Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Harper Hints He'd Be Open to Moving Commonwealth Summit from Sri Lanka

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Harper Hints He'd Be Open to Moving Commonwealth Summit from Sri Lanka

Article excerpt

PM hints at moving Sri Lanka leaders' summit

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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hinting he'd like to see this year's Commonwealth summit moved out of Sri Lanka in protest of the country's human rights record.

Harper has made it clear for more than a year that, without major reforms, he personally will not be attending next fall's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo.

On Wednesday he appeared to take it step further.

Liberal MP Bob Rae rose in question period to cite the Sri Lankan government's "appalling human rights record" which he said includes impeaching the country's former chief justice and murdering journalists.

"I wonder if the Prime Minister would consider this proposition: Why would Canada not invite the Commonwealth countries to come to Canada for Canada to host the conference and for Canada to become the chairman of the Commonwealth for two years?" Rae asked.

Harper responded to Rae by saying "he and I and almost all members of this House are of one mind on this issue."

"I know we are deeply troubled by the direction in Sri Lanka and the fact that Sri Lanka is, at this point, the host of the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting," Harper continued.

"I know suggestions have been made of any number of countries who would be willing to host that."

Harper said that "in the meantime" his government would continue to monitor the situation and continue to put pressure on Colombo to reform, adding that as the situation stands "it would be very difficult for this government to fully participate."

The Prime Minister's Office, when asked to clarify the remarks, did not address a direct question about whether Harper's comments in parliament indicate he'd like to see the venue changed.

But as recently as last month Canada's special envoy to the Commonwealth, Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal, was assuring Sri Lankan media that Harper had "at no time" indicated he wanted the country stripped of the conference, which is held every two years.

"There is no Canadian boycott of CHOGM. There will be a Canadian delegation in Colombo for CHOGM," Segal was quoted telling The Island newspaper online on the eve of a fact-finding trip to Sri Lanka last month. …

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