HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam’s government rebuked Canada on Friday after the Canadian Senate passed a bill to commemorate the acceptance of 60,000 “boat people” who sought refuge in the wake of the communist takeover of South Vietnam 40 years ago.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Canada’s ambassador to denounce the move by the Senate to officially mark April 30 as “Journey to Freedom Day”.
North Vietnamese forces captured the South Vietnamese capital Saigon on April 30, 1975, marking the end of a long war and prompting more than a million people to flee, many by boat.
Vietnam refers to the event as the date of its reunification.
The Canadian bill, proposed by a senator of Vietnamese descent, officially came into force on Thursday and is purely symbolic. The Senate is Canada’s upper house of parliament.
“This is a step backward in the relationship between the two countries, negatively affecting the growing relationship between Vietnam and Canada,” foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement.
Binh said the act was “offending the feelings of Vietnamese people and a majority of the Vietnamese community in Canada.”
The Senate is controlled by Canada’s governing Conservatives, who allowed the bill to pass despite earlier Vietnamese protests.
The declaration could help the Conservatives win votes among the 220,000-strong ethnic Vietnamese community in an election set for October that polls show is too close to call.
In Ottawa, a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson said she would respond later in the day.
Vietnam’s exports to Canada hit a record high C$2.8 billion ($2.3 billion) last year, mostly clothing, footwear and high-tech goods, according to Canadian government data.
Canada was among several Western countries, including the United States, France, Britain and Australia, which collectively accepted more than a million South Vietnamese who fled after North Vietnam’s victory.
The “boat people”, as they were known, were resettled via refugee camps in Asia, many surviving perilous voyages on crowded, rickety vessels on which thousands starved or drowned or were attacked by pirates.
Reporting by Mai Nguyen and Martin Petty in Hanoi and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Peter Galloway