Ambassador told to take down tweet about ‘pleasing’ Myanmar beach due to Canadian cold snap, not ethnic cleansing
A senior foreign service official warned a Canadian ambassador who tweeted his praise of the “pleasing” beaches of Myanmar that the photo might be taken the wrong way given many Canadians back home were in the middle of a cold snap — not because of the ongoing campaign of sexual violence and brutality against the country’s Rohingya people.
On Jan. 1, 2018, Canadian Ambassador Peter MacArthur posted several photos on Twitter of his vacation in Myanmar and how much he enjoyed the beaches there.
The photos were captured by a Canadian journalist who also reported that Global Affairs Canada had confirmed MacArthur was in Rakhine State when he took the photos, which is where Myanmar security forces have been waging a campaign of what the United Nations dubbed ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority.
Half a million Rohingya have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017, when the attacks started.
However, that ongoing campaign was not why the department apparently told MacArthur to take the tweet down.
“Your new year’s Tweet is really better for a personal message on your personal site not your professional Tweet site,” wrote the Global Affairs Canada official.
“It is sending the wrong message when many Canadians are freezing (minus 35 C here for the some 9th day in a row, many without electricity in Nova Scotia for several days. If the media pick this up, you may find yourself …”
At the time, thousands in Nova Scotia were without electricity after a powerful nor’easter storm battered the province.
Many were forced to spend Christmas Day in the dark and it took roughly a week for power to be restored.
The deep freeze across much of the country also forced cities including Charlottetown, PEI., and Ottawa to cancel or change their New Year’s Eve celebration plans over concerns it would be too cold for people to spend any extended time outdoors.
The email was one of three sent by the official to MacArthur over the course of roughly five hours in the evening of Jan. 1, 2018, asking him to take the tweet down, which were obtained by Global News under an access to information request.
One of those subsequent emails noted that the minister’s office had also raised concerns about the tweet and implored the ambassador two more times to take it down.
None of the concerns raised in the emails included in the release package mentioned the human rights situation or the fact that the government’s special envoy to Myanmar on the crisis had only days earlier issued an interim report saying he heard detailed and graphic accounts of sexual violence used as a weapon of war by Myanmar security forces.
The public response provided on Jan. 2, 2018, by a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson after the tweet had been deleted did note the human rights situation in Myanmar and said the ambassador had been advised to take down the post.
“The government of Canada takes the situation in Myanmar very seriously and is deeply concerned by the ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that are occurring there,” a spokesperson said in response to a query from Global News.
“Ambassador MacArthur was advised to delete the Tweet in question.”
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The emails released also included a note sent on Jan. 6, 2018, by Karen MacArthur, who is the ambassador’s wife and is herself the Canadian ambassador to Myanmar.
In response to an emailed question from CTV News about whether she had been on vacation in Rakhine State with him, she forwarded the question to the same senior official at Global Affairs Canada and said she didn’t like the way the story was evolving.
“Personally and professionally, I find the turn that this story is taking quite distressing,” she wrote.
“An unacknowledged underlying issue to this story is that most people outside Myanmar (a country still not well known in the Weat, [sic] especially in North America; there are many tourists here though from France and Germany), have a hard time reconciling the harsh reality in nRS with the beauty of Myanmar and it’s [sic] people in general.”
The abbreviation nRS is believed to refer to northern Rakhine State.
Global News contacted Global Affairs Canada asking for clarification on the emails.
The department sent over the same response they had previously released when news of the tweet was first reported.
“The government of Canada takes the situation in Myanmar very seriously and is deeply concerned by the ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that are occurring there,” said a spokesperson.
“Ambassador Peter MacArthur was advised to delete the Tweet in question.”
On Tuesday, special envoy Bob Rae released his final report on the situation in Myanmar and urged the government to commit more money and aid, as well as help to support the resettlement of Rohingya refugees.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar, is an honourary Canadian citizen and the government has faced calls to revoke her citizenship given her lack of condemnation of the attacks against the Rohingya.
In February, the Canadian government also sanctioned a top general in the Myanmar military over his role in the brutal attacks, using new Magnitsky legislation passed last year.
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