Burmese-Canadians urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take further action against coup in Myanmar

The Burmese-Canadian community is calling on the federal government to provide more material support to anti-military protesters after a week that saw some of the deadliest clashes between police and demonstrators in Myanmar since the military coup in that country. 

The Burmese Canadian Action Network (BCAN) sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Marc Garneau this week, just one day after police killed 18 people and wounded 30, according to the United Nations. 

“We, Burmese Canadians across Canada, are calling on the Government of Canada to provide tangible support for Burmese people struggling for freedom and democracy,” the letter reads.

The crisis began after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide re-election as state counsellor of Myanmar — a position equivalent to a prime minister — on Nov. 8 last year. The military questioned the results, accusing the winning party of fraud, before seizing power and placing Suu Kyi and other senior members of her government under arrest on Feb. 1. Since then, dozens of protesters have died — 34 on Wednesday alone —  at the hands of police and more than 1,000 civilians and elected officials have been arrested.

Anti-coup protesters maintain their position behind a barricade despite smoke from tear gas in San Chaung township in Yangon, Myanmar, on Friday, Mar. 5, 2021. Demonstrators defy growing violence by security forces and stage more anti-coup protests ahead of a special UN Security Council meeting on the country’s political crisis. (The Associated Press)

From pot-banging to protesters taking to the streets clad in hard-hats and goggles to protect themselves from assaults by police, the demonstrations are happening daily, in spite of bans on political protests and on social media.

The letter to Trudeau and Garneau says Canada should take further action, including helping people who are now struggling with food scarcity. The civil unrest has caused major shutdowns in the country and interrupted the people’s daily lives, especially those who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).

BCAN appealed to Canada to send food and material support via UN agencies and civil society organizations.

“We encourage you to find ways to provide such essential assistance urgently,” its letter reads. 

The letter also calls on Canada to officially recognize the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Htaw (CRPH). The CRPH, which was created soon after the coup with the support of 400 elected MPs, combines the Lower and Upper Houses of Myanmar’s parliament.

Protesters hold up placards demanding the release of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw on March 4, 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

According to Tin Maung Htoo, spokesperson for the BCAN, the CRPH is currently working underground in defiance of the police and supporting the demonstrators under the radar, by releasing information and making announcements to the public. 

“We are quite encouraged by the [Canadian] government’s stand  and this stand and actions from the government is very encouraging for people on the ground in Burma, especially,” he said, referring to a move by Canada and Britain to impose economic sanctions on Myanmar. 

The two countries made the move under the Special Economic Measures Act on Feb 18 after police violence escalated against demonstrators. 

We don’t want to go back 20, 30 years — back to the dark age. That is why this is the time for us to do whatever we can.– Tin Maung Htoo 

Maung Htoo was a student when he fled Myanmar during in 1988 after organizing protests against the military dictatorship.

“More than 3,000 people, mostly students, were killed in the streets,” Maung Htoo recalled.

“There was no freedom of expression, association, student unions were banned.”

The regime lasted over 20 years, finally ending when Myanmar achieved partial democracy in 2010. 

Tin Maung Htoo, with the Burmese Canadian Action Network, says the people of Myanmar ‘are showing their strong stand and support for democratization in the country.’ (Submitted by Tin Maung Htoo)

Two years before the country opened itself to the world, the military wrote a new constitution, which allowed it to keep some of its former powers, including 25 per cent of seats in parliament and control of the defence, border affairs and home ministries.

When the military moved to take power in February, General Min Aung Hlaing announced the removal of 24 democratically elected ministers, naming 11 replacements.. 

Maung Htoo said he believes the coup is an act of desperation. He said the the military was gradually losing not only political control under Suu Kyi’s leadership but also economic power, since big business organizations are military-backed and military-owned. 

“People are showing their strong stand and support for democratization in the country.” Maung Htoo said. 

“We don’t want to go back 20, 30 years … back to the dark age. That is why this is the time for us to do whatever we can.”

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