Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not be at Fidel Castro’s funeral in Cuba this weekend, his office says.
“We can now confirm that the Prime Minister will not be attending Mr. Castro’s funeral,” Andrée-Lyne Hallé, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said in an e-mail Monday. “His schedule doesn’t permit it.”
Governor-General David Johnston will attend a commemoration in Havana on Tuesday at Mr. Trudeau’s request. The former Cuban president’s funeral will be held Sunday, and it is not yet clear if Mr. Johnston, or another Canadian representative, will be there.
The Prime Minister was criticized around the world over the weekend after releasing a statement praising Mr. Castro as a “larger than life leader” but making no reference to the human rights abuses during his decades of rule.
While he called him a “controversial figure,” Mr. Trudeau said that both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors “recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people, who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante.’
“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend, and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba,” the statement said.
Mr. Trudeau later clarified that he believed Mr. Castro was a dictator.
“He certainly was a polarizing figure and there certainly were significant concerns around human rights,” Mr. Trudeau said in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where he was leading the Canadian delegation to the Francophonie summit of French-speaking countries.
The Official Opposition on Monday called on Mr. Trudeau to amend his statement.
Conservative MP Peter Kent said a Canadian representative, such as Mr. Johnston, should attend the funeral but without boasting of personal ties to the Castro family.
“I am quite sure you will not hear from the Governor-General the sorts of one-sided romanticism of a family’s personal relationship with a communist dictator,” Mr. Kent told reporters.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who criticized Mr. Trudeau for failing to mention Mr. Castro’s dictatorship, with its suppression of freedom of speech and persecution of LGBT people, said it is still important to have proper Canadian representation at the funeral.
“It’s important for us, especially with the arrival of the Trump regime in Washington, that we continue to play a high-profile positive role in the region,” he said.
On Monday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended Mr. Trudeau and said the Prime Minister reflected on “the unique relationship that Castro had with Canada,” one that reduced geopolitical tensions in the Western hemisphere – which “at one point had threatened to trigger a nuclear confrontation.”
“Mr. Trudeau has stood up and spoken vigorously about human rights wherever he has gone in the world, whether that’s China or Africa or, indeed, in Cuba a couple of weeks ago,” Mr. Goodale said.
“Mr. Trudeau’s record on human rights and civil liberties is very strong and very clear. And he’s regarded around the world as an eloquent spokesman in that regard.”Report Typo/Error