moved that Bill C-306, An Act to establish a Crimean Tatar Deportation (“Sürgünlik”) Memorial Day and to recognize the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 as an act of genocide, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to begin the debate on my private member's bill, the Crimean Tatar deportation memorial day act. It shows the terrible depths to which humanity can fall. It is a reason why the House is again taking up debate on a matter of genocide. It is not the first and, sadly, not the last time that we will consider events of the past and decide whether we will come to denounce them as genocide.
It is a topic on which Canada has been a world leader. We have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. That is a statute enacted after the Second World War.
Article II of the statute defines genocide as:
...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Canada has made several recognitions in the past. Most recently, the House passed a motion, proposed by my colleague, the member for Calgary Nose Hill, recognizing the ongoing genocide waged against the Yazidis by ISIS.
The recognition that is most relevant to Crimea was raised in 2008. The House declared the Holodomor as a genocide. It was the forced starvation of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933. That historic act of recognition was the result of the hard work of my colleague, the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman. That legislation brought about Canada's first official recognition and denunciation of an atrocity committed by the Soviet Union and masterminded by Joseph Stalin.
It is therefore fitting that today we should discuss the terrible crime committed by the Soviet Union against the indigenous people of Crimea in 1944 and their relevance to what has happened in Crimea in the last two years. We cannot separate the deportation in 1944 from Russia's theft of Crimea from Ukraine 70 years later. The same evil ideology and disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms of every man and woman is at work. It is a regime that tore more than 200,000 people from their homes, dropped them in a remote part of Central Asia and started a war with a peaceful neighbouring country in order to steal territory. That is why the preamble to this bill draws attention to the renewed persecution faced by the Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea. It categorically states that Canada will never recognize Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.
First, we must turn back 70 years to the deportations.
In May of 1944, the Soviet army reconquered Crimea, which had been under Nazi occupation since 1941. The Soviet army was not a liberator for the Crimean Tatars though. It arrived bearing an order signed by Stalin condemning their entire nation to exile.
On May 18, 1944, Soviet secret police forces, the dreaded NKVD, began rounding up Crimean Tatars at their homes. They were packed onto cattle cars and sent on a long journey to Central Asia, thousands of kilometres away. Many left with little more than the clothes on their backs. Their homes, livestock, and possessions were all gone. Anyone who tried to escape was shot.
For many, the trains were deadly because many Tatar men were away serving in the Soviet military. The deportees were predominantly women, children, and the elderly. Many of the latter two succumbed to malnutrition and dehydration, or the diseases that quickly spread in the overcrowded cattle cars. Those who made it to their place of exile were greeted by nothing.
There was no food or accommodation for anyone. Lacking shelter, clothing, and virtually all necessities of life, it is estimated that almost 20% of all of the Crimean Tatars died in 1944 and 1945. Stalin intended to remove the Tatars from history, too. Following the deportations, towns in Crimea were renamed, mosques were destroyed, and books in the Crimean Tatar language or about them were burned.
Famously, their entry in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was removed. What possible justification could there be for this action? Stalin accused the Crimean Tatars of treason against the Soviet Union, but tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars had just risked their lives fighting for the Red Army against Hitler. Eight were even decorated with the Soviet Union's highest award for bravery.
After 1944, that history was deliberately suppressed. The Crimean Tatars would remain confined to exile in central Asia for more than 40 years. Their homes were given to settlers from outside of Crimea, their language was banned, and their children were forced to study in Russian. Conditions remained harsh even after Stalin's death. In 1956, the Tatars were officially banned from returning to Crimea. In 1967, the Soviet regime rescinded its own false treason charges against the Tatars, but it maintained the ban on them returning to Crimea. It even denied that the Crimean Tatars were a nationality at all.
Only the collapse of the Soviet Union brought an end to their exile. In 1988, the survivors who had held on to their identity, language, and culture began moving back to Crimea. They did so because the Soviet Union was now just too weak to stop them. There were late recognitions by the Soviet Union and Russia that an injustice had been committed. That is true, but the Crimean Tatars have never been compensated by either state for the loss of life, property, and liberty that they suffered in exile.
I do not expect to find much disagreement in the House that the events I have described constitute genocide against the Crimean Tatars. Indeed, it was always clear that the Soviet regime intended to destroy the Crimean Tatars as a nation through exile and banishment. However, in turning to the present, we can see that 1991 was not the end of the Crimean Tatars' pain.
The country that the Crimean Tatars returned to in 1991 was the newly independent Ukraine. Conditions were poor there, with a very weak economy and limited employment or housing, but they were home in Crimea, and Ukraine was tolerant. They formed their own representative bodies, the Mejlis and the Qurultay, and some of their leaders were even elected to the Ukrainian parliament.
Earlier this year, I had the honour of meeting one the great Crimean Tatar leaders, Mustafa Jemilev, as did a number of my colleagues. Mr. Jemilev is a long-time member of the Ukrainian parliament and a former chairman of the Mejlis. He was deported to Uzbekistan when he was just six months old.
As a young man, he was expelled from university for joining illegal Crimean Tatar underground movements and was arrested for refusing to join the Soviet army. He spent 15 years of his life in Soviet prisons for peacefully resisting the Communist regime. At one point, he conducted a hunger strike for 303 days. He lived only because he was force-fed. Jemilev is celebrated as a dissident and freedom fighter by his people and by much of the world, but today he is exiled from his homeland again.
After the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Crimean Tatars are again under threat. Their elected representative body, the Mejlis, has been banned as an extremist organization by Russian authorities. Many of their leaders, such as Mr. Jemilev and his successor, Refat Chubarov, have been banned from Crimea. These stories of exile, return, and renewed pain are common to many Crimean Tatars.
I recently met another survivor of the deportation, Ayshe Seitmuratova. She was seven years old when the secret police came for her family in their village outside of Kerch. Ayshe grew up in Uzbekistan and tried to study her people's past. When she was a graduate student, the KGB seized her research documents and sentenced her first to house arrest, and then sent her to a prison colony in a remote part of Russia. She fled for the United States in the late 1970s. She returned when the U.S.S.R. collapsed, and opened a home to care for seniors in Crimea. She has remained in Crimea under Russian occupation, always a thorn in their side. She told me that at 80 years old, having survived deportation, exile, and prison, she is not afraid of the authorities. She has already seen everything that they can throw at her.
However, others who have tried to resist from within Crimea do so at great peril. The deputy chairman of the Mejlis, Ilmi Umerov, was confined to a psychiatric institution and was only released after international pressure was applied. Another deputy is in prison. Other so-called activists have disappeared without a trace. Crimean Tatar media outlets have been closed, including the ATR TV network. Tatar language schools have been shuttered. Mosques have been vandalized. Gatherings to remember the 1944 deportations have been banned in every year of the Russian occupation, though many defy the authorities.
These acts of persecution and marginalization directed against the Crimean Tatars are an echo of 1944. They are being carried out by the regime of Vladimir Putin that no longer bothers to hide its nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Indeed, they are even rehabilitating Joseph Stalin, and doing so to torment his victims. What other explanation could there be for building monuments to the dictator in Crimean cities like Yalta and Simferopol? The chasm between Putin's plan for the world and the Ukrainian wishes for their country could not be greater. Tatars are now fleeing prosecution to other parts of Ukraine, and almost 10,000 have done so since the illegal annexation of Crimea.
In 2015, Ukraine's parliament officially declared the deportation of 1944 a genocide. They have issued a call for the rest of the world to respond, and I would like Canada to answer. I am pleased that in the short time since I introduced this bill, I have already received the support of the Canadian Association of Crimean Tatars, the League of Ukrainian Canadians, the International Council in Support of Ukraine, and many other individuals. Just this week, I received letters of support from Mr. Jemilev and Mr. Chubarov, along with the support of Ayshe Seitmuratova. I am especially honoured to have the support of the Crimean Tatars' people's representatives.
Now is the time for this House to take action to show our support for the Crimean Tatars. We have clear, irrefutable evidence of a genocide, planned and executed by Stalin's regime in 1944, one that did not truly end until the Soviet Union collapsed. We understand that these events are the textbook definition of genocide: acts committed with the intent to destroy an ethnic group through inflicting terrible conditions that would lead to the group's destruction. And we know very well what is happening to Crimean Tatars today in illegally occupied Crimea at the hands of Putin.
We are a loyal friend of Ukraine. It was a peaceful home to Crimean Tatars for more than two decades. Canada has never hesitated to make our nation's position clear. Whether it takes five months or 50 years, we will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea. This House needs to make our position officially known to the world.