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Politics Trudeau says he is open to reconsidering Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, speaks during a news conference at U.N. headquarters during the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, U.S., Sept. 26, 2018.

AMR ALFIKY/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised the prospect of Parliament reconsidering whether Myanmar’s embattled de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still deserving of her honorary Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Trudeau made the comments at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday amid growing pressure to revoke Ms. Suu Kyi’s honorary status over her failure to protect the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar. The House of Commons recently declared the Rohingya crisis, which has forced about 725,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh over the past year, a genocide.

“It was Parliament that granted her honorary citizenship and that’s a conversation that we could certainly have,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters during a news conference at the UN in New York.

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“But let’s be very clear … whether Aung San Suu Kyi has Canadian citizenship or not, honorary or not, makes no difference in solving this crisis.”

In a scathing report earlier this month, a UN fact-finding mission faulted Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, for failing to use her position, or her “moral authority,” to stem the Myanmar military’s violence against the Rohingya. The report also called on the international community to investigate and prosecute Myanmar’s top military officials for “genocidal intent.” Ms. Suu Kyi does not have any control over the military under the country’s constitution.

Several former Liberal cabinet ministers, including renowned international human-rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, last month called on the federal government to strip Ms. Suu Kyi of the her honorary citizenship following the UN report. Meanwhile, a petition urging Mr. Trudeau to revoke Ms. Suu Kyi’s honour has reached nearly 56,000 signatures.

Raiss Tinmaung, a Rohingya-Canadian based in Ottawa, welcomed the Prime Minister’s interest in reconsidering Ms. Suu Kyi’s honour. Mr. Tinmaung said she doesn’t belong in the exclusive group of only six honorary Canadian citizens, which includes Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.

“An honorary citizenship status means a lot for what Canadians look at as an individual of stature, of somebody with human-rights achievements,” Mr. Tinmaung said.

“With Suu Kyi in there, it just does not make sense. It is an insult to the others.”

While there is no precedent for revoking an honorary Canadian citizenship, the procedure would be the same as awarding it. In 2007, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion, tabled by then-prime minister Stephen Harper, to grant Ms. Suu Kyi honorary citizenship. That means the honour would have to be revoked through a similar motion tabled by an MP.

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The Prime Minister’s Office did not say if the Liberal government intends to table a motion to revoke Ms. Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship. None of the major federal political parties has publicly expressed an intention to table a motion.

Last week, the House of Commons unanimously agreed to endorse the conclusions of a UN report detailing crimes against the Rohingya, including killings and mass rape. The unanimous consent motion, tabled by the Liberals, declared the violent campaign against the Rohingya a genocide and called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute senior Myanmar military officials for their role in the atrocities.

Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, attended three meetings on the Rohingya crisis while at the UN in New York this week, including one with the UN’s special envoy on Myanmar and another alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

"The fact-finding mission report is having an impact on everyone and I think people are talking through what the next steps are,” Mr. Rae told The Globe and Mail.

“Canada can take some pride in the fact that we we’ve been leaders on this issue for some time, in terms of bringing all the factions together.”

As Canada considers ways to prosecute those responsible for the Rohingya genocide, it is helping take another country to the ICC: Venezuela.

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Canada is joining Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru in referring to the ICC their concerns about crimes against humanity in Venezuela, Ms. Freeland announced at the UN Wednesday. Venezuela is engulfed in an continuing political and economic crisis, facing sharp rises in poverty, hunger and illness as President Nicolas Maduro cracks down on protesters, activists and journalists.

“The International Criminal Court has our full support and confidence. We call on Venezuela to co-operate with the court,” Ms. Freeland said.

Canada’s reiterated support for the ICC comes one day after U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the court during a strident speech to the UN General Assembly Tuesday, saying the United States will not provide any support or recognition for the "unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy.”

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