OTTAWA — Canada is expanding the focus of the upcoming G7 foreign ministers meeting to include the plight of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh and the democratic backslide in Venezuela.
Those items are being added to the "perennial" international security issues the G7 usually confronts, such as Syria, Ukraine and Iran, Peter Boehm, Canada's chief summit organizer, said Monday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada wants to use the G7 to leverage the recommendations in the recently completed report by its special envoy Bob Rae, who called for the perpetrators of violence against the Rohingya to be brought to justice.
The Rohingya issue has particular relevance because it dovetails with the summit's theme of promoting gender equality and women's empowerment, Freeland told a recent summit-related event at the University of Toronto.
"It is very important to make the gender perspective a key part of everything that we do, and we talk about," Freeland said.
"Gender is a central part of so many of the issues that we are grappling with."
Freeland said she recently hosted a roundtable on the Rohingya violence, where she heard repeated stories of gender-based violence and rape being used as a weapon of war on women and girls fleeing Myanmar.
Such chronic problems are being exacerbated by the fact that many young girls are arriving as orphans at refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they continue to be vulnerable, she said.
A coalition of advocates for the Rohingya crisis — including Rae, former Liberal foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, human rights groups and aid agencies — is calling on Canada to use its G7 presidency to highlight the crisis, which has forced 688,000 Myanmar Rohingyas, mainly women and children, into exile in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Freeland said she also wants to see European voices added to the chorus of international condemnation of Venezuela's ongoing crackdowns on dissent and democracy.
Canada will be courting the support of the G7's European members — France, Germany, Britain, Italy and the European Union — to denounced the anti-democratic behaviour of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who was barred from attending last weekend's Summit of the Americas, she said.
Venezuela is in the midst of a debilitating political and economic crisis that has hobbled the once prosperous country. Maduro is planning a widely derided presidential election that Venezuela's opposition is boycotting.
Freeland said she wants Venezuela on the G7 agenda because numerous Latin American counterparts have told here that if the EU, in particular, can be brought on board to denounce Maduro, it will help deflate the notion that anti-Venezuela sentiment is simply an American-driven phenomenon.
None of that will displace the ongoing Syrian civil war as a continuing preoccupation for the G7 foreign ministers this weekend, or for its leaders when they gather in June in Quebec's Charlevoix region, Boehm said.
In a statement Monday, the G7 leaders denounced the use of chemical weapons earlier this month in Syria's Eastern Ghouta region, and pledged support for the airstrikes Friday by the U.S., France and Britain that targeted Syria's chemical weapons capability.
"The repeated and morally reprehensible use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in the past has been confirmed by independent international investigators. We condemn this deliberate strategy of terrorizing local populations and forcing them into submission," said the G7 leaders.
Freeland and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale are hosting their G7 counterparts for three days of meetings in Toronto next week.
Boehm says Goodale and his counterparts will be focusing on cybersecurity and on how to deal with foreign fighters returning from Middle East battlefields in the ongoing war with Islamic militants.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press