Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-306, an act that seeks to recognize the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars by Soviet authorities in 1944 as an act of genocide and also to establish a Crimean Tatar memorial day.
The deportation of the Crimean Tatars was a great tragedy. In the span of a few days, families were taken forcibly from their homes. They were forced to leave the land they loved and they were supposed to try to settle in areas foreign to them. Many perished. For decades, Crimean Tatars were not allowed to return home, as my hon. colleague has just said.
This government has recognized this tragedy in the past and supports the intent of the bill to create a memorial day to not only commemorate the suffering of the Crimean Tatars but also to inspire us as we honour the indomitable will and resilience of Crimea's Tatars.
Despite the myriad of horrors inflicted upon them, they persevere, their culture thrives, and Canada is enriched by Crimean Tatars who call Canada home.
However, the government does not support this legislation. The government agrees that the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars by Soviet authorities was a tragedy in the deepest sense of the word. What Stalin did to these people was horrific.
We recognize the appalling loss of life and tremendous suffering that was endured as hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were deported from their ancestral homeland in Crimea.
The preamble to the bill suggests that the forced relocation of the Tatars of Crimea was an act of genocide. Theft, deportation, and death were horrors inflicted upon the Crimean Tatars in 1944 at the hands of Stalin. This was a crime against humanity. Crime against humanity has a specific meaning and as articulated in 2002 with the creation of the International Criminal Court. I will read part of the definition that the International Criminal Court in its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, used for crimes against humanity:
For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) Murder; (b) Extermination; Enslavement; (d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;...
It is clear that what happened to the Crimean Tatars constitutes a crime against humanity.
In 1989, the U.S.S.R. recognized that the deportations were a grave offence contradicting the foundations of international law.
The term “crime against humanity” is a powerful term and one that should not be used lightly. I am using it this evening because the suffering inflicted upon the Crimean Tatars was just that. However, where a crime against humanity recognizes the existence of mass atrocity, genocide requires that the mass atrocity be deliberately perpetrated not only to remove, but to deliberately destroy a group of people.
The test for genocide in international law is a high one. The crime of genocide was established through the genocide convention that was adopted in 1948 and entered into force in 1951.
Under the convention, it is not enough to establish that mass expulsions of civilians took place. Rather, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that such atrocities were perpetrated as part of a campaign to destroy in whole or in part an identifiable national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. This is a high threshold.
Canada has recognized six genocides to date: the Armenian genocide, the Ukrainian famine, the Holocaust, all predate the genocide convention. The Rwandan genocide, the Srebrenica massacre, and the genocide against the Yazidis of Sinjar in Iraq all occurred after the genocide convention was adopted.
In all three of the latter cases there was recourse to an internationally recognized investigation or a judicial decision in which determination of genocide was ultimately made.
The Rwandan genocide was recognized by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The Srebrenica massacre was recognized by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The genocide committed against the Yazidis of Sinjar in Iraq was recognized by the United Nations independent inquiry on Syria.
In the case of historical genocides, we do not have recourse to the courts but instead must rely on other sources. In the case of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, Ukraine is the only country to have formally recognized the event as genocide, having done so just last year. No other state or multilateral organization, including the UN, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has recognized the deportation as genocide.
Beyond the lack of international recognition, there is a lack of historical consensus. The majority of historians do not believe Stalin intended to destroy the Crimean Tatars because they were Crimean Tatars, despite the horror they suffered.
Most historians do not label this tragedy a genocide. This absence of international recognition or historical consensus informs our view. Rigorous determination, in this case by historians, should be the basis for deciding whether genocide occurred. By doing so, we ensure that the word maintains its ability to convey the horror it represents.
Guided by the objectives of honouring Crimean Tatars, and preserving the integrity of the meaning of the term genocide, it is the position of this government that Bill C-306 be opposed at second reading. Nevertheless, I want to underline that this government is committed to remembering the tragedy of the forced deportation of Crimean Tatars in 1944. We mark the 72nd anniversary of the deportation on May 18 of this year, and we will continue to commemorate the anniversary of this terrible event. This approach respects the integrity of the definition of genocide, and the historical memory of the Crimean Tatars.
Let me again reiterate that the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars was a crime against humanity and that this government agrees with the intent of the bill to create a memorial day. We do not support the use of the word genocide in this case. We must not recognize genocide without appropriate rigour. That rigour protects the legacy of all victims of genocide. As such, this government votes against this bill, and we ask our fellow parliamentarians to join us.