Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka next November, The Huffington Post Canada has learned.
The decision may ostracize Harper as the only G8-level leader not attending the meeting with Britain, Australia and New Zealand all expected to send their prime ministers, but it is expected to be very popular with Tamils, a new community the Tories are going after.
The Conservative government has yet to decide whether it will send a minister, the high commissioner or any staff to the biennial meeting — a decision that will highlight how loudly the Government of Canada wants to make a point.
During Question Period this week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said “no one is standing up stronger against the regime in Colombo, Sri Lanka, than this prime minister and this government.”
“If the top guy stays away but someone more junior goes, that conveys a strong but not as complete message as would be conveyed by staying away completely,” said Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
“Our position is unless we see significant and substantial signs of human rights improvements in Sri Lanka, the meeting simply shouldn’t be happening there.”
It’s highly problematic for an institution which purports to support human rights to hold a meeting in a country with deteriorating human rights, he said. The host country of the CHOGM also becomes the chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years — which means the consequences of holding the meeting in Sri Lanka will be much deeper than photos ups and two days of meetings, Neve added.