OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's state funeral this week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday's funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.
Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.
Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn't know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.
But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.
"Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front," he said.
"And we'll be meeting with a number of people. I just don't know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening."
Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.
The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.
"I was literally giving a speech," Champagne said. "I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened."
Abe's state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader's legacy remains disputed.
Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.
In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.
— With files from The Associated Press.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press