That the House: (a) re-affirm its support for (i) the Holocaust Memorial Day Act, (ii) the Armenian genocide recognition resolution adopted on April 21, 2004, (iii) the Rwandan genocide resolution adopted on April 7, 2008, (iv) the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day Act; (b) call upon the government to honour the victims of all genocides by recognizing the month of April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month; and (c) acknowledge the associated commemorative days of (i) Yom ha-Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), as determined by the Jewish Lunar calendar, (ii) Armenian Genocide Memorial Day on April 24, (iii) Rwandan Genocide Memorial Day on April 7, (iv) Holodomor Memorial Day on the fourth Saturday in November.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present Motion No. 587 before the House today. I would like to thank the hon. member for Don Valley East for seconding the motion.
I would like to thank the House for the opportunity to start off this important debate on a motion that would reaffirm the support of the House for the recognition of historical genocides. It would also call upon the government to recognize April as genocide remembrance, condemnation and prevention month.
In August, 1941, shortly after British intelligence broke the Enigma code and began intercepting first-hand Nazi reports of mass slaughters and remorseless brutalities in occupied Ukraine and Russia, Winston Churchill spoke to an international audience in a live radio broadcast. He said, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name”. In the United States, the noted legal scholar, Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Poland, heard Churchill's words. In the hope that naming the crime would help to prevent it, two years later, Lemkin coined the word “genocide”, defining it as “the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group”.
He tirelessly campaigned for its recognition in international law. Finally, in 1948, after the systemic nature and horrific scope of the Nazis' mass crimes had been more fully grasped, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Canada has been a party to this convention for more than 60 years, and its resolve to combat and prevent genocide around the world continues to be strong and steadfast.
Some seven decades after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, our country remains committed to helping to prevent future atrocities by combatting oppression, hatred, and xenophobia, and teaching future generations about the lessons of genocide around the world. Canada has been profoundly shaped by survivors of genocide who have had first-hand experience with the horrific crime and have resettled across our great country. That is why this Parliament has officially recognized the historical genocides that have affected many Canadian immigrants and the ancestors of many Canadians. Those genocides include the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, and the Rwandan genocide.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Act, which was passed in 2003, recognizes the unique atrocities of the Shoah, during which 6 million European Jews, including 1.5 million Jewish children, lost their lives. Millions of other European civilians were slaughtered because they belonged to groups deemed expendable, according to the Nazis' heinous ideology.
The Armenian genocide resolution, adopted 11 years ago this month, recognized the terrible suffering and loss of life endured by the Armenian people in 1915 as a genocide, condemning it as a crime against humanity.
The Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day Act was passed in 2008. It established the fourth Saturday in November as an annual day to remember one of the greatest tragedies of the last century, the deliberate starvation of millions of men, women, and children in Ukraine, between 1932 and 1933, by the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin.
Finally, in 2008, Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution commemorating the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans, targeting ethnic Tutsis and political moderates, including ethnic Hutus, and designating April 7 as a day of reflection on the prevention of genocide. Parliament had previously declared April 7 a day of remembrance for the victims of the Rwandan genocide in 2004.
With the designation of April each year as genocide remembrance, condemnation and prevention month, we would be specifically remembering those unfathomable, tragic, historic events. At the same time, we would be more broadly acknowledging that genocide betrays the fundamental value of human dignity.
Genocide does not begin with the mass murder of a people. Its seeds are planted with hatred, racism and a denial of human rights. We must be vigilant and never allow such horrific crimes to be forgotten or repeated. We have an obligation to remember and to learn from some of the darkest events in human history. By doing so we renew our commitment to do everything we can to prevent such events from happening ever again.
In the words of author, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel:
An immoral society betrays humanity because it betrays the basis for humanity, which is memory…. A moral society is committed to memory.
As time passes, it becomes even more imperative for moral societies such as ours to remain firm in our commitment to memory. Without active efforts such as those proposed by this motion, there is always the risk that the memory of historical genocides could be lost, minimized, or even denied.
Indeed, in recent years, we have seen an unfortunate rise around the world in the heinous practice of Holocaust denial and in the denial of other genocides. The only appropriate response is to strongly reaffirm our collective commitment as a society to remember and commemorate genocide, to educate future generations about the poisonous effects of hate and intolerance, and to uphold the importance of preventing such atrocities from ever reoccurring.
Indeed, while the nation at the centre of any genocide holds the primary responsibility to protect its people from such atrocities, the international community also has significant responsibilities.
Canada has been a world leader in genocide commemoration and education. We have opened the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, supported resolutions on the prevention of genocide at the Human Rights Council, and served as the 2014 chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, among many other recent recent initiatives.
The motion we are debating today is in the spirit of ensuring that our country continues to set an important international example. I call on all members of this House to support Motion No. 587.
I have appreciated the opportunity to address the House on this very important matter.