Twenty years after he bore witnesses to one of the worst genocides of modern times, Roméo Dallaire is still consumed by the atrocities of war and how to prevent them.
It is for that reason, the former Canadian lieutenant-general said Wednesday, he is resigning as a senator.
“The international dimension of my work has shifted my sense of duties from the Senate here, and the nation, to the international sphere,” Mr. Dallaire told reporters the day after handing his resignation to the Governor-General.
Mr. Dallaire, 67, said he will be working with Dalhousie University on the issue of child soldiers, with the United Nations Secretary-General on genocide prevention, with the International Human Rights Commission on crimes against humanity, and with the University of Southern California, which has asked him to spend a year helping out with research into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is also writing two books.
Mr. Dallaire, who was appointed to the Senate as a Liberal in 2005 by former prime minister Paul Martin, was eligible to sit in the Senate until he turned 75 in 2021.
He earned international fame for holding together the remnants of an outmanned UN peacekeeping team in Rwanda in 1994 when the majority Hutu population began slaughtering minority Tutsis. His calls for assistance from the international community went unheeded until the genocide was unstoppable.
The story has been told in many books, including his own Shake Hands With the Devil, which inspired a documentary and feature film, and the movie Hotel Rwanda – the latter derided by Mr. Dallaire as junk.
In the end, some estimate more than a million Rwandans were killed, many by bleeding to death after their limbs were hacked off at the knee or the elbow.
Mr. Dallaire tried to protect the Tutsis who had taken refuge in churches and in the soccer stadium in the capital city of Kigali. But the carnage lasted more than three months and the small UN team was powerless to stop it.
“I live every day what I lived 20 years ago and it’s as if it was this morning. You can’t walk away from the scale of destruction. Nor can you walk away from the sense of abandonment that my troops and I had in the field,” Mr. Dallaire said.
He came back to Canada deeply depressed and suffering from PTSD.
In 2011, he admitted publicly that he had tried to commit suicide four times before getting the help he needed. But, he says, he has never fully recovered.
“That injury is still with me,” he said Wednesday. “I am into my 14th year of therapy. I take my nine pills a day and I live one day at a time.”
When he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car last December and crashed into a traffic barrier on Parliament Hill, he blamed the accident on his Rwanda experience.
So the one national issue that will continue to occupy his days, he said, is that of Canada’s wounded veterans and their families – and the number of soldiers and former soldiers who have taken their own lives.
Senator James Cowan, the Senate Liberal leader who was appointed on the same day as Mr. Dallaire, said the former lieutenant-general is “one of the most remarkable Canadians that I have ever met.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper thanked Mr. Dallaire for his service to Canada.
The resignation will leave 10 vacant seats in the Senate, where there have been no appointments since a spending scandal erupted last spring.
Mr. Dallaire said he is not leaving because of the cloud hanging over the Red Chamber. The Senate, he said, recognizes that internal reform must occur, “but there is no doubt in my military mind that this country needs that second chamber to balance out the other one.” Nor was he spurred by the decision of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to set all Liberal senators free to sit as independents.
“I am leaving one job,” he said, “because I’ve got a more demanding job, I feel, internationally.”