Genocide recognition is not a political football

Image: mfa.gov.ua

Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.

The Conservatives’ decision to deny unanimous consent to Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj’s motion to designate May 18 of each year as Crimean Tatar Deportation-Sürgünlik Memorial Day while recognizing the Sürgünlik as an act of genocide was petty, petulant and, frankly childish. Let’s face it, this was all about political payback and not about the issue itself.

Their rationale for refusing unanimous consent, as expressed in a statement sent to this newspaper in response to our request, is that a motion is non-binding (unlike Edmonton – Griesbach MP Kerry Diotte’s Private Member’s Bill C-306, which the Liberals voted down), that there was a lack of consultation on this motion, that Wrzesnewskyj’s motivation in proposing it “appears more to do with a desire to draw attention to himself and not to the importance of Sürgünlik commemoration”, and that “the next Conservative government will pass a law establishing Sürgünlik Memorial Day and commemorating the sacrifice of Crimean Tatars during the Soviet era in a substantive manner.”

Let’s take this one at a time.

First. Motions, especially when they pass by unanimous consent in the House of Commons, are a clear expression of the will of Parliament. Such passage would be an unequivocal affirmation of an historical fact. Furthermore, it would designate May 18 of each year as Crimean Tatar Deportation-Sürgünlik Memorial Day while acknowledging the Sürgünlik as an act of genocide, which is also what Diotte’s bill called for. In other words, be it an act or be it a motion or resolution, the end result is the same – Sürgünlik is recognized as a genocide and May 18 is designated as the day to commemorate this genocide, just as Nissan 27 (according to the Hebrew Calendar) is designated as Holocaust Memorial Day and the fourth Saturday of each November is designated as Holodomor Memorial Day.

Furthermore, while Canada’s Parliament has officially recognized seven crimes against humanity as genocide, only the Holocaust and the Holodomor have been recognized through actual legislation. The other five have been recognized through motions or resolutions. These are

  • The Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks in 1915;
  • The 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda;
  • The massacres of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995;
  • The ongoing slaughter of Yazidis by ISIS; and
  • The ongoing slaughter of the Rohingya in Myanmar.

What’s more, the two countries which have recognized Sürgünlik as genocide, namely Ukraine and Latvia, have both done so by motion or resolution – not by legislation.

Second. The claim that there was a lack of consultation is, to use the most diplomatic expression — far-fetched. Wrzesnewskyj went out of his way to consult with all parties and Independents in Parliament. He even approached Diotte to second the motion and discussed this with the Conservatives on several occasions.

Third, the comment that Wrzesnewskyj’s motivation was “more to do with a desire to draw attention to himself and not to the importance of Sürgünlik commemoration” is totally unjustified. He chose the date to ask for unanimous consent not because he is retiring from politics as the Conservatives have suggested, but in order to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Sürgünlik and the visit of Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev. James Bezan’s Holodomor Bill was passed on the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor and it coincided with the visit of then-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko to Canada. What is very important to note about that bill’s passage is that Wrzesnewskyj withdrew his own Holodomor Bill from consideration in order to support Bezan’s – clearly an example of putting principle ahead of partisanship and personal recognition.

Wrzesnewskyj also broke ranks with his party in order to support Diotte’s Sürgünlik bill and convinced four other Liberals to join him. While there is no excuse for the Liberals voting against Diotte’s bill, it should be noted that their opposition to it was due to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion’s reluctance to use the term genocide. But Dion is gone not only from cabinet, but also from politics in general. His successor, Chrystia Freeland has no such problem with the term genocide. It should be noted that while Freeland did not vote for Diotte’s bill, she did not vote against it either. Instead, she very conveniently chose to be absent for the vote. As not only a cabinet minister, but also Dion’s junior minister (International Trade) under the Global Affairs umbrella, she could not vote against his orders and expect to stay in cabinet. But as she could not in conscience vote against this bill, she chose to absent herself, which was the only available option for a person in her position.

Fourth. The Conservative pledge that should they form the next government, they will pass an actual bill recognizing Sürgünlik as genocide is pure partisanship. To begin with, they have to get elected. And despite all of Justin Trudeau’s efforts to self-destruct, the outcome of October’s upcoming election is still up in the air. What’s more this nitpicking regarding a motion or an act is just a smokescreen to hide the fact that they want themselves to take the credit for recognizing Sürgünlik as genocide. This is really reprehensible. Genocide is the greatest crime that can be committed against humanity. Recognition, commemoration and condemnation of such a crime are all matters of moral principle. They are not a political football to be kicked around for partisan gain. The Liberals were wrong to oppose Diotte’s bill, and the Conservatives were wrong to refuse unanimous consent to Wrzesnewskyj’s motion. As NDP MP Linda Duncan states: “I think this ongoing battle between the Liberals and Conservatives over who loves Ukraine more is just appalling.”

Much as we can rejoice in the fact both major parties are competing for our community’s support, when partisanship overtakes principle, the end result is no result at all.

And that’s exactly what we’ve got after two attempts to recognize Sürgünlik as genocide in Canada’s Parliament.

Nothing.

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