Debates of April 23rd, 1996
House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was genocide.
- Government Response To Petitions
- Ways And Means
- Sales Tax
- Budget Implementation Act, 1996
- Questions On The Order Paper
- National Unity
- Tswwassen Sewage Treatment Plant
- Invention And Innovation
- International Book Day
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- Auto Leasing
- The Armenian People
- Springtime In Ottawa
- The Late Clara Smallwood
- Goods And Services Tax
- Liberal Party
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- Somalia Inquiry
- Krever Inquiry
- Middle East
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- Bank Act
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Benoît Tremblay Rosemont, QC
Mr. Speaker, in view of the importance of this issue, which has been under discussion for years, could you once more ask the House for unanimous consent so that the hon. member can speak to this?
The Deputy Speaker
Since another member has made the same request on his own behalf, I will ask the question once again. Is there unanimous consent to give the hon. member for Kamloops the right to speak?
An hon. member
The Deputy Speaker
Again, there has been a no indicated. All of the members have heard from where the no came. We will proceed.
Budget Implementation Act, 1996
Doug Peters for the Minister of Finance
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-31, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 6, 1996.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)
Questions On The Order Paper
Ovid Jackson Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board
Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
Questions On The Order Paper
The Deputy Speaker
Is that agreed?
Questions On The Order Paper
Some hon. members
April 23rd, 1996 / 11:15 a.m.
Michel Daviault Ahuntsic, QC
That this House recognize, on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the Armenian genocide that took place on April 24, 1915, the week of April 20 to 27 of each year as the week to commemorate man's inhumanity to man.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I move a motion requesting that the Canadian government finally recognize the Armenian genocide by designating a week to commemorate the crimes against humanity committed in the past, a commemoration that will help us prevent the same thing from happening again in the future.
I want to point out that the timing of this motion has a symbolic value. On April 15, Jewish communities throughout the world and people of all denominations gathered to commemorate the six million victims of the killing frenzy of the Nazi regime during World War II.
Tomorrow, the Armenian community will be commemorating the genocide that started on April 24, 1915 in the Ottoman Empire, a genocide that left more than 1.5 million victims. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Armenian community in Montreal and elsewhere in this country, and point out its contribution to our collective life.
The resolve with which the Armenian people is conserving its culture, its refusal to forget about the past, and its untiring efforts to gain international recognition for the Armenian genocide deserve everybody's admiration. The designation of a commemorative week would allow citizens of this country to show their respect for people who suffered extermination or fell victim to crimes against mankind, in particular the Armenian and the Jewish communities.
This is not the first time we speak in this House of crimes against mankind or that we deplore past genocides. On April 3 of last year, the hon. member for Don Valley North put forward a motion similar to the one I am moving today. At the time, the Bloc amended the motion, with its mover's assent, to specifically refer to the Armenian genocide. Unfortunately, the hon. member for Halifax, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, opposed the motion under the pretext that we should not designate any precise period to commemorate genocides because we think of them every day.
The hon. member spoke fine words but failed to act upon them. She contradicted herself when she said first, and I quote: "I believe genocide is so horrible that the memory of past genocides will always be with us", but said to conclude and I quote again: "I must say that I would be concerned if we were to designate a particular period of time for commemorating genocide".
Faced with such opposition by an hon. member associated with the executive body, the mover withdrew his request for the unanimous consent of the House for a recorded division on the motion and thus allowed the government to avoid voting on the question.
The attitude of the parliamentary secretary may have been due to her ignorance of the terrible lessons of the past, or perhaps it reflected the lack of political fortitude of this government and its lack of determination to defend human rights internationally.
That is why my colleagues and I-and, I hope, the government and other opposition members will join us-will remind the people of the odious crimes of the past. In memory of that past, we will ask the government to adopt from now on a firm position on the respect of human rights in the world, starting with the recognition of the Armenian genocide.
I demand that the government stop selling out Canadian traditions in favour of human rights and to show its true determination by the formal recognition of the Armenian genocide that happened in 1915.
Most people have already heard about the holocaust, the genocide of Jewish people by the Nazis. Our parents lived through the second world war know and have told us about it. Recently, the younger generation had to opportunity to see the movie "Schindler's List", but how many people are aware of the genocide which took place during the first world war?
Actually, very few people know that a million and a half Armenians were killed and that hundreds of thousands of others were deported in 1915 and after, under order of the Ottoman Empire that ruled Turkey at the time.
The fact that the allied governments and the League of Nations neglected to publicly recognize this genocide and to take sanctions against those responsible for it mat well have had crucial consequences afterwards. Indeed, on the eve of the second world war,
Adolf Hitler said to his SS: "Who remembers the Armenian genocide today?" Personally, I refuse to prove Hitler right.
The official opposition recognizes the Armenian genocide and wants to help make it known in this House, to our viewers, to the population at large. But first, let us give a brief historical outline.
The Ottoman Empire was established in the 14th century, after Constantinople fell to the Turks. At one point, this empire covered most of the Middle East and of North Africa. Many Christians lived in this empire, in particular Greeks and Armenians.
The Armeninans lived in Anatolia, the eastern part of modern Turkey. These Christians came under Turkish authority, but they were tolerated because they acted as a link in the trade with the Western world. During the first world war, the government of the Ottoman Empire, fighting against Russia to the east and a Franco-British army to the west, came to consider its Christian subjects as traitors and suspected them of collaborating with the Allies because of their religion. Then came a series of humiliations, followed by arrests, torture and, finally, executions and massive deportations.
In addition to the massacres perpetrated by the soldiers or the civilian population, the massive deportations were secretly aimed at exterminating the Armenians. A large number of Armenians died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion caused by a forced exodus in atrocious conditions. Nowadays, this would be called ethnic cleansing.
A note from the allied forces dated July 17, 1920, and kept in the French national archives described the Armenian genocide in the following terms, and I quote: "The Armenians were massacred in conditions of incredible barbarity. During the war, the Ottoman government's actions in terms of massacres, deportations and mistreatment to prisoners went far beyond anything it had ever done in these areas. It is estimated that, since 1914, the Ottoman government has massacred, under the untenable pretence of a presumed revolt, 800,000 Armenian men, women and children, and deported more than 200,000 Greeks and 200,000 Armenians. The Turkish government has not only failed to protect its subjects of non-Turkish origin against looting, violence and murder, but a large body of evidence indicates that it also took a hand in organizing and carrying out the most ferocious attacks against communities which it was its duty to protect".
Unfortunately, the Allies did not follow up on the massacres. They spent more time dividing up the former Ottoman possessions in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq and Palestine, than condemning what has come to be known as the first genocide of the 20th century.
It was not until 1948 that a definition and a formal prohibition of genocide were enshrined in international law. In the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted that year, genocide is defined as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
I remind this House that Canada signed that convention. That is why I do not understand our government's persistent refusal to officially recognize the Armenian genocide. I deplore and condemn that attitude because denying the genocide is playing into the hands of those who committed it and who want their acts to be forgotten, which is the same thing as condoning their actions.
Since the Armenian genocide, in 1915, the inertia and the passivity of the international community have caused other people to suffer large scale massacres. Beside the Jewish people, whom I mentioned earlier, we could mention the war in Biafra, Nigeria, from 1967 to 1970, where a whole civilian population was deliberately starved in front of helpless young French doctors who were later to create the organization Médecins sans frontières.
In 1978, in Cambodia, the Khmers Rouges deported all political opponents into the countryside and into the fields. One million and a half of these deportees never came back and, a few years later, giant mass graves were discovered. Since then, the Cambodian government has built a museum gathering together the evidence of this genocide so that the victims will never be forgotten.
This sort of slaughter is still going on, brought to us live on television for our passive consumption. We watched powerless as the tragedy unfolded in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing took place in Bosnia. I call upon each member sitting in this House to ask themselves how many other similar massacres we are going to allow. What is our responsibility as elected representatives to prevent other tragedies and suffering?
Since my arrival in this House, I have on many occasions criticized the government for its failure to do anything to recognize the Armenian genocide. But recently, I was shocked and outraged to learn that, in addition to doing nothing in this regard, the government has actually exerted pressure on the City of Montreal
to halt the construction of a monument to the memory of peoples martyred in modern times, particularly the Armenians.
According to representatives of the Armenian national committee, the mayor of Montreal admitted that the Minister for International Cooperation, and member for Papineau-Saint-Michel, had intervened to stop the plan to build a monument commemorating the Armenian genocide. Despite the minister's denials, the mayor of Montreal stood by what he said. The mayor of Montreal has always stood by what he says.
Already in 1990, the Turkish ambassador wrote to Mayor Doré requesting that another monument not refer to the Armenian genocide. These dubious actions make us wonder if the present Canadian government has an official policy of putting a price tag on its principles. They are a reminder of other events in which the Canadian government intervened in an equally deplorable manner.
In 1988, under another government, a senior official of the Department of External Affairs wrote to the Ottawa school board to object to the mention of the Armenian genocide in school textbooks. This official then explained to the media that the Canadian government had taken the action so as not to jeopardize millions of dollars in commercial contracts with Turkey.
When a Canadian monument to human rights was erected in 1991, undue pressure was apparently brought to bear by foreign governments, leading to the suppression of two plaques referring to the Armenian genocide and the massacre in Tiananmen Square.
In fact, since coming to power, this government, like the one before it, has adopted the despicable habit of subordinating the respect of human rights to political and economic interests. Over the years, Canada has acquired an excellent reputation the world over, not just for its respect of human rights within its own borders, but also for its involvement internationally in the promotion of human rights and the values of tolerance and peace, ideals held by all citizens of this country whatever their political stripe. Unfortunately, the recent events in Somalia have tarnished our reputation.
Our government too has recently changed its foreign policy. In the future, in order to ensure the media success of the Prime Minister's tours abroad, any public challenge of these countries' human rights record must be avoided.
The episode of an embarrassed Prime Minister, as 13 year old Craig Kielburger travelled to India to denounce forced child labour in his presence, is most revealing. I remember also the red carpet and honour guard treatment for Rumanian dictator Ceausescu under the Conservative government, which wanted to sell him a nuclear reactor. A few months later, after Ceausescu's overthrow and execution, the Prime Minister of the day rejoiced at the fall of this blood-thirsty tyrant. In the case of Turkey, sales of both a nuclear reactor and weapons are involved. There is spinelessness, whether Conservatives or Liberals are in power.
This type of behaviour, in which injustices are denounced only when it is worthwhile for publicity or political gain, is contrary to traditional Canadian values. Canadians want this government to have principles and to stand up for them at all times. That does not mean that all trade with certain countries must be cut off if we do not approve of their human rights record, but we must make it very clear to them that trading with them does not indicate approval, that it will not stop us from criticizing them if they commit reprehensible acts.
Canadians do not expect complacency from their government; they expect it to denounce injustices throughout the world. I will offer a few examples of flagrant human rights violations which our government prefers to ignore.
After the Gulf War against Iraq, Canada took part in operation "Provide Comfort", aimed at protecting the Kurd populations in northern Iraq against bloody attacks by Sadam Hussein's government forces. On the other side of the border at the same time, only a few kilometres away, the Turkish government was arresting and executing hundreds of Kurds rebelling against its authority. But, because the government of Turkey is our ally, we closed our eyes. How could there be good Kurds who merited our protection, and bad Kurds whose fate we did not care about?
During Team Canada's trip to China, and when Chinese officials visited our country, the government remained totally silent in the face of the repression against pro-democracy Chinese since the Tiananmen square massacre. Nor has a word been said about the methodical process of assimilating the Tibetan people. Recently, the hon. members for Longueuil and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce have spoken out against the torture and summary executions in East Timor, which is under military occupation by Indonesia.
Finally, the hundreds of casualties in recent months in Burundi, victims of the clashes between Hutu and Tutsi, make us fear a repeat of the genocide that occurred in neighbouring Rwanda. Although the term "genocide" frightens the Canadian government so, it did use it in reference to Rwanda. Will it allow another tragedy to happen when there is still time for something to be done?
In order to show our respect for all the victims of the past and to reaffirm our determination to use all our energy to prevent new massacres, I ask the government to officially recognize the Armenian genocide as a historical fact.
Canada is far from being a leader on this issue. Actually, it is behind the times, because many foreign governments and parliaments have already recognized and condemned the Armenian genocide.
The Permanent People's Tribunal declared, on April 16, 1984: "The Armenian genocide is an imprescriptible crime against humanity and an international crime for which the Turkish state must take responsibility".
On August 20, 1985, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights recognized the Armenian massacre by the Ottoman Empire as one of the genocides of the 20th century.
The parliament of the Argentina and the national assembly of Uruguay also recognized it. On June 18, 1987, the European Parliament recognized the historical fact of the Armenian genocide and added that the refusal of the Turkish state to recognize the genocide was an obstacle to Turkey's joining the European Community.
On April 22, 1994, the Douma, or Russian parliament, recognized the Armenian genocide and severely condemned its authors. On April 27, 1994, the Israeli government officially condemned the Armenian genocide despite the fact that Turkey is Israel's ally in the region. The secretary of state for foreign affairs declared:
"We will reject any attempt to erase its record even for some political advantage."
This was an act of courage on the part of the Israeli government.
In May of last year, Bob Dole, the leader of the Republican majority in the Senate of the United States and a Republican candidate in the presidential elections condemned Turkey for persisting in its refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide. He declared:
"I recently with many of my colleagues called on the president, Mr. Clinton, to reaffirm the Armenian genocide as a crime against humanity as he did many times in the 1992 presidential campaign."
Finally, I want to point out that, as early as 1980, the Quebec national assembly and the Ontario legislature, which together represent 60 per cent of the Canadian population, both officially recognized the Armenian genocide and asked the Parliament of
Canada to also do so on behalf of all Canadians. I hope that this clear message will finally be heard by the federal government.
In 1994, when he was premier, the ally of the federal government and leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec, Mr. Daniel Johnson, stated: "The anniversary of the Armenian genocide reminds us of one of the most tragic moments in the history of our century and moves us to express our deep sympathy for this people". We are not going to water down the proposal by trying to replace the term genocide.
The German government, which long ago acknowledged its moral responsibility in the Jewish genocide by the Nazi regime and has offered reparation, must be given credit. The German Criminal Code even provides for sanctions against people who try to deny this historical fact. More recently, the Russian government courageously acknowledged its responsibility in the execution in 1940 of 4,500 Polish officers in the Katyn forest. Turkey has historical responsibilities and must bear them.
On several different occasions, a number of members of this House have spoken about the Armenian genocide. It is now time to act. I ask all members to convince their colleagues to vote in favour of this motion and to take advantage of the 81st anniversary of the Armenian genocide to take a courageous stand on behalf of our fellow men and women who face difficult circumstances in countries where democracy has not yet prevailed.
The Deputy Speaker
I would inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, Government Orders will be extended by 72 minutes.
Sarkis Assadourian Don Valley North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have followed very carefully the comments made by the hon. member for Ahuntsic. I want to take this opportunity to thank him for his presentation but also I want to remind him that the way he went about doing this was quite upsetting to me. However, that is said and done, it has passed and I want to go forward to the future.
The hon. member made a comment in his statement that the mayor of Montreal promised to erect a statue to commemorate the genocide of the Armenians in 1915. Then he went on to blame the federal government for intervening in this matter.
I want the record to show clearly that neither federal government in any way, shape or form nor the Department of Foreign Affairs were involved in the promise made by the mayor of Montreal. I want him to correct that statement please because that is not the case. The Government of Canada does not get involved in the erection or the removal of monuments.
I was previously involved with the Vietnamese monument here in the city of Ottawa. The Government of Canada took the same position when the Vietnam monument was erected. That is the same position the government has taken in the case of the monument in Montreal which was promised, reneged on and not delivered by the mayor of Montreal.
Michel Daviault Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments. I want to point out that The Gazette reported comments attributed to members of the national Armenian committee concerning the monument to be erected in Montreal to commemorate the genocide. The comments of the mayor of Montreal were also reported, and the mayor did not deny them. But these comments were denied-
Eleni Bakopanos Saint-Denis, QC
The mayor's comments or the minister's comments?
Michel Daviault Ahuntsic, QC
The mayor's comments were denied by the minister. No, the mayor did not confirm the minister's comments.
The Minister of International Cooperation and of the mayor of Montreal disagree on what happened. When I asked a question in this House, the member for Saint-Léonard told me that the minister had only restated the way the Canadian government dealt was handling this issue. It is already quite something to repeat that the Government of Canada prefers not to use the word genocide, that it wants to use the words atrocities and tragedy, but not the word genocide. This word was used for the genocide in Rwanda, but the government still does not want to use it concerning Armenia.
Today, you will have a chance to vote on the motion, on the term genocide. If you want to take on the unenviable task of changing the motion by deleting the term genocide, you will be showing your true colours. Then, Armenians and Canadians will know where you stand on this issue.
Eleni Bakopanos Saint-Denis, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the opposition member on introducing this motion in the House. I would point out, as did my colleague, that it was the member for Don Valley North who initially introduced this motion in the House of Commons.
Secondly, I would perhaps echo my colleague's question and comments. It is all very well to read the comments by the mayor of Montreal in the papers, but there is no evidence. I would like the hon. opposition member to provide written or verbal proof that the minister or a representative of the Canadian government said we were opposed to a monument being erected.
There is no proof, it was only the mayor's word. It is the mayor of Montreal, Mr. Bourque, who is responsible for this matter. He must assume his responsibilities and keep his word to the Armenian community and to others, because the monument is not just for the Armenian genocide, but for all crimes against humanity. We were 100 per cent in favour of the idea, and there is no evidence to the contrary. I would prefer people did not invent stories and did not attribute remarks to someone, if they are not what the person said in this House.
I would also like to ask the opposition member what led him to raise this motion in the House at this specific point in time.