OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Nicolas Maduro's dictatorial government in Venezuela has shown an inexcusable disregard for the rule of law and human rights.
Trudeau made the comments Monday ahead of an emergency meeting of like-minded countries in Ottawa to discuss the political, economic and humanitarian crises in Venezuela, which has spilled over into its neighbours.
The so-called Lima Group includes more than a dozen Western Hemisphere nations.
Their meeting comes amid massive protests in Venezuela aimed at pressing Maduro, the country's socialist leader, to vacate the presidency.
Canada and the Lima Group are backing Juan Guaido, the opposition leader who's the head of Venezuela's legislature, as Maduro's replacement.
Trudeau also announced $53 million worth of humanitarian assistance Monday for the "most-pressing needs" of Venezuelans, including the almost 3 million refugees.
The funds will go to "trusted partners" and neighbouring countries, he said.
"This is a pivotal moment for the people of Venezuela — we are observing a widespread rejection of the Maduro regime's illegitimate claim to power following fraudulent elections last May," Trudeau said in his opening remarks before the meeting.
"For years now, we've witnessed the breakdown in democracy in Venezuela and a dictatorship willing to use force, fear and coercion to retain power. The violation of human rights and the complete disregard for the rule of law shown by the regime has been both inexcusable and unacceptable."
Canada and its Latin American allies in the Lima Group, along with the United States, have been pushing for Maduro's departure. Now European countries have come on board, with Spain, Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Lithuania calling for free and fair elections as soon as possible.
Trudeau said he personally conveyed Canada's support to Guaido on Sunday during a phone conversation.
A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said Trudeau spoke to Guaido about the need for countries to send a clear message about "the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime" and to ensure that Venezuela has free and fair presidential elections.
The statement added that Trudeau "commended Juan Guaido for his courage and leadership in helping to return democracy to Venezuela and offered Canada's continued support."
In her opening remarks at the meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Lima Group allies stand on the side of human rights and of a peaceful, democratic and constitutional transition in Venezuela.
"What we have seen in recent weeks, with thousands of people taking to the streets to defy the Maduro dictatorship, is a united people standing as one to say: enough," she said.
Canada has already contributed $2.2 million for the humanitarian crisis that's forced some three million Venezuelans from their homes, sending ripples across the region, particularly in neighbouring Brazil and Colombia which are now faced with a refugee crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted out his support today saying France recognizes Guaido as Venezuela's "president in charge" and said "Venezuelans have the right to express themselves freely and democratically."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Guaido is now Venezuela's "legitimate interim president."
The European support comes after Maduro did not meet their Sunday night deadline to call a new presidential election.
Maduro has remained defiant as the swells of protest have grown inside and outside of Venezuela.
On Saturday, an air force general defected to the opposition and reportedly fled to neighbouring Colombia, and posted a video on YouTube declaring that his country's transition to democracy was "imminent."
"As a country that has an open arms policy towards Venezuelans, we have received many important figures from the democratic opposition," said Federico Hoyos, Colombia's ambassador to Canada
Maduro has blamed the United States for manufacturing a military coup against his country. The U.S. is not a Lima Group member, but its denunciations of Maduro and its recognition of Guaido are viewed as being in lockstep with the coalition meeting in Ottawa, according to several government sources.
Guaido is "now the only legitimate representative of the Venezuelan state. Ex-president Maduro does not have a mandate any more," said Denis Fontes de Souza Pinto, Brazil's ambassador to Canada.