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Politics In unprecedented move, Commons passes motion to strip Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship

Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech earlier this month.

Bullit Marquez/The Associated Press

In an unprecedented move Thursday, the House of Commons unanimously agreed to strip Myanmar’s beleaguered de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of her honorary Canadian citizenship after an international outcry over her failure to stem the violence against Rohingya Muslims in her country.

The support from all parties in the House came one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the prospect of Parliament reconsidering whether Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is still deserving of the honour. The action means that Ms. Suu Kyi will no longer be a member of an exclusive group of only five other honorary Canadians: Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, the Dalai Lama, Raoul Wallenberg and the Aga Khan.

Honorary citizens do not have any Canadian rights or privileges, according to the Immigration Department.

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Bloc Québécois MP Gabriel Ste-Marie introduced the motion Thursday afternoon after Question Period and it received unanimous consent, meaning no standing vote was required.

The motion came one week after the House declared the Rohingya crisis a genocide and adopted the findings of a scathing United Nations report that faulted Ms. Suu Kyi for failing to use her position or her “moral authority” to stop the Myanmar military’s violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority. The UN report also called for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar’s top military officials for “genocidal intent."

Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, confirmed the Liberal government’s support.

“Our government supported this motion in response to [Ms. Suu Kyi’s] continued failure to speak out against the genocide of the Rohingya, a crime being committed by the military with which she shares power,” Mr. Austen wrote in an e-mail. He did not respond when asked what further steps the government might take against Ms. Suu Kyi.

While attending the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau opened the door to a “conversation” about whether Ms. Suu Kyi’s citizenship should be revoked in light of the humanitarian crisis that has caused 725,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh over the past year.

The Liberal government has faced growing pressure to revoke Ms. Suu Kyi’s honorary status. Several former Liberal cabinet ministers, including renowned international human-rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, called on the federal government to strip Ms. Suu Kyi of the honour in the wake of the UN report.

Mr. Cotler, who voted in favour of granting Ms. Suu Kyi honorary citizenship while he served as an MP in 2007, said she no longer belongs among the “pantheon of heroes” who are honorary Canadian citizens.

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“To maintain that honorary citizenship would have been to diminish the very character of that very distinguished and rare award. I think the House did the right thing," Mr. Cotler said Thursday.

Tens of thousands of Canadians have also signed a petition calling on Mr. Trudeau to revoke Ms. Suu Kyi’s honour. Fareed Khan, a Rohingya activist based in Ottawa who started the petition, said the effort encouraged Canadians to reach out to their members of Parliament and demand Ms. Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship be taken away.

Raiss Tinmaung, a Rohingya-Canadian based in Ottawa, said his community is jubilant over the news out of Ottawa.

“The feeling is just − I don’t know how to express it − it’s incredible. It’s showing the honest work that everybody has done, coming to fruition finally,” Mr. Tinmaung said.

Mr. Tinmaung urged Canada to keep the pressure on Myanmar’s civilian government and military by imposing further sanctions on the country’s leaders, issuing a total arms embargo and taking Myanmar to the International Court of Justice.

In 2007, the House unanimously passed a motion, tabled by then-prime minister Stephen Harper, to grant Ms. Suu Kyi honorary citizenship. Mr. Harper’s former foreign affairs minister, John Baird, travelled to Myanmar to present Ms. Suu Kyi with the honour in 2012. Mr. Harper and Mr. Baird’s offices did not reply to a request for comment Thursday.

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A senior government source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Senate now has to vote on the revocation of Ms. Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship to finalize the matter. That probably won’t happen until next Tuesday at the earliest, as the Red Chamber is not sitting again until then.

However, it’s not clear what will happen to the honorary citizenship plaque Mr. Baird presented to Ms. Suu Kyi. Mr. Austen did not say if Canada will try to get it back.

The House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion Thursday to recognize the crimes against the Rohingya as a genocide. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland calls the move a very important step for Canada. The Canadian Press
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