POLITICS

Prime Minister Facing Increasing Pressure To Revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s Honorary Citizenship

Myanmar's de facto leader was made an honorary Canadian in 2007.

09/08/2017 15:57 EDT | Updated 09/08/2017 16:52 EDT
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Justin Trudeau meets with Aung San Suu Kyi at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 7, 2017.

The prime minister is facing increasing pressure to revoke the honorary Canadian citizenship given to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, over her failure to protect her country's Rohingya minority population.

When asked whether or not his government would take back Canada's special recognition of Suu Kyi on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skirted the question by calling the humanitarian situation "terrible" and "extremely preoccupying."

"I think we need to continue to work with the government in Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi with all people in the region to make sure that the people affected by this conflict are kept safe," Trudeau said from the Liberal party's caucus retreat in Kelowna.

Asked if Canada would welcome asylum claims from Rohingya Muslims, the prime minister reiterated a familiar welcoming message.

"We will always remain the open and compassionate country we are. We have ongoing processes and rules of law that apply to our refugee process," Trudeau said. "But as always, Canadians stand ready to help."

In June, Suu Kyi travelled to Ottawa and met with Trudeau. It was her first visit to the country, despite being awarded honorary Canadian citizenship in 2007 as a result of efforts from the former Conservative government.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speak during a meeting in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 7, 2017.

"When Aung San Suu Kyi was in Ottawa, I expressed our deep concern for the situation the Rohingya were in then," Trudeau said, pledging to continue putting pressure on the Myanmar government to intervene and end the bloodshed.

Violence from Myanmar military and Buddhist extremists against Rohingya Muslims have been ongoing for years, but escalated since the end of August.

Tory MP raised issue 13 times in House

The Liberal government have been facing increasing pressure, from the public and opposition MPs, to revoke Suu Kyi's honorary citizenship status.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis called the federal government's response to the persecution "slow and inadequate" despite it being repeatedly raised in the House.

"I have raised the plight of the Rohingya people 13 times in the Commons," Genuis said in a news release Thursday. He called Suu Kyi out by name, as well as Trudeau for failing to stop the violence.

In one exchange in the House before summer break, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra touted the government's record of commenting on Myanmar's ongoing crisis where and when necessary.

Getty Images
Rohingya Muslim refugees sleep under a makeshift shelter in a clearing in a forest after crossing the border from Myanmar on Sept. 8, 2017 in Gundum, Bangladesh.

"Our government has never missed an opportunity to raise our concerns with the Burmese government, whether with the president, with Aung San Suu Kyi, or with the commander and chief," Alghabra said in May.

"We have never missed an opportunity to express our concerns on behalf of our government, but frankly, also on behalf of Canadians, who are watching what is happening over there and are expressing deep concern about the targeting of ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya."

Feds urged to take symbolic action

A petition urging the government to make a symbolic statement by revoking Suu Kyi's honorary Canadian citizenship has so far picked up more than 8,700 signatures in less than five days.

Gatineau-based government relations and communications consultant Fareed Khan launched the petition on Monday. The petition criticizes Suu Kyi for failing to "condemn the atrocities committed by the military and citizens of her nation over the past several years."

Khan told The Globe and Mail: "The Canadian government needs to take action in particular because we have a very direct connection to Myanmar because we gave an honorary Canadian citizenship to Aung San Suu Kyi."

Between Trudeau's careful language, opposition attacks, and Canadians' growing desire to see its government condemn foreign military violence on innocent people, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland struck a harder tone.

AFP/Getty Images
A decapitated Buddhist statue, allegedly committed by a militant group as communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims spike in the region, is seen in the southern Maungdaw area of Myanmar's Rakhine state on Sept. 4, 2017.

"Appreciating their shared responsibility to lead the fledgling democracy of Myanmar, Canada firmly reminds State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the military leadership of their duty to work together and act responsibly in the face of the current humanitarian crisis," read a statement from Freeland's office on Thursday.

"The violence must end now."

The minister's office urged that the Rohingya be recognized and respected in the country.

"To deny their rightful place in Myanmar only weakens the democratic vision Aung San Suu Kyi has fought so hard for throughout her life," continued the statement.

HuffPost Canada reached out to the minister's office to ask if Canada plans to revoke Suu Kyi's honorary Canadian citizenship. Freeland's office did not respond before press time.

Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts in bringing democracy to then-Burma's military rule. In 2015, she led her party to a majority win.

She is one of six people who have ever received honorary Canadian citizenship. Raoul Wallenberg, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, the Aga Khan, and Malala Yousafzai are among its list of recipients.

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