Trudeau defends himself after Castro controversy

A day after a controversial eulogy, the PM acknowledges that Fidel Castro was a dictator and there were significant human rights concerns in Cuba.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the stage following a discussion on women's leadership, Thursday, November 24, 2016 in Monrovia, Liberia. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the stage following a discussion on women’s leadership, Thursday, November 24, 2016 in Monrovia, Liberia. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar – Justin Trudeau wanted to deliver a strong message on human rights during his first trip to Africa as prime minister, and while he certainly made a big splash on that issue, it was not for the reasons he had originally intended.

As the prime minister called out world leaders, including many in French-speaking Africa, to get better at protecting the rights of women and girls and the LGBTQ community, he came under harsh criticism at home for issuing a statement praising the legacy of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

“He certainly was a polarizing figure and there certainly were significant concerns around human rights,” Trudeau said Sunday in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where he was leading the Canadian delegation to the summit of la Francophonie.

“That’s something that I’m open about and highlighted, but on the passing of his death I expressed a statement that highlighted the deep connection between the people of Canada and the people of Cuba,” Trudeau said at a news conference.

When asked directly whether he thought Castro was a dictator, Trudeau said: “Yes.”

The Liberal prime minister is facing criticism at home and abroad for a statement he issued shortly after learning that Castro had died at the age of 90.

The statement expressed his “deep sorrow” about the death of Castro, without mentioning the human rights violations of his regime beyond referring vaguely to him as a “a controversial figure.” Trudeau also referred to him as a “legendary revolutionary and orator,” who made significant improvements to the education and health-care systems of Cuba.

“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend,” Trudeau also said in his statement.

His father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was the first NATO leader to visit Cuba when he met the leader of Cuba’s communist revolution — and long-time antagonist of the United States — in 1976, and Castro came to Montreal to attend his funeral nearly a quarter-century later.

Asked whether he regretted the wording of the statement, Trudeau seemed to draw a comparison to how people reacted to the death of Castro to how they reacted to the death of his father, although he did not mention him by name.

“I have a personal recollection of the reaction when a long-time political figure of a particular country passes away, however polarizing they may have been for certain people,” he said.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard did not think the message from Trudeau was inappropriate given Castro had just passed away.

“Yes, his accomplishments will be in various tones of grey — some white, some black — but historians will have to decide this,” Couillard, who headed the Quebec delegation to la Francophonie, told reporters Sunday.

“I see no controversy in describing him as a giant of the 20th century,” he said.

Trudeau delivered a shorter version of his condolence message Saturday at the beginning of his keynote address at the opening ceremonies of la Francophonie — a speech, ironically, that called out other world leaders for human rights abuses against girls, women and the LGBTQ community.

Trudeau said he never shies away from raising human rights issues, including on his recent visit to Cuba.

“Canadians know that I always talk about human rights, including here yesterday, including with Raul Castro two weeks ago and wherever I go around the world,” he said.

That was true in Antananarivo, where Trudeau said he was encouraged by the conversations he had following his speech that said LGBTQ people deserve the “same respect, the same rights and the same dignity” as everyone else — even as many in the audience were representing countries where homosexual activity is still illegal.

“I was actually extremely encouraged by the conversations I had throughout the day yesterday and into today, by people talking about where their communities were, where their societies are and accepting the critique and the challenge that if we’re going to respect human rights, we need to respect everyone’s human rights and that includes the LGBTQ community,” Trudeau said at the news conference.

The federal government also announced $112.8 million for international assistance projects aimed at several countries in Africa, as well as Haiti.

The Antananarivo Declaration — arrived at by consensus among the group of 80 mainly French-speaking members and observers — included language on human rights, particularly those of women and girls, and adopted the resolution Canada put forward condemning child, early and forced marriages.

It did not mention the LGBTQ community in particular, but Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said there will be an event next year to discuss the rights and situation of the LGBTQ community in the French-speaking world, even though it is not being organized through la Francophonie itself.


Trudeau defends himself after Castro controversy

  1. Cons apparently need a full biography….with footnotes….because they have no knowledge of the subject.

    • Holy Mackerel Eight articles and counting in the Print Version of TrudeauVision® (CBC) on Castro’s Bromance with Canada’s first Family I’m impressed..

    • Some would have the Cuban people be grateful because Castro saved them from a worse despot Baptise but that was over 40 years ago and Castro didn’t keep many of the promises he made to the people of Cuba. They got healthcare with poorly stocked provisions and education with books that were not historically accurate. Canada does not have a shinning human rights history but if one cares to learn of it, one can due to the fact we have a free press and we have freedom of speech and the freedom to move throughout our country and the world. We erroneously believe that the Cuban people should be grateful to have far less rights than what we have just because they are used to oppressive regimes and the last one was worse than this one. I believe people would be outraged if Harper died tomorrow and Justin Trudeau delivered an effusive eulogy about his contributions to the country. Many on this blog compared Harper to Hitler. It does no one a service, especially those a politician oppressed to pretend that they were better at their job than they were. It is hurtful and insensitive to those who were oppressed and especially those who were imprisoned for their political views or sexual orientation and had to flee their homeland and leave family behind. Sometimes it best for a leader of a rich and privileged country to say less.

  2. I hoped our p.m. would be nothing more than a naive adolescent, but it is clear he is a stupid person who has no right to express his personal oplnions as though it is the “official” position of the average Canadian , but this is often the consequence of providing a small person with a large stage! I am embarrassed by Trudeau, and disgusted with his inadequate performance of a “proud” nation!

  3. JT’s view of the world is slanted from being a child of privilege. He has never faced hardships the way most of the rest of us have. He dabbled in some fringe experiences but has never found himself facing the tough decision or challenge. He’s always had an out …. His emotional outburst towards a blatant dictator has no place in Canada foreign policy / Canadian politics. Waiting for an apology … not an excuse.

  4. because it is is still OK for Muslims to exclude women from meetings..or force them to be covered head to toe