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 armenians.
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Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the debate on the motion proposed by the official opposition.
The theme is man's inhumanity to man, an exhortation that we set aside a time every year to take note of this unfortunate subject. The subscript on the theme is the Armenian genocide of 1915.
Some amendments have been proposed by the government and by the third party dealing with technical aspects of the resolution and exhibiting some caution in terms of the use of the word "genocide."
Perhaps some of us are looking for ways to finesse the use of these historical facts, bring them into the present and find the proper pigeonhole, the proper categorization, the proper way to try to articulate it. I think there is some difficulty in doing that. Members on both sides of the House have articulated various perspectives on the difficulty. It is not easy to articulate events which happened a long time ago, in this case 81 years ago.
In any event, I have made up my mind. I made up my mind some time ago. I do not care about the technical aspects of this. I will leave that to others. Frankly, after 81 years we are at the point where the lawyers have become irrelevant.
I first became aware of what is being called the Armenian genocide about 12 years ago. I had an Armenian Canadian friend. He certainly did not become my friend to make me aware of the issue. However, in knowing his family I became aware of it.
About the same time I had the occasion to read an academic article in a British magazine of political philosophy and history. That magazine is called "Encounter". It was a well written and objective presentation of many aspects of history and political philosophy.
The article that I read was quite objective. It dealt with the then existing historical controversy about the issue of how many people actually died in the Armenian genocide. At the time, and perhaps still, there are conflicting views on the number. However it is measured, we are dealing with six or seven digits. However it is measured, it was, at least, a tragedy. It was the first genocide of this century. I have accepted that.
Irrespective of the vote on the motion and how the lawyers amend it, dovetail it and finesse it, I want Canadians to recognize what happened in 1915.
Since that time I have attended the annual commemoration of the April 1915 events. Everyone will know that the perpetrators were incapable of killing 1.5 million people on April 24, 1915. It went on for some time. At the time the world was engaged in another slaughter, the first world war. Millions were killed in that exercise. It happened at the same time that Lawrence of Arabia was pursuing his military career, perhaps 100 miles south of where this was happening. The world did not pay too much attention.
However, there were those who took note. I am pleased to say that there were those in Canada who took note. About 1921 some Canadians got together to bring to Canada some orphans of the Armenian genocide. Those orphans came to be known as the Georgetown boys. They were brought to a place near Georgetown, Ontario. While by present day standards it does not look too pretty, these orphans were parcelled out and taken to farms. They were not adopted. They had guardians. They were sent to school and they worked very hard on farms. Recently there was a commemoration of them by the Armenian community in Toronto which I attended. It was very moving.
These people are now very old. Most of them had smiles. However, the wrinkles in their hands and faces showed me something very real that happened 81 years ago.
We can all pick whatever term we like on this, tragedy, genocide, but all of us cannot help but pause and ask how this could have happened and to ask God not to let it happen again.
Following that, for the Armenians of that part of the Middle East and eastern Europe there was a diaspora. Those who were able to flee did. Those who were deported moved on. Somewhere between a few and many found their way, thankfully, to Canada, with the Armenian community regarding itself as a minority within Canada. Many of them have been mainstreamed, leading lives not so much as Armenian-Canadians but as Canadians of Armenian heritage.
However, one cannot forget that a huge chunk of people, part of one's heritage, was simply liquidated by a political entity, the Ottoman Empire. I was not alive during the time of the Ottoman Empire so I do not know what it was. I can read about it in the history books but I cannot reach back and touch it as part of history. However, those who survived those events have told me they happened. It is more than past due for the rest of the world to recognize it as it really was.
We should not leave this event alone in history without recognizing that man has on numerous occasions killed just as many in this century. There was the first world war, the Russian revolution which killed millions, and the genocidal German concentration camps which killed millions of Jews, Gypsies and political opponents.
We were a party to the second world war during which millions were killed. The Chinese Communist revolution was not a genocide but millions died. There was a massive slaughter of military personnel and civilians in Yugoslavia immediately following the first world war.
In the partition in India in 1947-48, two million people were killed trying to draw a line between India and Pakistan. It was a terrible tragedy. No one willed that one; it was man's inhumanity to man.
Just since I have had the privilege of serving as a member of Parliament, we have had the ugliness of the slaughter in Bosnia and in Rwanda.
This motion today is not just an attempt to recognize what happened in Armenia in 1915. It is an attempt by all Canadians to reconcile inside themselves with what has happened here, these tragedies, this death, these inhumanities. We have very little else we can use to help us reconcile inside ourselves. This resolution is one of the ways we can do it as a people.
We also wish, if we can, to reconcile ourselves with history. In this case it is my view the history books do not show exactly what happened. Maybe some do. Forgive me for not being able to read all the books and articles on this. However, in my experience as a Canadian and with my education I did not have access and was not made aware of the extent of this slaughter as I went through my schooling, as I was privileged to do for many years. I regret that we do not in a dedicated and comprehensive way try to make our students aware of some of these aspects of history.
I do not think we should be too partisan about the 1.5 million dead. I hope there is a way the opposition motion, the government amendment and the subamendment from the third party will resolve this in a unanimously adopted motion. It would be difficult
for anyone to vote against a motion when we are looking down a gun barrel at this many dead.
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for his fine intervention.
In the House on many occasions we have discussed genocides which have taken place around the world, from Armenia to Cambodia to the tragedies in Rwanda and Burundi.
Time after time we have said it is unfortunate, a tragedy, it is sad. What have we done to prevent genocide in the future?
I ask my hon. friend if he has any ideas on what the Canadian government could do and what he is prepared to do to intervene with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to make some constructive suggestions on how Canada can work with its partners in the international community to put forth ideas on collective actions that can be taken to prevent genocides.
Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question. I resist the urge to be too philosophical about a proposed solution. I am sure all members of the House are prepared to do what they can as legislators to advance Canada's role in the international arena in a way that would hopefully obviate the need to address these kinds of tragedies in the future.
I am compelled to recall a remark to me by a legislator of the Indian Parliament. In a conversation we were having about another issue he said you can only address the politics of a gun with a gun. This to me means that if there is a potential genocide or a slaughter by a machete or a gun or poisons the only way to deal with it is with force. That means the United Nations, of which Canada is a member, must pay more attention to the proposal of a rapid reaction force. That means using a gun against a gun, a blade against a blade.
If we want to sit around and be philosophical about why these things should not happen for the next half century we may end up watching another Rwanda or Cambodia without the means to stop it. We will end up simply wringing our hands.
The only short run solution to stop these things when they begin to brew is a rapid reaction force that will use force with prejudice for the purpose of ending what may appear to be a genocidal initiative.
Michel Daviault Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of his reply to my colleague's question, the hon. member referred to the symbolism of today's motion. I am a bit shocked because, to me, this is much more than a symbol.
One of the first things that struck me when I started working on the commemoration of the Armenian genocide was what Adolf Hitler, when he started his exactions from the Jews, asked the SS: "Who remembers the Armenian genocide nowadays?"
The first measure that a country must take when a genocide occurs is to make sure that it is not forgotten. The dictators of this world must be reminded that such atrocities will be taken into consideration by the international community. This is why Bloc Quebecois members and Reformers wish to keep the term genocide in the motion.
The word tragedy is not as strong. I ask the hon. member to reflect on the very nature of the motion and to support it because of its purpose, which is to make reference to the Armenian genocide and to be a concrete action whereby the government will remind the international community of such acts, which are all too common.
This is meant to be a comment. I would like to hear the hon. member's views on this.
Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I agree with almost all of what the member said. I congratulate him on introducing the motion. If somehow in the translation the word symbolic came across in my remarks, I do not recall using it or at least intending it. I do not consider there is anything symbolic in this at all. It means what it says.
In terms of how the voting goes on the motions and the technical words, I have already made my point that I do not want to be into the technical side of this at all. I made up my mind long ago about what went on 81 years ago. I simply want a resolution of the House that is effective for the very well intentioned purpose of the member opposite.
Maud Debien Laval East, QC
Mr. Speaker, the official opposition day on the Armenian genocide affords me the opportunity to speak on this most important matter. The debates surrounding this question are aimed at encouraging the Canadian government to officially recognize the genocide of 1915. This crime against humanity is, we believe, something that must not be left in the shadows to be ignored.
The motion presented by the Bloc Quebecois stipulates that, on this 81st anniversary of the genocide, the government ought to designate the week of April 20 to 27 of each year as the week to commemorate man's inhumanity to man, acknowledging that the actions in question are to be strongly condemned and all people on earth are to bear witness to them.
In fact, the Bloc motion essentially reflects the spirit of a motion tabled by the Liberal member for Don Valley North in April of 1995. Unfortunately, some of his colleagues opposed it, and the motion was not put to a vote in the House at that time.
It would have provided the government with another feather in its cap as a defender of human rights. Instead, we are faced with an astonishing about face.
The Liberal government's attitude in this matter is disappointing, but not really a surprise. When the Liberals were in the opposition benches, they did not hesitate to call for explicit recognition of the Armenian genocide by this House. Since they have returned to power, they have completely changed their tune, you might say. Human rights are no longer necessarily a priority, but are often subordinate to economic interests.
Just recently, the brand new Minister of International Cooperation was pressuring the mayor of Montreal to abandon his plans to erect a monument to the victims of genocide, including the Armenian people. The minister would have preferred "tragic events" to be used instead of the term "genocide". Watering down the concept in such a context is tantamount to confirming that the final step in a genocide is to attempt after the fact to deny its very existence, or at the very least to minimize its importance, and that is what we are seeing here today.
This is what the Liberal government is again trying to do, by proposing an amendment in an undignified attempt to water down the seriousness of the situation. If it refused to support the motion of my friend and colleague from Ahuntsic, the Liberal government would be implicitly supporting the extremists who wish to stifle historical memory. This in no way reflects the fundamental values of Quebecers and Canadians.
Fortunately, the governments of Quebec and Ontario have long supported the universal values human rights represent. In 1980, they both adopted motions recognizing the Armenian genocide and demanding that the federal government follow suit.
It is incongruous that, 16 years later, here we are still in this House calling for the Canadian government to act. Does the federal government refuse to recognize this reality? During World War I, the Ottoman Turk government committed atrocities against the Armenian people.
The Ottoman Empire executed one and a half million Armenians and deported another 500,000. And what is especially sad is that many people are keeping this situation hidden.
If we want to avoid impunity one day inciting other peoples to similar actions, and, unfortunately, we have more recent examples still fresh in our minds, Parliament must today recognize that the genocide of the Armenian community is one of this century's major tragedies. We must avoid euphemisms at all cost and give words their due in keeping with the events that occurred. As the proverb has it, "An idea well conceived presents itself clearly, and the words to express it come readily".
When things are described as they are and international pressure is brought to bear, one day soon, Turkey will take responsibility for this genocide. We must not close our eyes to such crimes and allow the passage of time to bury them.
The government's position on human rights, as I said earlier, is disappointing. For the present government, trade and export are all that count. Foreign affairs and business affairs go hand in hand, and the rights of the individual are being muddled with the rights of the businessman.
The Liberal government is so obsessed by the simple rationality of money and trade that it forgets the vital element and has to be reminded of it by the Canadian Exporters' Association. At a conference organized by the international centre for human rights, the president of the exporters' association pointed out that international trade and efforts to increase respect for human rights were not mutually exclusive and that the government should seriously pursue both. He also added that business should voluntarily adopt rules of conduct for activities abroad.
Finally, and this is what counts, he pointed out that international trade and investments alone did not bring about improved respect for human rights. This is from the Canadian Exporters' Association. And yet, the Prime Minister has been endlessly repeating the opposite ever since he came to power. The world is on its ear.
The government's priorities in this area do not reflect the values shared by Quebecers and Canadians.
In a recent poll, Canadians and Quebecers were asked to rank the various objectives of Canada's foreign policy according to their importance. Fifty three per cent of Quebecers and 48 per cent of Canadians said that the protection of human rights was very important.
In Quebec the protection of human rights was deemed more important than the promotion of trade. Fortunately, the peoples of Quebec and Canada are much more compassionate toward victims of terror than their government.
These values shared by the peoples of Quebec and Canada as a whole are universal values which can be found in the universal charter of human rights. They must be reflected in Canada's international policies. The values of equality, justice and respect for fundamental rights transcend culture, language, continents and even time.
It would be too easy, for instance, to keep trading with China without uttering a word regarding its shameful record of human rights violations. I refuse to believe that the Chinese are marginally more inclined to live under dictatorial rule or that their culture makes it easier for them to do so.
Along the same line, we cannot endorse the idea that women are second class citizens, just because they are women, and view this as normal, because local religious beliefs.
Another case in point: the Canadian government must react when trading with a country where young children work in appalling conditions. The government has the moral duty to promote and protect human rights. This is one of the main reasons for its international involvement.
As a Montreal journalist said last week: "Finally, this issue raises-and I believe it is of the utmost importance-the question of the universality of rights. Are relativism and piecemeal policy, which are the essence of politics and diplomacy, not being taken too far when we hear major western leaders preach the relativity of universal values?" This is the crux of the matter. It has also been said that it was a very popular theme with despots in Africa and Asia".
To conclude, I would urge my colleagues to support the motion brought forward by the member for Ahuntsic to set aside a week to commemorate man's inhumanity to man. This way, every year we would have the opportunity to remember the errors of the past, and to offer on the international stage an image of Canada reflecting the values of the peoples of Quebec and Canada.
Sarkis Assadourian Don Valley North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I want to ask a question of the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River. I also want to ask the same question of my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois. It is with regard to what is taught in school regarding the history of genocide and the holocaust.
Before I do that, I want to make a statement. Since 1965, or 31 years, I have been involved with this issue. This is the first time we have had seven hours debate and the word "alleged" has not been used. I give credit to this House and members of Parliament for not using the word "alleged" in the discussions we have had so for.
I want to make the point that nobody has ever denied the fact that 1.5 million innocent people perished in 1915 during the first world war as the first genocide of the century.
I am quite sure that Armenians in this country and all over the world are prepared to do as the Jewish people did after the holocaust. Once this issue is addressed by the Turkish government they are prepared to forgive what happened but never to forget what happened. Once you forget it will be repeated again. I hope this debate will focus attention on the fact that the victims these days are prepared to forgive if they are asked but they will not forget. Once we forget we repeat it again in the future.
I go back to the first point I made. Would the hon. member encourage including the subject of genocide, or crimes against humanity, or however it is described, a tragic event, massacres, as part of the school curriculum so the younger generations can be taught in the high schools what happened? Awareness is the key. Once they are aware of what happened in history hopefully they will not repeat it because that is where the problem is. Once it happens it repeats itself over and over again.
Maud Debien Laval East, QC
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member for Don Valley North for his question and comments.
As you can imagine, Mr. Speaker, I fully support most of his comments, except for one. He said no one had denied or refused to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. He said no one had denied this event, and I totally agree with him. The hon. member's statement, however, raises the following question: If no one denies it, why refuse to give it official recognition? That is what I cannot understand on the part of Liberal members.
As for his second question concerning what is taught in the history books in Quebec and Canada about the genocides that have taken place throughout the world, I also fully agree with him. Being an educator who taught for many years mostly at the primary level, I obviously think that, in terms of giving students a sense of history, of collective conscience, it is very important to teach them about all these tragic errors, all these genocides that have been committed throughout the world, to give them this sense of history, this collective conscience so that, once they become adults, they, too, will exert pressure on their governments to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated.
Stéphane Bergeron Verchères, QC
Mr. Speaker, I must admit that it is very difficult for me to speak on the motion put forward by my hon. colleague, the member for Ahuntsic. It is not that I disagree with what it says, quite the contrary, but the subject is so terribly sad.
If I have agreed to participate in the debate today, it is because I believe that the events referred to in this motion must never be forgotten by present or future generations.
Who has not heard about the violence and mistreatment inflicted upon the Armenian people in the early part of this century? The violence was such that the word genocide, as defined by the United Nations in 1948, can be used without hesitation. And I believe that any amount of manoeuvring to avoid using the word genocide would be sheer deception or hypocrisy.
In a nutshell, genocide means the systematic and purposeful extermination of entire groups of people, whether ethnic, national
or religious. There is no doubt that the Armenian people were the victims of a genocide. As painful as it may be, it is therefore necessary to remember the tragic events which started on April 24, 1915. On that day, the Armenian genocide, the first genocide of our century and one of the most important in terms of number of victims, started in what was known at the time as the Ottoman Empire.
In ensuing years, more than 1.5 million innocent victims will be murdered or deported for reasons that remain unclear, their temples and monuments destroyed and the names of their towns changed. They even tried to wipe away all mention of their very existence.
All this simply could not be a series of coincidences. It had to be a carefully planned and methodically executed plan. The Bloc Quebecois believes that humanity must be constantly reminded of the Armenian genocide. Why? So that this type of orchestrated violence against our fellow human beings can never occur again.
We may sometimes think that a genocide is a rare occurrence, that it is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it is still current practice. We cannot and must not forget that, since 1915, many leaders on this planet ordered radical, extremist and immoral measures carried out. The excessive number of genocides that have occurred since then clearly demonstrates this fact.
How can we forget the fate of the Jews and gypsies at the hands of Hitler's regime? How can we forget the fate of the Cambodian people at the hands of the Khmers Rouges, in 1975? How can we forget the fate, in 1994, of more than 500,000 Tutsi, in Rwanda? How can we forget the ethnic cleansing of civilian populations in the former Yugoslavia? How can we forget the fate of the Tibetan population at the hands of the Chinese occupant? How can we forget the reign of terror imposed by Indonesia in East Timor? The list goes on and on.
These few examples, already far too numerous, are most revealing. Millions of people have been assassinated, while millions of others were deported, and are refugees, without a country and without a family. According to the UNHCR, over 27 million individuals currently live outside their country because they had to flee war and repression. These 27 million persons are refugees, in a century that is said to be modern.
It is with horror that, every day, we witness barbaric and inhumane practices that we thought were history. Will the human race ever learn from its mistakes? What is surprising regarding these genocides and their consequences is that, all too often, their authors are never punished. They act with complete impunity. But who is responsible for these deaths? Who is responsible for this suffering?
Given its magnitude, a genocide cannot be the work of mere individuals. The participation, or at least the consent, of government leaders is necessary.
Too frequently in the past, those responsible for these genocides have gone unpunished. A laudable effort is now under way and we can only rejoice in the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. This tribunal, created in 1993 by the UN Security Council and responsible for judging crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, is a step in the right direction, particularly because, in 1995, another international tribunal was created, this time to judge crimes that took place in Rwanda.
These two courts are still in their early days. It is to be hoped that they will soon have real means of rendering justice. In the former Yugoslavia, over fifty charges have been laid, including charges against Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. But a large problem remains and is experienced in the same way in both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. This problem is related to the impossibility of actually laying hands on the criminals, who put themselves under the protection of governments or take refuge in other countries.
War crimes must not, and should never, go unpunished. The international community, including Canada, has a legal and moral obligation to find the criminals. Some will even say that the international tribunal should be able to count on the assistance of an international police force with the power to apprehend suspects wherever they are.
For the time being, the Bloc Quebecois reiterates an opinion it expressed at the time of the Dayton peace accords. The International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague must continue its efforts and judge war criminals. It is important that the tribunal retain its autonomy and that its mandate not be hampered by any amnesties negotiated and granted by the parties in question. Bargaining to have sentences dropped and pardons granted to criminals accused of genocide should not be allowed.
We know that Canada has for a long time been considered one of the world leaders in promoting and protecting human rights. This excellent reputation did not come about simply through the importance accorded to trade.
This enviable reputation is the result of the priorities set by former prime ministers such as Lester B. Pearson, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for having initiated the creation of United Nations peacekeeping forces, and John Diefenbaker, who constantly defended human rights, particularly by taking a stand in 1961 against apartheid in South Africa.
Today, the Bloc Quebecois feels it is high time for the House of Commons to finally recognize the Armenian genocide. If the
motion is rejected, this will confirm our gravest doubts about the real importance the Liberal majority assigns to human rights as an issue. It is not because Canada maintains profitable trade ties with Turkey that we need to close our eyes to a historical reality.
As far back as 1980, the Ontario legislature recognized the Armenian genocide. The Quebec national assembly followed suit in 1985. This past year, in April 1995, the Russian parliament also recognized it. What is the Liberal majority here waiting for?
Even if we often have the impression that money, productivity, and trade are what rules our lives, we must not lose sight of the fact that other values must be taken into consideration when looking at trade relations with other countries. As markets become global, it is important to ensure the respect of human rights.
Since their arrival in power, the Liberals have been thinking they can drift along on Canada's excellent reputation abroad in order to put the emphasis on strictly trade relations. In April 1994 in this House, the Prime Minister himself claimed that his government had a policy to protect human rights and raised the issue in every country it traded with. However, Team Canada's latest trip to Asia revealed just how little importance the Liberal government pays to human rights.
It took a 13 year old youth, Craig Kielburger, to accost the Prime Minister in India and finally bring to light the sad truth of the lack of respect of the fundamental rights of children. This young man's cause immediately caught the sympathy of Quebecers and Canadians thus proving that our fellow citizens are concerned by this important issue of human rights.
This is why the Bloc, like all Quebecers and Canadians, wants all people to be able to grow and develop on this planet without fear of threat to their life and liberty in any way. This is why we must act to prevent the government, through its silence, from becoming a partisan and an accomplice of the indifference and individualism that all too often seem to have become the prerogative of this century.
Governments must sometimes be called to order on the issue of basic human rights. The House of Commons and the government members must take special action to make sure that the Armenian genocide is not forgotten, contrary to all the other acts of violence committed against innocent civilian populations.
This is why I support with all the might and fervour I can muster the motion asking that every year the period of time between April 20 and 27 be set aside to commemorate man's occasional inhumanity to man. Even if it is sometimes easier to forget past events and to chose to plough on, the House of Commons and the Liberal majority must officially recognize the genocide of 1915 to avoid the reoccurrence of tragedies of this kind.
In closing, I would like to salute all our fellow citizens of Armenian origin in their beautiful tongue.
Andy Scott Fredericton—York—Sunbury, NB
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Ahuntsic for bringing this motion to the attention of the House. The issues raised are far reaching and universal.
History has not focused its brutality. Its cruelty has not been limited to one community or to one people. The tragedies of history have not discriminated on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity for they befell humanity as a whole. The deaths of innocent men, women and children, cut down by tyranny because of their ethnicity, their religion or their race is a tragedy for the entire human family.
Canadians need to be sensitive to this reality and recognize that the individual histories of many of our citizens do not begin on our shores. We must be sensitive to the experiences of our fellow Canadians who by birth or by ancestry may have been victimized by the inhumanity of wars and oppression.
By being compassionate and understanding of the deep scars that such experiences have on individuals and communities, we are contributing to the healing process. While our actions today help ease the pain, we must know that the scars will never be erased.
We are, by and large, a country of immigrants who have come to Canada from every corner of the world. As immigrants we have attachments to our respective heritages. In Canada we take pride in the fact that these diverse heritages are what makes Canada unique as a nation.
We seek to build a society that ensures fair and equitable treatment and that respects the dignity and accommodates the needs of Canadians of all ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic and racial origins. The challenge for us now is to strengthen a cohesive, respectful, inclusive and democratic society and a shared sense of identity reflective of the diversity of Canada's people.
What makes a society cohesive? Three pillars in my mind: social justice, civic participation and a sense of identity. How do we create a cohesive society that incorporates these three principles?
First, we offer to all Canadians, regardless of their ethnicity, colour or religion, the opportunity to contribute to society and enjoy the full benefits of participation.
Second, we ensure that Canadians of all backgrounds are able to participate in society. To foster this very important symbiotic relationship requires Canadians to work hard.
Our Canadian mosaic means that we must be accommodating in ways that other nations feel free to ignore. We have built a strong tradition of respecting each other's cultures, of understanding how diversity enriches us. We work with many partners across the country to accomplish this. We work with other levels of government, with major institutions, with organizations, business and labour and with individual Canadians to make sure that we all have the opportunity to participate fully in society.
Why do we go to this trouble? What is our incentive? We do it because when Canadians are treated equally and fairly, when they feel they belong and when they have the opportunity to contribute, we are ensuring our future growth and prosperity. We do it because Canada in its diversity is a mirror for the rest of the world. We dare hope that other nations who see themselves reflected in our diversity will be persuaded to follow us toward peace, understanding and justice for all.
From our beginnings as a country, diversity has been a fact of the every day lives of Canadians. The issue is not whether we are culturally diverse-there is no question about that-but rather how we intend to make sure that our diversity continues to strengthen us as a nation.
Even today as religious and ethnic conflicts take their toll around the globe, Canada has been a light of democratic resolution of profound political difference. We have been a beacon to displaced people from around the world who recognize what racism, prejudice and ignorance can lead to. We are an example of respect and accommodation that has been far too lacking in other parts of the world.
Our efforts in this regard have been recognized by Nelson Mandela, president of the Republic of South Africa. In his message to Canadians, President Mandela referred to Canada's lasting tradition of dedication to human rights and hoped that our efforts would continue to "enrich humanity".
With this very desire in mind, the government remains committed to the multiculturalism policy built on the pillars of identity, civic participation and social justice. These are the cherished principles of democracy that are the best deterrents to tyranny and oppression. These are the values that bind all Canadians as a nation.
While the pace of change may be challenging or even frightening, we want to ensure that all who call Canada home are able to take full and active part in the affairs of their community and country, that Canadians are valued for their individual contributions, for their value as human beings and not judged by their membership in any number of identifiable communities.
So by all means, Canadians, remember who you are and where you came from, but do not forget that Canada's future lies ahead of us and that its creation depends on how well we work together.
We are a diverse society. We will remain a diverse society. Our job is to make that diversity work for all of us. It is this compassionate vision of our community that has and will continue to make Canada a beacon to victims of violence and oppression from around the world.
April 24 is an emotional day for Canadians of Armenian ancestry as they recall the very painful and tragic events of the past. The Canadian government has consistently extended its heartfelt sense of sorrow on this difficult occasion.
However, the motion as presented does not reflect accurately Canada's position. The Government of Canada does not deny the tragic events that befell the Armenian community. Indeed, it sympathizes with the victims of the tragic events of 1915 and with their descendants, particularly those who have come to Canada to make a new life.
In memory of the victims of inhumanity: Armenians, Jews, Bosnians, Cambodians, aboriginal peoples, gay men and lesbians and people of colour, I urge the House to support the amendment proposed earlier by the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism.
In the government's recognition that we must be ever vigilant in our defence of the values we share as Canadians, it is this government's commitment to never forget and to work toward reconciliation and understanding.
Tony Ianno Trinity—Spadina, ON
Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to rise today to speak to the motion presented by the member for Ahuntsic with regard to the commemoration of the Armenian genocide.
The member for Ahuntsic should remember that my colleague from Don Valley North introduced a private member's motion, Motion No. 282, on April 3, 1995. That motion, on which incidentally the member opposite spoke in favour, was a motion which called for the designation of the week of April 20 to 27 each year to commemorate the issue of man's inhumanity to his fellow man.
In speaking to that motion, which read:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should designate the period from April 20 to 27 of each year as the week in which we commemorate the issue of man's inhumanity to his fellow man, to remind Canadians that the use of genocide and violence as an instrument of national policy by any nation or group at any time is a crime against all mankind which must be condemned and not forgotten.
I have deliberately chosen to speak to this issue of man's inhumanity to his fellow man during the week that we remember the tragedy of the Armenian genocide for one main purpose. During the years that followed, it was very difficult for many people of Armenian background to accept the genocide caused by the Turkish army and to understand why victims were whipped, clubbed and refused water as they passed by streams and wells. These were men, women and children. The victims were lashed when they lagged behind.
Telegrams to provincial capitals captured by the British army and reports by witnesses like Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to Turkey, provide evidence that the extermination of the Armenians was planned and organized by the central government.
The significance of this week in relation to man's inhumanity to man does not, however, end with the commemoration of the slaughter of the 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turkish authorities. April 20 to 27 was chosen because April 19 and 20, 1939 was the beginning of the holocaust committed by the Nazis against the Jewish population. April 27 was the end of the apartheid regime of South Africa which gave the South African population the right to vote, one person, one vote.
Throughout history there are terrible examples of man's inhumanity to man. There was the holocaust which included the extermination of six million Jews in various concentration camps all over Europe. The Nazis were also responsible for the death of over one million gypsies, homosexuals and other minority groups deemed unacceptable by Hitler's Third Reich. The holocaust was a denial of God and of man. It was a destruction of the world in a miniature form.
Hitler, and those he appointed to his imaginary government, regarded the Jewish people as a political problem and its so-called solution as a political necessity that had to be addressed in Germany's foreign and domestic policy. The Nazis used mass terror, forced labour, starvation, forced immigration, deportation and other forms of oppression to achieve their end goal, the destruction and annihilation of the Jewish people.
In 1975 after a five-year civil war, the communist Khmer Rouge gained victory and power in Cambodia. They evacuated all of the cities, including Phnom Penh, the capital whose population had swollen with almost three million refugees. All were brutally driven from the city and some were killed immediately.
Whomever Pol Pot and his small group of communist leaders regarded as potential enemies of the ideal state they wanted to build were executed. Those killed included officers of the army, government officials, intellectuals, educated and professional people such as doctors and teachers.
Communists who became victims of infighting were often interrogated before being killed. The killings varied according to regions; meaning more were killed in certain areas and during different times. The killing became more rampant just before the end of the Khmer Rouge rule in 1979.
Rwanda is another recent example of one group pitted against another, where the world's complacency allowed the slaughter of hundreds of thousands. The genocide of Rwanda began in April 1994. It was preceded by a war launched in October 1990 by the Tutsi guerrillas of the Rwanda Patriot Front against the Hutu led government.
Before this, Rwanda was already one of the poorest nations in Africa. The war's origins go back to a wave of violence from 1959 to 1966, when the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi monarchy which had ruled for centuries. About 20,000 to 100,000 Tutsi were killed in a slaughter that the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, described as the "most horrible and systematic massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis". The violence caused about 150,000 Tutsi exiles to flee to Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire.
The recent fighting in September 1994 had begun after Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was killed in a mysterious plane crash in April. At least 500,000 were estimated to have been killed in the massacres which has prompted a UN investigation into the charges of genocide.
The list of horrors continues with the mass deportations and the so-called ethnic cleansing that the world witnessed in the former Yugoslavia. Only now are the independent observers free to investigate. The situation is tragic now that the extent of the mass executions are coming to light.
How can we pretend to live in a civilized world when decade after decade we witness such terrible crimes? We must condemn these crimes of the past, of the present and of the future. We must do so by recognizing the Armenian genocide for what it was, not allow revisionists to rewrite history along with that of many of the other atrocities that have occurred in the world.
Canada is a tolerant nation. Over half of its population are Canadians of other origins. I believe that we live in a very tolerant society where we respect each other and we respect the rule of law. I believe that we must do something and encourage the UN to implement an all-encompassing, international instruments which codify crimes against humanity. Whenever some crime against humanity occurs it not only affects the people directly involved but also affects all of us no matter where we live.
I hope that somehow around the world we are able to encourage peace between nations in a swift manner.
Philippe Paré Louis-Hébert, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague opposite and I conclude in the end that he thinks that the United Nations should find a way to deal with crimes against humanity.
In my opinion, there are some inconsistencies between what we are hearing today from the government side and reality.
I will remind the House that Pierre Sané, the president of Amnesty International, was in Ottawa on April 11. He spoke on the issue of human rights and trade.
I will highlight a number of points he raised. I believe he was right when he said: "The fight to protect human rights can only be fought on a global scale otherwise it will be lost before it starts". He added: "In this era of globalization, the question is to know how to ensure that exchanges are not limited to goods, information and money, but also include values".
Could my colleague opposite explain through which magical trick his Prime Minister believes that trading with countries with no regard for human rights is going to address, just like in a crystal ball, the issue of the violation of human rights? In this regard, I will remind the House that in 1994, the Prime Minister said: "I could make resounding speeches on the issue and make headlines, but I prefer to open markets and trade; eventually, the walls will fall". My colleague from Laval East said earlier that even the Canadian Exporters' Association is considering a voluntary code with respect to trade relations with countries that do not respect human rights.
How can the government believe that the issue of human rights will be settled as if by magic?
Tony Ianno Trinity—Spadina, ON
Mr. Speaker, one makes a choice as head of government on how to deal with human rights. I believe that the Prime Minister has chosen the right vehicle.
Isolation does not accomplish the shared values that we can bring from our perspective to many peoples. Let us take China as a prime example. I believe that by increasing interaction with the Chinese and with our shared education, business and the other values that we are able to share with one another, we see that they start to get a sense of what Canada is all about and the values we have as Canadians.
I can give an example. On Saturday I met with 40 Chinese visitors that are in the union movement. They had taken a course in Canada and met with many trade unionists. They had learned a great deal in a short period of time. When I sat with them they said basically what they saw in Canada was tolerance and respect for one another. I asked: "How do you see that helping you in China?" The response was: "What we saw was the partnership that occurred within Canada between labour, business and government somehow produced a sharing of goals, ideals and of course, economic value". They realize that if those in China who are working for very low wages could improve their plight, somehow or other by showing it from the perspective of a partnership and how their enterprises would benefit by everyone sharing in the pie, they would accomplish their goal.
When we hear of that kind of example, and we would not have dreamed of the Chinese having union movements considering what we hear, there is hope. As long as we continue to interact and share values, ideas, education, et cetera, there will be improvement, especially when we take into account the new global economy and satellite communication. It is very difficult to consider southern China as being isolated when we take into account the fact that it receives TV signals from Hong Kong and other places. The Chinese are beginning to see how the rest of the world lives.
Sharing is what will accomplish the goal of achieving a freer society. It will also provide an opportunity for us to work toward the end of discrimination against people anywhere in the world. I strongly believe that by communication we will be able to achieve our goal.
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Mr. Speaker, 50 years ago the world emerged from one of the bloodiest conflicts in our history. The international community got together to try to reform the structure in which nations dealt with each other to prevent that tragedy from reoccurring. Out of that catharsis came the Bretton Woods institution and the United Nations.
Unfortunately, the last 50 years has proven that we have failed to prevent genocide, we have failed to prevent conflicts from occurring and we have failed to prevent inhumane disasters. From Chechnya to Angola, from Cambodia to Rwanda, the world has been completely ineffective in preventing these wars from occurring. Rather than preventing conflict we have mired ourselves in conflict management.
Rather than talking about the Armenian genocide of 1915, about the holocaust and about Cambodia, rather than speaking of these historical events, supplicating ourselves on the ground to God and saying never again, we should use these historical tragedies to look at what is happening today in the world and what is going to happen tomorrow to prevent further conflicts and tragedy.
The conflict between North Korea and South Korea is one of the hottest potential war zones which could easily become nuclear. We see The Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi occurring again. We see Kenya and the decimation of the Kikuyu by the Kelenjin tribe in which Mr. Moi is implicitly involved. We see Nigeria and the decimation of the Ogoni people. We see China and Taiwan, which
could easily produce a conflagration that could leave millions dead. We see Tadjikistan.
We see Turkish Kurdistan where as we speak elected members in the Turkish parliament, Kurds, have been incarcerated without trial, tortured and summary executions have taken place. We see what is happening in the Middle East, the tragedy which has occurred which our Parliament has spoken out strongly against in the hope that peace can finally come to this ravaged area. It is an area where there is little hope in the future for peace to occur unless decisive action is taken.
These are the conflicts and the genocides of tomorrow. These are the issues we must deal with if we are going to prevent millions of people from dying unnecessarily and countries from being laid to waste.
One of the sad things I have found is that words without actions are completely useless. Rather than being a collection of mere words, I hope that today's debate will translate into definitive actions to prevent genocides from occurring in the future. If we do not do that the deaths of all the innocent people in previous genocides will be for nothing.
As I have said before in this House, we have a very difficult situation. It is difficult to prevent conflicts but it is not impossible. There are solutions we can employ and solutions in which Canada can take a leadership role.
It is easier to prevent a conflict than to deal with a conflict after it has occurred. After a conflict has occurred the seeds of future ethnic discontent, the seeds of future death, destruction and war are laid out for generations to come. Once the killing begins, it is impossible to turn back the hands of time. We must deal with conflict before it occurs. It can be done. This is the challenge of the post cold war era. This is the challenge I know our country can deal with together with like minded nations. It will not cost us more money. In fact, it will save us billions of dollars every year which I will discuss later.
We have to identify the precursors to conflict such as inappropriate militarization. Often there is a destruction of basic human rights of a group of people. When one group of people is dealt with preferentially over another an imbalance exists. Often the result is a compromise of the human rights of a certain group of individuals. This spirals and becomes early conflict, then more widespread conflict. What often happens is a breakdown of democratic and judicial structures in a country. These are the warning signs of a potential conflict.
We must organize a warning system which uses non-governmental organizations, peace building institutions and countries, and diplomatic observer forces from the United Nations. These groups can extract information and then feed it into the United Nations crisis centre in New York. The information would be fed directly into a security council, not the security council we have today, but a modified security council. I will discuss that later. The security council must bring forth non-military initiatives to try to defuse the conflict before it occurs. In addressing these precursors the following initiatives can take place.
There can be diplomatic initiatives from the United Nations to try to bring the warring parties together. Positive information must be put forth to try to defuse and dispel the myths that are often put forth early in a conflict. We need not look any further than the tragedy in the former Yugoslavia or what happened in Rwanda and Burundi to see one of the early signs is that one group often puts forth a lot of very negative hateful propaganda about another group which polarizes groups under stress and leads to conflict. This can be defused. The United Nations currently has mechanisms to achieve that end but it is not employing them as aggressively as it should. I hope that Mr. Fowler, our representative there, can take the initiative to put this forth in the United Nations.
We can use the international financial institutions as non-military levers in conflict prevention. It is a cutting edge issue that we can put forth, but it requires changing the IFIs and their function as we know it.
Some of the interventions they can make involve: using economic levers on groups in conflict; providing economic and technical help to potentially warring parties; providing technical assistance on good governance and building up democratic infrastructure; and providing loans to peace building groups in order for them to pursue peace building initiatives by people in the country in question. They could provide small repayable loans, such as those of the Grameen Bank, to groups which are being subjected to human rights abuse or where economic levers are being used to push them down economically.
Sanctions must be used very carefully so as not to harm those who will suffer the most in these conflagrations.
Another approach which is not used often enough is to freeze the assets of leaders who are flagrantly abusing the rights of their citizens. This can be done to great effect. Unless we employ measures that will directly affect these leaders where it counts, in their pocketbooks, there will not be much change in their behaviour. This could be applied to such individuals as General Abacha of Nigeria, Mr. Moi of Kenya and others. By applying financial
restrictions and freezing their assets, a powerful lever can be applied to their behaviour.
Implicit in this are changes to the UN Security Council. The way it is structured now, these suggestions cannot and will not work. I suggest expanding the United Nations Security Council to involve the top 32 economic countries in the world. Many would argue that it is unfair. The reality is that he who pays the piper calls the tune and that is the premise it has to be based on. It is not fair, but it is certainly better than what we have today. We must also provide that there is no veto power. All decisions of the security council must be made with a two-thirds majority.
These changes are necessary. We cannot use the 1940s model of international co-operation which has failed to deal with the present geopolitical situation in the world which does not resemble the world situation of 1945. The current structure has hamstrung our ability to pursue peace and avoid the genocide we are talking about today.
Some would argue that the aggressive interventions I have addressed today are not going to be useful and they are not allowed, that they are somehow illegal. That is simply not true. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights presupposes that a nation's affairs are not sacrosanct. What is sacrosanct are the basic human rights of the individual. In other words, international law protects the individual, not the integrity of the nation state. That should be a very important consideration if these changes are to be made.
There is also an economic rationale for early intervention in these areas to prevent a conflict rather than managing the conflict at a later time. We only need to look at the statistics of the last five years to see that peacekeeping costs have skyrocketed way out of proportion and the demands on peacekeeping are going to increase in the future. We cannot allow this to happen. It is simply not sustainable. Therefore, these conflicts must be prevented.
All countries, Canada included, are hamstrung by their current economic situation, their debts and deficits. We do not have the money to get involved in these conflicts. The time is coming when we will not be able to carry out peacekeeping duties which our military men and women have done so admirably, honourably and bravely for so long.
I suggest that Canada cannot do this herself. Canada has an international reputation for fairness and good diplomatic initiatives which is unrivalled in the world. Canada is known to be fair and above board, unlike many other countries. We ought to bring like minded nations, such as New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands and Belgium, together as a group and then try to influence international structures around the world for peace building. As I said, we cannot do this alone. We have to do this in a multinational fashion. We can get these groups together right now to start.
If we are to have peace we will need all parties involved in a potential conflagration on board. We cannot deny any one group representing the people. We have to also pursue democratic and judicial peace building initiatives in a potential conflagration.
Another issue we are avoiding in peace building is the economic issue. A country will never be able to get on its feet unless the economic structures are there for the people to stand on their own two feet and provide for themselves.
The former Yugoslavia is an excellent case in point. The Dayton peace plan which produced the international implementation force there today is a noble and good solution for the short term. It will not, though, provide peace in Bosnia in the long term. The reason is unless the people in Bosnia can have the economic infrastructure and can then stand on their own two feet and provide for themselves we will always have conflict. We will always have people struggling to get the basic necessities for themselves that are simply not there.
When the basic necessities are not there then we have a desperate population which is prepared and willing by necessity to whatever it has to do to get those basic needs met. That includes conflict.
Those have to be provided. We cannot do it ourselves, and I am not suggesting that. The international community must work with the nations involved and the belligerents involved to build up the infrastructure. In the former Yugoslavia a greater responsibility must be placed on the shoulders of the European Union.
The world has seen the proliferation of internecine conflicts. They have littered the face of the globe over the last 50 years. The international community has been completely unable to prevent conflict. We have managed it sometimes well, sometimes poorly, but we have neglected and have been unable to prevent the genocides from occurring.
We can do this and we must do it. I have given some suggestions I hope the Minister of Foreign Affairs will take into consideration. The way to sell this not only to the Canadian people but also other countries is not only on the basis of humanitarian grounds, which are ample, but on the basis of self-interest.
Unfortunately we will not be able to get anything done unless we argue in a nation's self-interest. If we do not prevent conflicts nation states are laid waste, we have migration of refugees, we have increasing demands on our defence forces, our foreign aid and our domestic social programs. These are costs that hit home. We can prevent these. It takes an investment now but the saving in the long term will be far greater than the investment we do today.
A negotiator in the Palestinian peace process once said peace is when a child buries its parents; war is when a parent buries its child. I hope we can do something to prevent in the future more children being buried unnecessarily.
April 23rd, 1996 / 6 p.m.
Michel Daviault Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on his speech, on his knowledge of international law and on the excellent suggestions he made for reforms to our international institutions. As this debate is winding down, I would like to remind my hon. colleagues that the entire Canadian Armenian community and members of the Armenian National Committee of Canada are watching us today. And I salute those who are present in the gallery. As the hon. member was saying, words without action are meaningless.
In a few minutes we will be called upon to vote in various divisions on the proposal I put forward. We have achieved much today through this sensitization to the cause of the Armenians, the history of peoples and the history of humanity. But words have meaning.
I therefore salute the member's party for intervening to prevent the watering down of the motion and to prevent our calling a tragedy what is a genocide. I would like to hear him a little more on this attempt at watering down in particular.