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
- Gasoline Prices
- Auto Leasing
- The Armenian People
- Springtime In Ottawa
- The Late Clara Smallwood
- Goods And Services Tax
- Liberal Party
- Unemployment Insurance Reform
- Coast Guard
- Somalia Inquiry
- Krever Inquiry
- Middle East
- Presence In Gallery
- Bank Act
- Department Of Human Resources Act
- Department Of Health Act
- Department Of Human Resources Development Act
Oral Question Period
Pierre Pettigrew Papineau—Saint-Michel, QC
Canada has asked for a ceasefire in the Middle East and we will continue to closely monitor the situation and to support all the negotiations currently going on at the diplomatic level.
We hope that the parties will reach an agreement soon. In fact, the Government of Canada is ready to support these efforts. We also made our views known to the Security Council, on April 18. We supported the resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East. We have asked other states to support this resolution and the ongoing diplomatic negotiations and to respect the territorial integrity of the Lebanese Republic.
Canada considers all these attacks on the civilian population and United Nations personnel totally unacceptable. Canada is particularly-
Oral Question Period
I am sorry, but I have to interrupt the hon. member, although he did give a good answer.
Oral Question Period
Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, my question is for the right hon. Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance said in their most recent budget they had done what they could do and that it was now up to the private sector to create jobs.
The private sector seems to be giving the Salmon Arm salute to the budget in respect of the challenge issued to the private sector. We see a Kenworth plant using NAFTA to take jobs out of Quebec and go to Mexico, GM outsourcing, and putting pressure on wages.
When will the Prime Minister get tough with Canada's corporate sector and make it act like the responsible corporate citizen he wants it to be? When will do something about this kind of behaviour?
Oral Question Period
Jean Chrétien Prime Minister
Mr. Speaker, in the last three months the economy has created 135,000 jobs.
Since we formed the government, two and a half years ago this week, the economy has created 596,000 jobs.
Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period
April 23rd, 1996 / 3 p.m.
I draw the attention of the House to the presence in the gallery of one of our peacekeepers. Permit me to bask a little in his personal glory for what he did for Canada in that he is a former student of mine.
I refer you to Chief Superintendent Gaetan Neil Pouliot, the former commissioner of civilian police for the U.N. mission in Haiti.
Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period
Some hon. members
The House resumed of the motion, the amendment, and the amendment to the amendment.
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of those at home who have not been following this debate, once in a while there is a debate that speaks to the very heart of what Parliament is all about and what the world parliament should all be about and how we relate one to another.
The Bloc put forward a motion today that would call on the Government of Canada to use the word genocide in condemnation of what transpired primarily in the years around 1915 by the Turks, addressed primarily to the Armenians.
The motion was amended by the Liberals to take the word genocide out. Liberals opposite would concur with the notion that genocide did take place but for political reasons cannot use the word genocide. Our position was to insert the word genocide in a subamendment so as to be true to the meaning the Bloc originally put forward.
This is a particularly important debate. While the events took place many years ago and half way around the world, they affect each and every one of us every day.
A couple of years ago I was at a dinner party. A person there, now in his sixties, a great raconteur, was regaling us with stories of his youth. He name is Jack Cohen. He was telling us of the time when he was in an orphanage in Montreal. When he was four years old he and his twin brother saw this great man come into the orphanage to pick out a child. They knew, just like a bunch of puppies I guess, they had to get up and catch the attention of the person coming into the orphanage if they were to get a home.
He and his brother were a little older than some of the other children in the orphanage. When this man came in each of them grabbed Jack Cohen's father by the leg and would not let go.
We were laughing about the word picture of these two little boys holding on to this man who had been sent to Montreal from Edmonton get a little girl, as it turns out. They would not let go. When he came home he was telling how his mother found she had twin boys rather than a little girl.
It was one of those stories that we laugh at but inside in our hearts we are kind of crying at the tragedy that caused this to take place. It is funny because of the ability of Jack as a storyteller to make what is really a tragic story palatable and something that we could understand.
Jack and his brother were not alone. There were thousands and thousands of children just like him who were survivors of the death camps. Every relative Jack and his twin brother had was exterminated. Because they were twins they were put into a special compound and for one reason or another they managed to survive. What does this have to do with the debate at hand? How do we get to that?
We get to it because of the notion of denial. This is the elemental concern behind the government's position and why the government is in great difficulty voting for this motion when it incorporates the word genocide. Even though the Governments of Quebec and Ontario in 1980 passed unanimous motions stating the Turkish government should be made to recognize what had gone on, when we as a government aid and abet a denial we are participating in the cover-up.
I know Canadians do not want to be part of it. I am sure the vast majority of Turks today would not want to be part of a cover-up. The only way we can possibly learn from history is to recognize it and go on from there.
For people watching not all that familiar about the events that took place, let me go back through a bit of history. This really did not start in 1915. It started even before the late 1800s. The Chinese built a great wall to protect themselves from the Ottoman hordes, as they are described. The Armenians had been occupying that part of the world for 3000 years. The Turks came into that part of the world and began moving them out. It really started to take definition in the late 1800s.
In 1915 all men between 16 and 60 were drafted into the army. There being two sides to every story, and there always is a shade of grey, it is important to understand that the Turks' position is that the Armenians joined the Russians and were fighting with the Russians against the Turks. That is why the genocide took place. That is why they were moved out and moved offshore.
There is a good deal of dispute about the exact numbers. However, does it matter if it was 1.5 million, 1 million or 800,000? If it was one it was one too many. Genocide, as defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary is the mass extermination of human beings, especially of a particular race or nation. Any mass slaughter is by definition genocide. One cannot whitewash genocide. We cannot use words to make it sound better. Genocide is genocide.
The ground zero of the genocide that took place against the Armenians in Turkey is when, on April 24, 1915, the interior minister of Turkey said in 50 years the only Armenians will be in museums.
Today all that remains in Turkey of the Armenians, who were the people who were there first, are between 30,000 and 50,000, most in Istanbul. Today the situation in Turkey for the Armenians left is such that when their churches, schools and cultural institutions need repair the Armenians must apply to the interior ministry of Turkey to have them repaired.
What is the link between my story of Jack Cohen and the situation that exists today? It is this. Hitler, when asked before the holocaust what would mankind say in light of what he was doing, responded: "Who remembers the Armenians?" The genocide against the Armenians was the foundation of other genocides to come. It was the foundation for the mass extermination of the Jews of Europe.
What is so chilling, so frightening, so repulsive about what is going on in our world today and how does it link to the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians? In my view the link is denial.
Who will speak for all of the dead? Who will speak for those who will die in future genocides if we do not recognize and honour those who died before us? In my view it is the denial of what took place that is the most reprehensible aspect of what is before us today. We know we cannot change history. We know we cannot reverse the hands of time. We know that what happened, happened. We know that Canada has a relationship with Turkey today. We know and understand that the vast majority of people in Turkey had nothing to do with what happened in 1915 and would be just as repulsed today as we are.
Basically people are good, but genocide goes on day after day all around the world. We do not seem to learn from our mistakes. Perhaps that is because in one way or another we try to pretend that it does not exist because it is just too hard to bear.
That is what is going on in Canada and around the world with the holocaust denial. That is why it is so important that light is brought to this situation so that those who went before us are not forgotten.
In Canada, even as we speak, people deny the holocaust. They say it was impossible. How could mankind be so cruel? How could a cultured and enlightened people perpetrate such a horror against mankind, such a horror against the Jews and others, but specifically against the Jews? How could the people of a whole nation turn their eyes or not see it?
Perhaps there is a germ of a reason for that in what is happening today. Perhaps we do not believe what we do not want to believe. Let me give an example of what is going on today in holocaust denial and link it to the events which took place in 1915 in Turkey.
The people at the Ecole polytechnique in Montreal and the University of Montreal will shortly hear a speaker. There will be at Ecole polytechnique a conference sponsored by 15 Muslim organizations. The person speaking is a revisionist historian and anti-Semite, Roger Garaudy. This person is coming to these two institutions. He has a right in a free society to express his views.
The problem is that when someone in a free society is able to expound his revisionist theories which are generally known to be untrue and does so as an academic, that person puts a cloak of respectability on history which was not there before.
We live in a free society and people have the right to say what they will, provided they are not spreading hate propaganda. The fact is these revisionists, these people who are rewriting history, must be challenged and challenged at every opportunity. If we do not, we run a risk. What will certainly happen is that we will repeat the mistakes we made in the past.
I would like to conclude my comments with this thought: Anything that diminishes any one of us as a human being hurts and diminishes all of us. We are all human beings. Regardless of our gender, skin colour, sexual orientation we are all human beings. We are all children of the same God. When any one of us is diminished we are all diminished.
It is desperately important that every time violations of human rights occur, for example, the revisionists who deny history, who try to change history and cloak what actually happened with some sort of respectability, or the apologists for something that is beyond apology, then others must stand up and tell the truth of what happened. We cannot pretend it did not happen. It is important for our grandchildren that we are aware of the foundation and where we came from.
Sarkis Assadourian Don Valley North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by the hon. member from the Reform Party.
Why does the hon. member think that the Turkish government today, 81 years after the fact of the genocide, still denies the crime
that its ancestors committed in 1915? Why does Turkey not follow the example set by Germany to accept the responsibility and address the issue? No matter what kind of resolutions we pass in this House or any Parliament in this country, the responsibility remains: The Turkish government has to accept responsibility.
Why does Turkey up until now, 81 years after the fact, still refuse to accept responsibility for 1915?
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
Mr. Speaker, that question speaks to the nub of what is going on here today. It also speaks to the difficult position the government is in.
I am quite certain that the vast majority of members opposite would like to support a resolution which includes the word genocide, but do not because of geopolitics or whatever.
As I understand it, the Government of Turkey would go a long way to address the problems concerning this by recognizing what has taken place. Turkey applied three years ago for admission into the European community and was refused admission because it has not recognized its complicity in the events of the genocide of 1915.
That was a condition of entry into the European community and Turkey will not do it. It will not because it feels that they were wartime casualties and that no deliberate mass slaughter took place. Turkey says that the Armenians who died had aligned themselves with Russia, were enemies of Turkey and that the relocation of Armenians who perished, because the relocation took place in the winter, had been collaborators in the Russian army. There is also concern that by admitting guilt or by admitting complicity the Turks would be leaving themselves open to judgments or to claims against them.
I believe the very best thing the Government of Turkey can do at this time is to say: "We were wrong. We would never do that again. It is a blight on our history. We recognize it as being wrong". That is exactly what the German government has done.
I attended a wedding on the weekend. The minister said there are nine words which should never be forgotten in making a marriage work and last. At least six of those words could be used in our relations with other countries and six of those words could be used by the Government of Turkey in addressing the Armenians. Those nine words were: "I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you". I suspect, as the minister said in conducting the marriage service, that if the Government of Turkey were to say to the Armenian community: "I am sorry. Please forgive what has happened and let us live together in peace," it would be the beginning of a first step to a new future.
Maurice Bernier Mégantic—Compton—Stanstead, QC
Mr. Speaker, you are indicating that I have one minute left to ask a question or make a brief comment. I will comment the question and then go back to my colleague for Edmonton Southwest regarding the member for Don Valley North. I find it odd that he should put such a question to our Reform colleague; he should have put it to the government since the government, through the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, moved an amendment to the motion we brought forward, with a view to considering not so much the genocide of Armenians as the tragedy it represents.
The problem today is on the government side. We agree with the member for Don Valley North that pressure should be brought to bear on the Turkish government to get it to recognize the genocide of Armenians and take measures to right, if possible, the wrongs done to this community.
As far as my colleague for Edmonton Southwest is concerned, I want first to congratulate him on his speech. Liberal members like to depict Reform members as right-wing. My colleague, who also sits on the human rights committee, has taken a perfectly correct position and shown how important human rights are for him and how important it is not to make any compromise in this respect.
My question goes along the same lines. I would like my colleague to tell us what his position and his party's position are with regard to human rights and international trade.
How far should Canada go in making concessions? Should it make any at all? For my part, I believe it should make none, but in his opinion, how far should the government go in making concessions regarding human rights and international trade?
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the kind words.
The only way we can possibly affect the way a particular country might work within its own borders as far as human rights are concerned is if we have a dialogue. There are situations in which if all countries work in unison we may be able to force an issue as far as human rights are concerned. We have far more to gain by ensuring that we can work with a country to somehow imbue that country with our notion of what is correct and right as far as human rights are concerned.
When the situation is one where a ruler or a regime goes beyond what is right, then the only way Canada can show it will not participate or will not countenance a particular situation is to cut
off trade and dissociate itself from that. As long as there is the possibility of improving the relationship with a particular country then I think we have the right and the responsibility to trade and work with it while constantly trying to improve its human rights record. If it cannot and will not be done, then we have a moral responsibility to have nothing to do with that country.
Cape Breton Highlands—Canso
Francis Leblanc Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Speaker, we have before us today an important motion calling for the commemoration of the tragic events of April 1915 in Armenia. The motion asks the House to recognize the week of April 20 to 27 of each year as the week to commemorate man's inhumanity to man.
The proposed motion refers to the concept of genocide, a concept relatively recent as to form and content. In fact it was defined and codified only in 1948, when the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide was adopted.
We do acknowledge that the Armenian community was victimized and that Armenian people were killed in 1915, but we must remain cautious in defining those events with a concept that was coined and codified only years later.
Also, the Turkish government of today is not the Ottoman empire of yesterday, which was responsible for the killings. The word "genocide" entails specific obligations, as stated in the provisions of the international convention.
The question is, if this House were to acknowledge that the concept applies to the events of 1915, could that bring about an obligation to some form of compensation for historical prejudice? I applaud today's motion because it forces all Canadians to reflect upon history.
It is difficult to imagine anything positive resulting from the horrific events that marked the first half of this century. The tremendous loss of millions of innocent victims such as the Armenians in April 1915 continues to haunt us today. Perhaps however the victims of these calamities did not suffer and die in vain. From their courage and our collective shame has emerged a strong legacy, the recognition of human rights as a duty of all states.
Grounded in the universal declaration of human rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948, this legacy has led to an impressive collection of human rights instruments. These documents set out the rights of the individual and equally important, the corresponding duties of states to respect, protect and promote those rights.
Why should Canadians care about human rights in far off places? Human rights violations affect us all. They undermine our basic humanity and prevent us as a global society from progressing. Equally important, when these abuses reach widespread and systemic levels, our own security is threatened. The Minister of Foreign Affairs said it best during his recent statement to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights:
If we turn away from the desolation and dismay of human suffering, if we fail to stop hatred from flowing through the channels of our new electronic networks, if we do not care about the present or future of vulnerable children, if we do not stand up to the despots and bullies, if we do not counter the capricious and arbitrary actions of authoritarian governments with no legitimacy beyond weaponry and terror, then we will face the harsh consequences down the road.
It is therefore very much in the interests of Canadians to work to prevent human rights abuses throughout the world so as to avoid the kinds of tragic events we have heard described in the House. If we compare the protection of human rights today with the situation of 80 years ago when the Armenian massacre occurred, we see tremendous progress.
Drawing inspiration from the universal declaration, numerous international treaties and principles have been adopted. The two international covenants represent the most important of these, but the many other instruments address specific fundamental human rights concerns, everything from genocide and torture to the rights of women, children and the disabled.
These instruments have broadened the scope of human rights and have enhanced protection for all of us. The task of defining and codifying human rights is largely complete although important areas remain to be addressed, such as human rights defenders and the rights of indigenous people.
We must recognize that the framework of human rights instruments is not in itself sufficient to protect us from the scourge of human rights abuses. We need only look at the events in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda among others to acknowledge that humanity still has failed to rid itself of acts of barbarism and hatred. The Canadian government is firmly committed to finding lasting solutions to these problems.
As a recognized leader in the human rights field internationally, Canada has worked to develop the institutions and machinery to ensure that human rights recognized on paper are respected in reality. In organizations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, the Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Canada has and continues to play an active role in advancing the human rights agenda.
One of the most important developments in recent years is the creation of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Responsible for the co-ordination of all human
rights activities within the UN system, the high commissioner is poised to play an influential role in strengthening protection of human rights.
Although severely underfunded, the creation of the post has already had a salutary effect. In the aftermath of the Rwanda crisis, the high commissioner was able to mobilize a team of human rights monitors and establish them on the ground. Despite some initial problems, the human rights mission has helped to improve the situation for Rwandans, both in the country and in the refugee camps. Canada played an important role in the establishment of this mission.
Recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced a further contribution of $500,000 to support the human rights field operations in Rwanda. A separate grant of $300,000 was also announced by the minister for a similar program in the former Yugoslavia. These operations of the high commissioner are critical for they represent the first forays into the areas of early warning conflict prevention and post-conflict peacekeeping.
The ability of the United Nations and specifically the high commissioner for human rights to place observers and monitors on the ground should go a long way toward identifying the root causes of gross violations of human rights and to play a role in finding solutions to these problems.
These monitoring operations can and should play the role of the eyes of the international community, alerting the world to potential disasters in the making. In so doing they can hopefully provide sufficient time to allow the United Nations or other bodies to prevent or minimize human rights abuses.
A key element of the field operations is human rights education and training of the military, police and other important actors. Breaking down the culture of violence is fundamental to finding lasting solutions. Through education and training, the UN is seeking to create an ingrained respect for the rule of law among those in places of authority. The goal is laudable but it is impossible to achieve in the world's troubled areas unless the international community devotes greater resources to the UN's human rights program.
Canada is doing its part even as we work to put our own financial house in order. The challenge for Canada is to maintain its commitment and convince other states of the critical importance of supporting the UN high commissioner.
Monitoring and training are but one part of the efforts to prevent gross violations of human rights. A second important factor is for the international community to send a clear signal to the perpetrators of human rights abuses that their transgressions will no longer be tolerated. The tribunals established to deal with war criminals in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda are an important start. Already a number of persons have been charged and prosecutions are expected to commence in the near future.
As critical as these tribunals are, they remain ad hoc bodies established to deal with the circumstances arising from two tragic events. Will the necessary political will exist to establish similar bodies should these types of events happen elsewhere?
To avoid the problem of attempting to develop solutions in the immediate aftermath of an incident, the world community today is considering the establishment of a permanent international criminal court to deal with war criminals. Negotiations on the court have commenced under UN auspices. While the negotiations are difficult, Canada, which is playing an active role, is hopeful that a positive outcome can be achieved. Once established, the court will stand as a monument to the international community's resolve to fight barbarism and to punish those who would shock the conscience of the world.
As regards Armenia, Canada is a friend of Armenia. Although this country is only four years old, Canada has been working to help Armenia deal with the problems of nation building and to resolve the difficulties which that country and that society have had to deal with in the early stages of its nationhood.
For example, Canada has supported Armenia in dealing with the ravages of an earthquake in the Leninakan region in 1988 and has been contributing to finding a solution to the debilitating war in the Nagorno-Karabakh which has extracted a terrible toll on the people of the region and has aggravated the difficulties of building that nation in that region.
I have spoken at length on human rights. I cannot overemphasize their importance in preventing the kinds of situations we are discussing today: the massacres, ethnic cleansing and other egregious acts such as the Armenian tragedy of 1915, that have occurred in the past and which we have again recently witnessed, all started with isolated violations of human rights.
Would the situations in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia have occurred as they did if international human rights institutions had been in place to alert and the international community ready and willing to act effectively to protect the victims of the initial human rights violations? We may never know, but the chances are that some lives and some communities could have been spared the suffering they endured. We owe it to them, to past victims of widespread transgressions and to ourselves to do what we can to ensure that these atrocities do not happen again.
Through its continued active participation in the UN and other international bodies, and through our support for human rights institutions such as the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights, Canada can make a difference.
I salute the Bloc Quebecois motion. At the same time, to fully give justice to all those, first among them the Armenians who by birth or ancestry have been victimized by the inhumanity of war and oppression, I call on the House to join with the government in supporting an amendment which will proclaim the week of April 20 to 27 each year as the week to remember the inhumanity of people toward one another.
Maurice Bernier Mégantic—Compton—Stanstead, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the remarks made by my colleague from Cape Breton Highlands-Canso. He referred to all the decisions made by Canada to participate in peacekeeping missions. He ended his speech by reminding us of Canada's great friendship with Armenia, but his last words reflected his government's tendency to play down the importance of the 1915 events and to dodge the real issue, namely the 1915 genocide of the Armenian people.
Since my colleague has established a link with the first world war, as though it were the only motive for trying to exterminate a whole people, I would like him to elaborate on this.
My question concerns international trade. I would like our colleague to tell us to what extent Canada, or its government, must overlook human rights in order to maintain trade relations with any country that abuses human rights?
Francis Leblanc Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, NS
Mr. Speaker, I thank the Bloc member for his question. Canada does not deny what occurred in 1915. However, the term "genocide" is very specific in international law and was defined only later. It became part of the international corpus of human right legislation only later, and the Government of Canada feels that this is not the term to use to describe tragedies, massacres or events which occurred earlier in history.
It goes without saying that we live in an imperfect world and, throughout history, many events showed man's inhumanity to man. Canada is at the forefront of nations to create a structure which, in the future, will limit if not eliminate such events. We want to create a sense of respect for human rights, whether in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda or elsewhere, to make sure that we remember the lessons of history and do not repeat them.
This is what the policy of the Canadian government aims to do. We want to ensure that, without necessarily always looking back, we move forward by creating a sense of respect for human rights. We must work at the international level to create structures that will allow us to anticipate problems. We must prevent massacres which, unfortunately, continue to occur in certain parts of the world. Over time, by working together as members of the international community, we hope to gradually eliminate such tragedies.