Baird denies sending Sri Lanka Commonwealth summit RSVP

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is denying reports he has confirmed plans to attend the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office is denying reports in the Sri Lankan media that he has confirmed his attendance at this fall's Commonwealth Summit. Canada has threatened to boycott the summitt. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird denied reports Tuesday that he has confirmed plans to attend the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka.

Two newspapers in Sri Lanka reported Tuesday that Baird had sent his RSVP to be part of the Canadian delegation to this November's summit of the 54 Commonwealth leaders.

"About 85 per cent of the participants from 54 Commonwealth countries including Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird have confirmed their attendance ... We hope the Canadian Premier will also confirm his participation once the other Commonwealth Leaders confirm their participation," a Sri Lankan MP was quoted in one domestic newspaper.

But Baird's spokesman Rick Roth says the minister has yet to decide whether he will attend the meeting.

Roth says the minister remains concerned about the Sri Lankan government's lack of accountability over allegations of war crimes against ethnic Tamils in the aftermath of the country's long civil war that ended in 2009.

"Canada will continue to monitor events in Sri Lanka and do what we can to try to increase pressure on the government of Sri Lanka to make changes," Roth said in an email.

"As the prime minister has stated very clearly, we expect our concerns to be addressed prior to the next Commonwealth meeting. However, given the current circumstances, it would be very difficult for this government to fully participate."

Tough line on human rights

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened to boycott the summit, saying Sri Lanka shouldn't be hosting until it cleans up its act on human rights.

Baird has said it would be up to the prime minister to decide whether anyone goes to represent Canada because the November meeting is for heads of government.

Harper's spokesman Carl Vallee said the prime minister's views on the matter remain unchanged.

A senior government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said "we've seen this sort of misinformation in the past" from the Sri Lankan government.

The Harper government's tough line against the Sri Lankan government has won praise among human rights groups who share the concern over the lack of accountability and transparency by the government.

As Baird emerged from a recent meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers in London earlier this spring, he said he was "appalled" that Sri Lanka would be hosting the summit.

That sparked a backlash in the Sri Lanka media, including a lengthy editorial by one newspaper that used a long string of derogatory terms to describe Baird.