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Politics Ottawa holds back on describing Islamic State atrocities as genocide

Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion during question period in the House of Commons, Feb. 16, 2016.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is refusing to recognize the Islamic State atrocities as genocide, one day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry determined that the terror group has committed genocide against Christians and members of other minorities in Iraq and Syria.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion is not following in the footsteps of the U.S. administration in using the term genocide to describe the Islamic State's actions.

"Canada strongly condemns the crimes perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, including those committed against religious and ethnic minorities," Mr. Dion's press secretary, Chantal Gagnon, said in a statement on Friday.

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"Canada is committed to preventing and halting genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Mr. Kerry made his declaration on Thursday, after Congress unanimously passed a non-binding resolution accusing the Islamic State of genocide earlier this week.

"In my judgment, Daesh [Islamic State] is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis [Yazidis], Christians and Shia Muslims," he said.

The United States joins the likes of Pope Francis and the European Parliament in calling the terror group's actions genocide.

Speaking to The Globe and Mail, Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said Mr. Kerry's comments carry a lot of weight. She called on the Canadian government to follow suit.

"My hope is that Canada will recognize that [genocide], just as the U.S. did yesterday, and then act on it," Ms. Ambrose said.

"Now is the time for the world to come together to help the groups of people that are being slaughtered."

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However, the NDP also refused to describe the Islamic State horrors as genocide.

Rather, foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière called them war crimes.

"ISIS has committed horrible acts against civilians, and from the beginning of our involvement in Iraq and Syria, the NDP has called for Canada to help uphold international law by providing support for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes in the region," Ms. Laverdière said in a statement.

Kyle Matthews, senior deputy director at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, said he thinks that the federal government is avoiding the term because the Canadian mission against the Islamic State "does nothing to stop genocide."

The Liberal government revised Canada's mission against the terror organization in February, withdrawing its CF-18 fighter jets.

"The fighter jets are the ones that actually can go deep into ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq and actually take out the convoys, help ground troops stop their advances. That's been taken off the table," Mr. Matthews said.

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"If you want to prevent genocide, there is nothing in the Canadian current plan that is doing that."

He called on the House of Commons to hold a vote declaring that the Islamic State is committing genocide.

Genocide is defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

If a signatory state describes a conflict as genocide, it has an obligation to act under the convention. Canada and the United States are both signatories.

While Mr. Matthews said there is no guarantee that the United States will do more to prevent genocide, the pressure is now on to do so.

"The genocide convention basically argues that inaction is not a policy option, that you have to be more forceful," he said. "It means going in and then going right to the root of the source. So we're talking about Raqqa [Syria] here."

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