Prime Minister Stephen Harper has invited Burmese politician and honourary Canadian citizen Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Canada. Suu Kyi has been central to the Burmese democratic movement since 1988 when she was named Chair of the National Democratic League. In 1990, she won the Burmese general election. The military government refused to surrender power, placing Suu Kyi under house arrest. Since 1989, Suu Kyi has spent a cumulative 15 years under house arrest in her home in Rangoon, Burma. Prior to her political activity in Burma, Suu Kyi worked for the UN.
Suu Kyi was recently released from house arrest following the first general election in Burma to be held since 1990. Suu Kyi was not permitted to participate in the election, and Suu Kyi’s supporters called for a complete boycott of the election.
Jack Layton, leader of the New Democrats, was the first to propose inviting Suu Kyi to Canada. Layton said that it was an excellent opportunity to present her with her honourary citizenship in person.
Due to her work to promote democracy and human rights in Burma, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Sixteen years later, she was granted a Canadian citizenship in recognition of her achievements. Honourary Canadian citizenship is a symbolic distinction awarded by the Governor General with the consent of Parliament to foreign citizens of exceptional merit.
Suu Kyi comes from a political background. Her father is considered to be the father of modern day Burma and was instrumental in securing independence from British colonial rule for his country. Her mother also worked as an ambassador for Burma in the 1960’s.
Only five individuals have ever been awarded honorary Canadian citizenship.
Three of those, including Suu Kyi, have also received the Nobel Peace Prize. The other individuals are Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso.
Mandela, former president of South Africa, was awarded the prize for his role in ending apartheid and his work in promoting human rights. Mandela was named an honourary Canadian citizen in 2001.
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Gyatso was awarded the prize in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square protests, for his work in promoting a free Tibet. He was awarded honourary Canadian citizenship in 2006.
Suu Kyi’s award of honorary citizenship didn’t come as a great surprise; four of the five honourary Canadians in the world have been named in the past 10 years, of which three hold Nobel Peace Prizes.