November 26, 2017 11:09 am
Updated: November 26, 2017 6:32 pm

Bob Rae: Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship in Canada ‘not a central issue’ as Rohingya crisis unfolds

WATCH ABOVE: Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, tells Vassy Kapelos establishing closer relations with China is the new reality and when the Prime Minister goes there in early December he needs to raise the Myanmar crisis with the Chinese leadership.


Former Liberal MP Bob Rae says the question of revoking honorary citizenship for Myanmar’s leader is “not a central issue” as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees remain in peril.

Speaking with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos this weekend, Rae — currently serving as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar — argued that there are far more pressing questions at hand.

“My own view is that it’s really not a big issue at the moment, it’s not a central issue that we need to be focusing on,” Rae said.

There have been calls in recent weeks to revoke the honorary citizenship bestowed by Canada on Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in the wake of alleged ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.

WATCH: Trudeau meets with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi on Rohingya crisis

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But right now, Rae said, the focus should be on the quality of life in the refugee camps in Bangladesh where many of the Rohingya are now living after fleeing their burning villages.

There also need to be discussions about the conditions for their return and integration, he added, and a roadmap for dealing with the crimes that were committed during their exodus.

“There has to be an assurance that there’s going to be an independent investigation of any wrongdoing that’s gone on,” Rae told Kapelos.

Earlier this year, Myanmar’s security forces began cracking down on what the government labelled Muslim insurgents. But attacks on hundreds of Rohingya villages left the inhabitants without homes and fleeing for their lives.

READ MORE: Canada pledges $35M to help Bangladesh aid women, girls amid Rohingya refugee influx

The international community has said it amounted to ethnic cleansing, and the actions of Myanmar’s government have been widely denounced by many countries, including Canada.

Late last week, however, there were signs that the crisis could be nearing a turning point. A memorandum of understanding has been signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh to support the return of the refugees, but many are said to be too terrified to go back.

“In something like this the details are all-important,” Rae said.

“Under what terms will people return? How will they get through the border? What kind of papers will they need to have? What are the conditions going to be when they get back there? What are the provisions being made for their safety, for their well-being?”

He added that it’s “way too early for us to be rejoicing, because the reality is that people left for a reason and under very difficult circumstances.”

WATCH: Rohingya concerned about food shortages as more arrive in Bangladesh

Rae also addressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s upcoming visit to China in early December. Canada and China are in the early stages of free trade talks, but Trudeau has had to balance the desire to tap into the Chinese market with the country’s abysmal record on human rights.

“I think that establishing closer and more stable economic ties with China is a simple reality of our time,” the former Liberal interim leader said.

“But I don’t think we abandon discussions about human rights in meetings with any government.”

— Watch the full interview with Bob Rae above.

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