Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House to speak. On this particular issue, there is a great deal of willingness to attempt to understand the situation. For me personally as someone who comes from Winnipeg, I appreciate that we have the Canadian Museum for Human Rights there. If members have the opportunity to visit this facility, they would see that the issue of genocide and a multitude of different types of human rights are well displayed. It is quickly becoming a world-class museum. It is one of the jewels that we have in Canada and it happens to be located, as a national museum, in the city of Winnipeg.
On issues of this nature, I can assure all members of the House and Canadians that we have a government that is truly listening and will continue to do so.
I rise in the House today to discuss Bill C-306,, an act to establish a Crimean Tatar deportation Sürgünlik memorial day.
On May 18 of every year, people around the world are reminded of the widespread suffering and exile inflicted on the Crimean Tatar population by the Soviet Union. Soviet oppression included the curtailment of Tatar cultural rights, the outright persecution of their intellectual class, and the deaths of thousands of Crimean Tatars as a result of sweeping purges and the collectivization of agriculture.
As a part of the widespread deportation that took place throughout the Soviet Union in the 1940s, the entire Crimean Tatar population, representing one-fifth of the entire population of Crimea, was forcibly expelled from the peninsula in 1944.
The deportation was undertaken as a form of collective punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Despite the fact that tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars had served in the Red Army and fought bravely against the Nazi occupation, in the three-day period between May 18 to 20, over 200,000 Crimean Tatars were given a mere 30 minutes to gather their loves ones and possessions before being loaded onto cattle cars, headed for central Asia, Siberia, and the Urals.
Tens of thousands would die en route, never to see their homes again. Those who survived the journey were faced with the prospects of forced labour, squalid living conditions, disease, and starvation as they began their new lives in these remote settings.
Owing to these conditions, large numbers of the Crimean Tatar population died both during transport and within the five years that immediately followed their resettlement. The great loss of life, disruption to their culture, and the denial of their return home was an atrocity that this government rightly condemns, and that we must never forget.
Somehow, exiled Crimean Tatars managed to build a life, but it was never complete, because it was culturally, spiritually, and emotionally disconnected from their homeland. Home remained Crimea and it remained as such in their hearts and minds, creating a renewed sense of national identity among the Crimean Tatars from their deep-seated connection to the Crimean peninsula.
In 1989, after nearly five decades, Crimean Tatars were finally allowed to return to their homeland, but the scars remain.
Stalin's actions in Crimea were an affront to the common human values we all share, the fundamental right to live free from persecution and to chart our own path in the world. These fundamental freedoms were denied to many, but few more brutally than the Crimean Tatars.
The world must never forget the tragedy that befell the Crimean Tatar population. That is why this government commemorated this day on May 18, 2016.
We fully support the creation of a memorial day for the Crimean Tatars. By recognizing this day, Canada pays tribute to the Crimean Tatars. We are reminded of the horrors they suffered, but also inspired by the indomitable will and the resilience they have demonstrated. Despite the unimaginable burdens inflicted, they persevered, and while they carry the burden of the past with them, they stand tall today and their culture thrives. They are unbroken, a people who demonstrate humanity's fortitude. They are an inspiration for all of us.
By acknowledging their tragedy, we also are reminded of the values we must fight to protect, the values robbed from them under the Soviet regime. Of particular note is respect for justice, and the need for rule of law. In a world where these values are increasingly under attack, they demand our protection. The only way we can deliver justice is to follow the very best standards of it. That is how we honour those who were viciously denied justice and how we demonstrate to today's despots our convictions, our principles, and our will.
Therefore, we must remember that when we look at the bill before us now, of course it is easy to issue a political declaration, but politicizing justice is not the answer, and it is not the Canadian way. Justice is not served when we presume to prejudge the outcome of a necessary and eventual investigative and judicial process. The victims of the Crimean Tatar deportation and their families deserve what was robbed from them, and that starts with the rule of law.
While we have various pieces of this tragedy, no independent international investigation has taken place into the events of 1944. The legal test to be met for genocide in international law is a high one and we support an investigation and the collection of evidence toward that determination. However, if we prejudge it now, we undermine the law. We can help repair what was taken only if we follow the legal path that was denied, which includes proving beyond a reasonable doubt that such atrocities were perpetrated as part of a campaign to destroy, in whole or in part, an identifiable national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.
We therefore take seriously the need to rely on factual historical evidence and expert determination on whether the deportation of Crimean Tatars meets the threshold for genocide as laid out in the 1948 genocide convention. For this reason, Canada, like our international partners, including the United States and the European Union, has opted over the years to mark this anniversary through official statements on the forced deportation.
Our government is committed to remembering this historical tragedy, and to protecting the rule of law. That is why when it comes to genocide, our government has sought the most rigorous application of the term according to the law. Horrifying situations such as this require a strong memorial and a testament to what was endured. Canada will do that. However, it is not for politicians, even with the best intentions, to change what is a uniquely legal term such as genocide.
Surviving Tatars and their families deserve the due diligence of a thorough investigation, done by an independent body. That is the proper way to make a determination of genocide. This approach is respectful both in preserving the integrity of the legal definition of genocide and to the historical memory and tragedy of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars.
Meanwhile, our government does not lose sight of the ongoing challenges facing the present day community of Crimean Tatars and of the responsibility of the international community, including Canada, to act in this regard.
Like the member opposite, I have had the opportunity to travel to Ukraine over the last little while, and one of the most touching moments I experienced was when I was in the city of Kiev and had a tour of the Holodomor museum. That is an issue I raised shortly after first being elected as the member of Parliament for Winnipeg North. I understand deeply why Canadians as a whole look abroad at some of the horrific actions that have been taken and made by governments.
I believe Canadians, as a whole, want a government that follows the rule of law, to make sure that what we are doing is right and just. We understand many of the things that have taken place and the importance of investigations. We understand there is a need to act. There is a little girl in front of the Holodomor museum in Kiev, and I am pleased that a replica of it is now in front of the Manitoba legislature.