DAKAR, Senegal — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the world to do more to spread freedom Wednesday, as he visited a museum in Senegal that was once a centre in the African slave trade.
But a few hours later, with Senegal’s president, he did not take an opportunity to publicly call out a law that criminalizes homosexual activity.
Trudeau was sombre and pensive as he toured the House of Slaves on Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar, where African men, women and children were imprisoned at a final stop in Africa before being forced onto ships and taken across the ocean to lives of enslavement in the west.
He said we must admit we have not learned “all the terrible lessons of the past and continue to inflict horrible systemic violence on each other in too many places around the world.
“We must pledge ourselves to remember and to act to move beyond this terrible part of our past and build a future in which everyone can live free and full,” he said.
Trudeau went from Goree Island to the presidential palace for a meeting with Senegal’s President Macky Sall. The meeting was intended to pursue new education and economic connections but is also part of Trudeau’s bid for Canada to win a seat on the United Nations’ powerful Security Council in June. African support is expected to be pivotal as Canada, Norway and Ireland vie for two available spots.
Sall threw his support heavily behind Canada’s bid.
“Canada has our support in this election,” Sall said in French, during a joint news conference with Trudeau after their meeting. He cited the many shared values between the two countries, which have a lengthy relationship as two French-speaking nations.
Sall said it is “very easy” to root for Canada and that he would speak with his African counterparts to encourage them to cast their ballots for Canada when UN members vote in June.
Moments later, Trudeau was asked if he had raised the issue of LGBTQ rights with Sall. Trudeau said he always talks about human rights but pulled his punches about Senegal’s anti-gay law.
“We recognize there is always more work to do everywhere around the world and Canada will be a friend and partner as we move forward, recognizing that in terms of values, in terms of democracy, Senegal is a country that has succeeded tremendously in showing a positive example in many many areas for other countries,” he said.
Senegal is considered to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa, with several recent peaceful transfers of power after fair elections.
Sall pushed back during the news conference, saying the populace would reject any change to the law criminalizing homosexual acts and denying gay people are discriminated against.
“These laws reflect the vision and our way of living,” he said in French. “This has nothing to do with being homophobic.”
Human Rights Watch documented 38 cases between 2009 and 2016 in which police arrested someone for their “perceived sexual orientation” and charged them with “unnatural acts” under Senegal’s criminal code. Some reports suggest many of those arrested are released within a few days, though the law does allow five-year prison sentences for the offence. Human Rights Watch also says the law leads to discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people.
Before their meetings, Sall met Trudeau outside the presidential palace with an honour guard. The two greeted each other with big smiles and a hug.
It was a whirlwind day for the prime minister, who also opened a new Dakar office of Canada’s International Development Research Centre, which invests in knowledge and innovation to help improve the lives of people in the developing world.
He attended a basketball event with Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri to mark a new relationship between the Senegalese and Canadian Olympic committees and celebrate Senegal being the first African country to host an Olympic event. In 2022 Senegal hosts the summer Youth Olympics.