Canadian diplomats seemed caught off-guard late last summer when Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi turned down an invitation to visit Canada.
Newly released documents under access to information show diplomats scrambling in late August 2012 after the office of the opposition leader in Burma, also known as Myanmar, stopped responding to telephone calls and emails from Canadian officials before apologizing, saying Suu Kyi's schedule was "too tight" and they were "unable to plan for this September trip to Canada."
Canadian officials were hoping Suu Kyi — whose campaign for democracy under the previous dictatorship led to years of house arrest that prevented her leaving the country — would add a side-trip to her two-week visit to the United States to address Parliament and meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"We're prepared to facilitate a very brief trip or any other schedule changes that might make things easier," reads one email to Suu Kyi's chief of staff from a senior diplomat. "The flight from DC to Ottawa is only 90 minutes and it's even possible to do a day trip only. We're very keen to see what we might be able to work out."
In the end, she stayed 17 days in the United States and, despite the offer of an "executive jet" at her disposal by the Canadian government, did not make the trek north.
Talking points provided to Canadian diplomats contacting Su Kyi's office state: "As a Special Guest of the Government of Canada and an Honourary Citizen, a government aircraft would meet Daw Aung Suu Kyi in the American city of her choice and return her to her next American destination."
However, it would seem the opposition leader's mind was made up.
The chargé d'affaires to Canada's soon-to-be-opened embassy in Burma, Ping Kitnikone, told a deputy director at the Foreign Affairs Department that "despite our previous positive exchanges with her and our persistent persuasion, [Suu Kyi's Chief of Staff] declined to have ASSK take the Minister's call. CoS explained that ASSK is very busy visiting neighbouring constituencies over the week-end and sitting in parliament during the week so she is only taking calls on emergency matters now."
He went on to recommend that the issue be raised in person when International Trade Minister Ed Fast had a scheduled meeting with Suu Kyi. After that meeting, Kitnikone reported via email to his superiors in Ottawa.
Most of the email is blocked out, except to say: "As honourary citizen, she wanted to be sure to properly convey her appreciation of Canada's friendship, etc."
Last March, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made a landmark visit to Burma, the first official visit to that country by a Canadian foreign minister. During his visit, he delivered a certificate recognizing Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship, which was conferred upon her by the Parliament of Canada in 2007. He also announced Canada would open an embassy in the Southeast Asian country.