April 24, 2015, Ottawa, ON- MP Brad Butt’s opens debate on his Motion in the House of Commons. His remarks are as follows;
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present Motion M-587 before the House today.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to lead off this important debate on a motion that would re-affirm this House’s support for the recognition of historical genocides
It would also call upon the Government to recognize April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month.
Mr. Speaker, 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.
Two years later, in the hope that naming the crime would help to prevent it, 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 – and tirelessly campaigned for its recognition in international law.
Finally, in 1948, after the systematic nature and horrific scope of the Nazis’ mass crimes had been more fully grasped, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Mr. Speaker, Canada has been a party to this convention for more than 60 years, and our resolve to combat and prevent genocide around the world continues to be strong and steadfast.
Seven decades after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, our country remains committed to helping prevent future atrocities by combating 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 first-hand experience with the horrific crime, and have resettled across the 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.
Mr. Speaker, the Holocaust Memorial Day Act, which was passed in 2003, recognizes the unique atrocity of the Shoah, during which six million European Jews – including 1.5-million Jewish children – lost their lives, and 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 Josef 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.
Mr. Speaker, with the designation of April each year as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month, we would be specifically remembering these unfathomably tragic historical 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 again.
In the words of author, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel:
“‘An immoral society betrays humanity because it betrays the basis for humanity, which is memory… A moral society is committed to memory.’”
Mr. Speaker, 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 Motion M-587, 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 re-occurring.
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.
Mr. Speaker, 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 2014 chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, among many other 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 587.
Thank you very much.