Minister’s silence is not encouraging
OTTAWA, ON — David Anderson, Member of Parliament for Cypress Hills-Grasslands and Official Opposition Critic for International Human Rights and Religious Freedom, has expressed his disappointment with the recent visit of the Hon. Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Burma (Myanmar).
“While the Minister’s visit addressed many of the economic and democratic needs of Burma, little to no emphasis was placed on the ongoing persecution of its religious minorities,” said Anderson. “This was a wasted opportunity for Canada to take a stand on the very real threats faced by Burmese citizens.”
Anderson referenced the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis as cause for serious concern. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled the country or remain segregated by the Burmese government in what the New York Times describes as “modern day concentration camps.” The Minister’s trip also fell on the heels of comments made on April 1st by Burma’s religious affairs minister, Thura U Aung Ko, who classified Burmese Muslims and other minorities as “associate citizens” in their own country.
“Regrettably, the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya people, as well as other legislative threats to religious freedom in Burma, was all but absent from the Minister’s agenda,” noted Anderson. “Although I am hopeful that the government of Aung San Suu Kyi marks the beginning of the end of this dark chapter, Canada’s failure to speak out and support religious minorities will not speed up this process.”
In light of the Minister’s visit, Anderson also lamented the closure of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom. Created by the previous Conservative government in 2012, the Office’s specialized mandate involved the promotion of religious tolerance and the provision of tools to help religious communities facing persecution in countries such as Burma.
“The Office was known for its ability to tangibly address threats to religious freedom on the ground, resulting in measurable change for persecuted minorities,” continued Anderson. “Its work went beyond mere rhetoric. Minister Dion’s trip is just the first of many signs that Canada’s ability to take a global leadership role in defence of religious freedom is now severely diminished. His silence is not encouraging.”