House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was turkey.

Topics

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5:15 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion at report stage and second reading of Bill C-18.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried.

It being 5:50 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

, seconded by the members for Brampton Centre, Calgary Southeast and Halifax, moved:

That this House acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemn this act as a crime against humanity.

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I want to thank the members of the Conservative Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party, particularly the hon. members for Calgary Southeast and Halifax, who also wanted to second my motion.

We are debating today a matter that has, with time, become routine in the House of Commons. However, today's debate on acknowledging the Armenian genocide of 1915 has particular force this time, since it is a votable motion, unless a premature election call puts an end to our work in Parliament.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have long been interested in this matter. They know, as I do, that it is essential to acknowledge history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Acknowledging the past also changes how we see and therefore analyze current and future socio-political conflicts that risk turning into genocide.

I want to review the Parliament's acknowledgement in the past of the Armenian genocide, the strategies used by the lobby denying its existence, the situation in Quebec and abroad and, in conclusion, discuss the facts and the importance of voting in favour of Motion M-380.

First, the motion reads as follows:

That this House acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemn this act as a crime against humanity.

Since the beginning of the 37th Parliament, in other words, since the last federal election in 2000, this is the fourth time we are debating a motion to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. Of the three motions previously debated, I had the pleasure to introduce two of them and the member for Brampton Centre put forward the other.

Although most of the speeches were in favour of acknowledging the genocide, we have not had the opportunity to put this motion to a vote because of the old rules of procedure for private members' business. This is the first time in a long time that we will have the opportunity to truly take a position in this debate.

We have to go back to 1996 for the last vote in the House of Commons on this topic. At that time, parliamentarians, including myself, unanimously supported the following motion:

That the House recognize, on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the Armenian tragedy which claimed some 1.5 million lives on April 24, 1915, and in recognition of other crimes against humanity, the week of April 20 to 27 of each year as the week of remembrance of the inhumanity of people toward one another.

This motion put forward by the Bloc Quebecois and amended by the governing party, was certainly a step in the right direction. Nonetheless, note that it did not talk about genocide, but rather a tragedy. This was not the wording originally proposed. We initially talked about an act of genocide, but it seemed to be difficult for some parliamentarians to use this term, which is how we ended up with the amendment we did.

However, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since and that is why it is all the more important to update the debate. Moreover, as surprising as it may seem in the Parliament of Canada, the Senate was the precursor to all of this.

On June 13, 2002, the Senate of Canada adopted a motion that had essentially three objectives: to recognize the events of 1915 as genocide; to condemn any attempt to deny or distort this historical truth as being anything less than genocide; and, to designate April 24 of every year as a day of remembrance of the Armenian genocide.

The Senate adopted this motion and the Earth continues to turn. This did not result in acts of violence or terrorist attacks, as certain opponents of Motion M-380 would unfortunately have us believe.

It would be useful at this point to rectify certain facts as to the pressure coming from those who agree with the denial theory. That they do not agree with my actions, I can imagine. That they do not share my viewpoint on history, no one would be surprised. By the way, we all know that history should be read with care, because it has the weakness of having been written by the victors. Still I do not approve of using a fear of terrorism to discredit the recognition of the Armenian genocide and I refuse to agree to the statement that motion M-380 is tainted with racism.

Demagoguery is certainly not the best way to enhance one's arguments. In that spirit, the various threats about peace and the deterioration of relations between Canada and Turkey do not consider the precedents for recognition of the Armenian genocide.

We must be clear that the House of Commons will not be creating a precedent by voting in favour of this motion. Just across the Ottawa River—and it was done in Ontario, too—the Quebec National Assembly officially recognized the genocide in 1980. More recently, on September 10, 2003, Quebec passed a law proclaiming April 24 Armenian genocide commemoration day.

Internationally, a number of states and parliaments have recognized the Armenian genocide. To name just a few: there was Argentina, Belgium, France, Russia, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and more recently, Switzerland. Many states in the U.S.—nearly 30—have also recognized this genocide.

The case of the European states and parliaments is particularly interesting. While Turkey threatened the countries that had recognized the genocide with economic and diplomatic retaliation, it was hoping, at the same time, to get support for its entry into the European union. These threats never became reality and the Turkish ambassador in Paris, having been called home for a short time after the genocide was recognized by the French National Assembly, returned to his duties.

This recognition did not stir up any particular tension in Franco-Turkish relations, nor did it provoke acts of violence or terrorism between French people of Armenian origin and those of Turkish origin.

Those who are against the motion will argue that history is for historians and that it is not up to politicians to determine what the truth is. Where facts are concerned, many experts, scholars, historians and researchers have examined them and came to the conclusion that a genocide did indeed occur. Among those experts were professor William Schabas, a specialist in international law, Léo Kuper, a genocide expert, and Raphaël Lemkin, an eminent contributor to the development of the United Nations Convention on Genocide. They have always recognized the 1915 genocide.

Among the politicians who have acknowledged the genocide are Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, two former British Prime Ministers, as well as Adolf Hitler, who said, and I quote:

Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?

To those who are still wondering if it is up to us to reflect on history, this should be food for thought.

At the beginning of the 20th century, 1.5 million Armenians were killed. They did not die while fighting during the first world war, but rather in the context of that war, which is quite different. Following on this argument, could we say today that the six million Jews who were killed during the second world war died on the battlefield? No, they were killed in the context of the second world war, but not because of the war, that goes without saying.

It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge today the very compassionate action taken during the 1939-45 war by the Turkish ambassador to France who saved a significant number of Jews from the Lyon area from the concentration camps and probable, if not certain, death.

Before World War I, 20% of the Turkish people were not Muslim, compared to 2.5% after the war. These figures are facts that have been recognized by a great number of historians and experts.

Why should hon. members support my initiative? Let me give an example. If a person wilfully commits a murder in front of you, if everyone knows about it, including lawyers, judges and police officers, but no one acknowledges that it is a murder, what criteria will people use in the future to distinguish what is a murder and what is not? Closing our eyes to a historic reality creates the risk of making this non-acknowledgement a form of precedent for events that are occurring now and that will occur in the future.

Planning a genocide requires well defined strategies and dynamics, and we must recognize them for what they are to understand the conditions that lead to such crimes against humanity. By acknowledging that the events of 1915 are a genocide, we will allow researchers, historians and academics to study what happened, while keeping in mind that this was indeed a genocide. These people can then compare various genocides and try to identify the similarities and the circumstances that are conducive to such acts.

Once we have all the tools needed to best understand how a genocide is organized, perhaps then the international community will be able to identify the signs in time to take immediate action instead of intervening too late, as happened in the Rwandan genocide, that this House just acknowledged.

The purpose of this acknowledgement is not to condemn the current Turkish government. Nor does Motion M-380 ask that it provide any reparations in terms of money or land to the Armenians. By acknowledging the Armenian genocide, Canada is not pointing a finger at the Turkish government. It is merely acknowledging history.

In closing, I want to reassure the Turkish community and tell them that this motion in no way attempts to hold them responsible for what happened in the early 20th century. What happened belongs in the past, and we must acknowledge it as such, since we are opposed to all forms of violence and the misfortunes that violence begets.

Obviously, we will not bring the victims back, but we will, at the very least, ensure that historical justice is rendered and give ourselves the tools we need to build a better world. During their lives, individuals and peoples are often wounded. The deeper the wounds, the longer it takes to heal. I truly believe that, by acknowledging the genocide perpetrated on the Armenian people, we will be helping to heal their scars and give them and the international community the desire to view the future in solidarity and with respect for our differences.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague. I know she is very passionate about this subject. We have had a number of opportunities to work together on this issue. I congratulate her once again on being tenacious enough to put forward her point of view once more on this subject that is very important for the Armenian community in Canada I also congratulate her for her overview of all the very important facts.

I am very sorry, but I have to say that on this side of the House there is no unanimity. There is certainly a lot of support, it is true, and we shall prove that to her when our turn comes.

I would like to ask her a question and give her the opportunity to provide more details. In the countries where this motion has already been adopted, have there been negative consequences? That is one of the criticisms one hears everywhere; that there will be negative fallout in the countries concerned.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her comments, which I greatly appreciate.

Obviously, economic threats sometimes are sometimes effective. They are used because people think they work well. All we know, particularly in the case of France, is that neither France nor Turkey has withdrawn from any of the various contracts connecting them. I am convinced that it will be the same here.

In business, people say money is money and that we pick one country over another based on whether it is in our economic interest to do so.

Just as we think that Canada will continue to negotiate with Quebec, because Canada wants to do business with Quebec, I think that, regarding the Armenian genocide and the possibility that the Turkish government may reconsider its investments in Quebec or the rest of Canada, this is another form of pressure. But as a parliamentarian and a member of the public, I know that this kind of thing has no influence on our collective decision.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois for presenting the motion.

I would ask the member for her comments on the following two questions. After the French government recently passed a motion on genocide, the Swiss government did a similar thing. Could she comment on the reaction by the Turkish government to protest the action of the Swiss government? That is my first question.

Second, we have received many letters of complaint from the Turkish point of view from the United States. Those are Americans telling us what to do. I wonder if she would comment on those two points.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my dear colleague for his question. It is clear that this is an extremely sensitive matter, as much for the Armenian people as for the Turkish community. I clearly understand this.

Whether they see this as the humiliation of the Turkish community or whether they use a very powerful lobby to try to influence the parliamentarians here, I can understand that too. Nevertheless, we have not necessarily all been impressed by comments by our American friends. The recent conflict in Iraq is clear proof.

Consequently, I sincerely hope that such pressure, which is fair game, will not have the intended influence.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member, in correspondence with different members in the House, has indicated that this will have no implications in terms of land or reparations. When the NDP introduced this motion in the House, it was not always part of its motion but in its stated policy it does in fact say that there should be reparations in land and other things that go back to the Armenian people.

I have a great sadness in my heart with regard to what happened in those awful days. However I am concerned that when one country, be it any country in the world, passes that, it is then used by the various--

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt but there is no time left in questions or comments.

With the Speaker's indulgence, I will allow the hon. member for Laval Centre to briefly respond.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, in this whole issue, reparations are not what really matters. What really matters is that the Armenian people know that their historic reality and the wounds that were inflicted on them be recognized by the international community. As far as I am concerned, this is about much more than a reparatoins. It is very easy to give money or a little something but, in fact, not to acknowledge anything.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the hon. members who are taking part in this debate. I would especially like to acknowledge, on our side, the tenacity of the members for Ahuntsic and Brampton Centre. This being my first time in this position, over the past few days they have provided me with a great deal of information on this issue. Now I am delivering a speech on this important topic. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Laval Centre, who put forward this motion, and the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes.

I would also like to thank everyone taking part in this great debate on the tragic events that took place between 1915 and 1923 during the first world war and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. These events resulted in many victims in the Armenian community and other communities in the region.

Many atrocities were perpetrated during those years and all of Europe, the Middle East and Asia Minor suffered a great deal. Millions of people were forcibly displaced and, in addition to the terrible anguish of the exodus, many did not survive. As we know, our government has expressed on many occasions, in the House and elsewhere, its profound compassion for the Armenian people and others who suffered so much during that period.

I would also like to quote a passage from a personal message sent by the former prime minister to Canadians of Armenian descent on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Armenian tragedy of 1915:

Canada recognizes and deplores the fact that a great number of Armenians were killed during the wars which marked the end of the Ottoman empire and extends its sympathy to the Armenian Community.

Following the war, numerous displaced Armenians came to Canada and their contribution, as well as that of their descendants, has greatly enriched Canadian society. It is my hope that the memories of the past will serve to remind us of the importance of tolerance and respect for the diversity of our people.

I would also like to reiterate that during the debate on the Armenian tragedy in 1996, and as mentioned earlier, the House adopted a motion recognizing the week of April 20 to 27 each year as a week of remembrance of the inhumanity of people toward one another.

Again I emphasize that on June 10, 1999, following comprehensive consultations, the position of the Government of Canada with regard to these events was clearly set out in a statement made in the House by the hon. member for Halton, speaking on behalf of the foreign affairs minister.

I would like to quote from a reply by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the House on April 18, 2002, to a question from our colleague, the member for Brampton Centre, in which the minister stated:

As [the hon. member] will recall, the government and the Prime Minister on many occasions have expressed the sympathy of our government and our people for the tragedy that occurred to the Armenian people with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The minister of course followed that with:

We still urge that we should consider these tragic events in their historical context and remember that we must move forward and try to ensure peace and harmony among all people.

These statements make it clear that we remember the suffering caused by this painful period and attach a great deal of importance to ensuring that the memory of this human tragedy is preserved in our collective consciousness and passed on to future generations.

Canada has always been a land of hope for the millions of immigrants who have settled here and those who continue to do so in a spirit of renewal and reconciliation. It is extremely important to keep this concept in mind. Our diversity remains one of our country's greatest qualities, helping us not only to forge economic, political and cultural links with the rest of the world, but also to project and promote our ideals and values such as tolerance, respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

We are all working toward ensuring that these values are reflected in the work of international organizations and in the tools developed to prevent any recurrence of the horrors of the past to uphold human rights. We have a highly credible voice in many countries and within international fora such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in discussing the real possibility that people of different origins and cultures can live together in peace and security.

The world of course listens to us because we speak knowledgeably of our own reality. Canada has steadfastly supported the development of international instruments to promote and uphold human rights and the rule of law.

We are particularly proud of Canada's leadership role in promoting major international initiatives such as the Ottawa convention on landmines and the International Criminal Court initiatives that are an integral part of Canada's global human security agenda.

We attach great importance to establishing positive, comprehensive and of course productive relationships with and between all the countries of the region, including Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Indeed, a stable, prosperous region where reconciliation has triumphed and mutual trust reigns could generate positive developments and spin-offs beyond the immediate borders of the countries concerned.

To place this issue in the context of a European dream, one characterized by reduced tensions and increasingly successful examples of peaceful solutions to political problems, the relations between Armenia and Turkey are of major concern. Again I would like to underscore what we have learned: that both Armenia and Turkey have begun negotiations to begin a process which will hopefully lead to the normalization of their relations.

We believe firmly that it is vital to establish contact, dialogue and relations when and where we can. This is why the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote to the foreign ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, encouraging dialogue and offering our willingness to play a supportive role. Now is not the time for the House to pass the motion, as this would only result in upsetting the ongoing dialogue between Armenia and Turkey.

I realize that the motion as brought forward is one that will pit members on a number of sides on various poles and I believe it is important for us to take into consideration the good work that has been done by a lot of people to try to bring this forward. A famous prime minister once said that we must strive for justice; it is impossible to do it at all turns but certainly the most important emphasis is justice in our own time.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the distinguished member from Calgary Southeast.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

You need unanimous consent to do so during private members' hour.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for unanimous consent to share my time.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?