MONTREAL — Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan was remembered by Canadian politicians on Saturday as a friend of Canada and tireless advocate for peace around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former prime minister Paul Martin were among the Canadians who added their voices to the tributes pouring from around the globe following the death of the Ghanian diplomat.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning former UN leader died early Saturday at the age of 80 following a short illness, the Kofi Annan Foundation announced.
Martin, whose tenure as prime minister overlapped with Annan’s as secretary-general, described his friend as “one of the greats.”
“He had a very broad vision which enveloped everybody, and he was always looking ahead,” he told The Canadian Press.
“He was one of those few people who were able to understand it wasn’t just the rich and powerful nations that counted … that the rich and powerful nations were going to be very dependent, ultimately, on the poorer nations doing well.”
Martin, who worked with Annan on several occasions, said he believed the former UN head would be remembered most for his commitment to multilateral institutions in an age of globalization.
“In today’s age, when many of the world’s leaders seem to think the national interest can prevail against the global interest, that was certainly not his view, it would not have been his view and he expressed it unequivocally,” he said.
Martin said his strongest memory of his friend was a phone conversation the two had after he retired from politics, when Annan called to ask him co-chair a body that dealt with the future of the African Development Bank.
Their long conversation was, as usual, “about the world, and how we all fit into it,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed his condolences on social media, saying Annan made the world a better place.
“Kofi Annan didn’t just talk about building a more just and peaceful world, he dedicated his life to doing it — and the world is a better place because of him,” Trudeau said on his official Twitter account.
“It’s now up to all of us to carry his work forward.”
Former governor general Michaelle Jean also expressed her respect for Annan, who she called a “tireless peacemaker.”
“From my friend #KofiAnnan, who saw the world fall into horror, I retain this confession, his dilemma: ‘How can the (United Nations) defend its raison d’etre if it fails to stand up in the defence of human rights above all?’” she wrote in French on her official Twitter account.
Martin said Annan had a great love and affection for Canada that was clear every time he visited.
“He loved Canada, he did visit Canada many times, and was always open to discussing issues, whether he was here or in New York, and he didn’t hide his affection for Canada,” Martin said. “It was evident always.”
One of those visits occurred in early 2004, when Annan praised the country’s bilingual and multicultural character in an address to Parliament.
“Throughout the years, Canada has been a pillar of support for the United Nations,” reads a text of Annan’s speech on the United Nations website.
“Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the United Nations without Canada and, I might even say, it has become hard to imagine Canada without the United Nations.”
A more recent visit came in 2016, when he attended the One Young World summit in Ottawa.
There, he showed a lighter side of his personality by joking about a time when he thought he had been recognized by fans while on vacation, only to realize he’d been mistaken for actor Morgan Freeman.
He later moved on to more serious topics, telling the young attendees in a panel discussion that they all had a part to play in countering the rise of radical extremism, even through simple actions such as standing up to bullies or denouncing injustice.
“We have to have the courage to speak up and not allow a small group to intimidate a whole nation, or hijack a whole religion, and allow them to get away with it because of silence,” he said.
Many current and former world leaders, including former U.S. president Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, have also responded publicly to Annan’s death.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press