

The Canadian government is “extremely concerned with the human rights abuses in the news coming out of Myanmar,” Mr. Trudeau responded.

That concern could be cooling the government’s welcome to Ms. Suu Kyi, Mr. Maung, a former executive director of the Canadian Friends of Burma, suggested in an interview. He noted that the government doesn’t appear to be offering Ms. Suu Kyi to address a joint session of Parliament. It did that for Malala Yousafzai, another honorary Canadian citizen and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spoke in the House of Commons in April.

“That’s a lacking point in this Liberal government,” he said.

He said he believed this would be Ms. Suu Kyi’s first visit to Canada since being released from house arrest.

“The announcement of this visit is consistent with our approach to announcing visits from other world leaders,” wrote Privy Council Office spokesperson Paul Duchesne in an emailed statement in response to questions.

“Our country plays a strong role in promoting democracy, the rule of law, and national peace in Myanmar. We will continue to advocate for further reforms in Myanmar, especially those that support ethnic and religious minorities, women, and young people.”

Mr. Maung said he’s hoping to organize a reception with key supporters of the democracy movement in Myanmar, including perhaps former MPs Jason Kenney and David Kilgour, and a private meeting for MPs during Ms. Suu Kyi’s visit.

kshane@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:15 p.m. on June 2 to include comments from the Privy Council Office.

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