Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Aung San Suu Kyi in Vietnam Friday, where, despite a difference of opinion, Myanmar's embattled leader demonstrated a willingness to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis that displaced more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Canadian special envoy to Myanmar Bob Rae joined Mr. Trudeau for the bilateral meeting with Ms. Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders' summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. It marked the first time the leaders have met since the massive exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
"(It's) an opportunity to talk about a number of issues, including the refugee situation and how Canada can continue to help in a situation that, obviously, a lot of people back home are concerned about," Mr. Trudeau said after shaking hands with Ms. Suu Kyi.
Mr. Rae said that while Mr. Trudeau was "candid" in expressing his concerns over the situation facing the Rohingya, Ms. Suu Kyi was not defensive during their 45-minute meeting.
"There were some differences of perspective and differences of opinion but it was a good exchange of information. It was not two sides talking past each other," Mr. Rae told reporters after the meeting. "She expressed a very strong willingness on the part of her government to engage with Bangladesh, to allow for the return of refugees to the country and also to engage in real reconstruction."
Mr. Rae just completed his first trip as special envoy to Myanmar and Bangladesh this week, but was unable to access Myanmar's remote Rakhine state, where Rohingya are denied citizenship despite centuries-old roots. He said Ms. Suu Kyi invited him to visit Rakhine when he is back in the region. He plans to return in January, before he delivers a report on his findings to Mr. Trudeau.
Friday's meeting comes after Ms. Suu Kyi – an honorary Canadian citizen and Nobel Peace Prize laureate – met Mr. Trudeau during a trip to Ottawa in June. Mr. Trudeau has since joined international criticism of Ms. Suu Kyi, urging her to live up to her moral obligations as a Nobel laureate and condemn the violence against the Rohingya. However, he has not responded to calls to revoke her honorary Canadian citizenship, including a petition that has garnered nearly 45,000 signatures.
The UN Refugee Agency says more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled violence to Bangladesh from Myanmar since Aug. 25. The violence began after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in the state of Rakhine. Myanmar's military responded by killing hundreds of people, triggering an exodus of Rohingya. Ms. Suu Kyi and the country's military have come under international pressure to end the violence, but Ms. Suu Kyi does not have any control over the military under the 2008 constitution.
Mr. Rae said Ms. Suu Kyi described the challenges that division of power creates for her in Myanmar.
"She's in a very difficult position. She shares government with the military. She's in the position where three ministers are in the military in her government," he said.
Mr. Rae said Canada's first priority is to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the Rohingya are met. He described extremely hot and cramped quarters in the Bangladesh refugee camps he visited, with rooms made of bamboo and plastic tarps.
In the longer term, Mr. Rae said there is a need to find a political solution to the historic discrimination against the Rohingya.
"It's not what you say, it's what you do. And that I think is where we are going to have to continue to push hard to make sure that there's implementation of basic steps that need to happen: an end to discrimination, greater freedom of movement, ability of people to make a living, to live without fear."
Mr. Rae said he will urge Mr. Trudeau to maintain Canada's support for the Rohingya, particularly children who make up the majority of the refugees and have no access to education. Canada has pledged more than $25-million in humanitarian assistance for Bangladesh and Myanmar this year, contributing to the UN's appeal for $434-million (U.S.) before February.
With a file from the Canadian Press