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From left: Canadian priests Guy Pinard and Claude Simard, and Paul Kagame, then leader of the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front, just after the 1994 genocide began. Today his ambassador blames their death on ‘thugs’ and ‘stray bullets.’ (REUTERS)
From left: Canadian priests Guy Pinard and Claude Simard, and Paul Kagame, then leader of the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front, just after the 1994 genocide began. Today his ambassador blames their death on ‘thugs’ and ‘stray bullets.’ (REUTERS)

SPECIAL REPORT

Families of two Canadian priests killed in Rwanda still wait for justice Add to ...

Rev. Claude Simard likely shared his last meal with his killers. He let the men into his home and gave them plates of papaya, investigators found. Then he was beaten to death with a carpenter’s hammer and left in a pool of blood in the corner where he usually prayed.

Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the murder of the Canadian priest. But an internal United Nations report, prepared within weeks of the killing and obtained recently by The Globe and Mail, concludes that Father Simard was killed by soldiers loyal to Paul Kagame, the long-time Rwandan leader who remains in power today. A separate investigation by another UN officer found similar evidence of military involvement.

Father Simard led a humble and austere life in Rwanda, but he also had a dangerous habit: He made tape recordings documenting killings by the government that took power after the 1994 genocide. Those recordings were the likely reason for his slaying, the UN reports found.

Another Canadian priest, Rev. Guy Pinard, took a similar risk: He openly criticized Rwandan authorities for their attacks on civilians. He was gunned down in front of hundreds of parishioners by a man with ties to the Rwandan military, according to an eyewitness. Father Pinard’s colleagues and family say they believe he was killed in retaliation for his criticism.

Rwanda never charged anyone with Father Pinard’s killing in 1997, three years after the Simard slaying. But a Spanish court, in a broader indictment of Rwandan senior officers in 2008 for international crimes, named a Rwandan lieutenant-general as the person ultimately responsible.

An investigation by The Globe and Mail raises questions about Canada’s policy toward Rwanda in the 20 years since the genocide. The Globe’s investigation into the murder of the two Canadian priests found new revelations – from a former Rwandan intelligence officer, from an eyewitness to one of the killings, and from reports by the Canadian-led UN peacekeeping force at the time – that implicate the security forces of the government of President Kagame, which Canada has supported for two decades.

A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department said Canada “took note” of the reports of the UN investigation into the Simard killing. But Canadian officials have never publicly acknowledged the evidence in the UN reports. Had they done so, Ottawa might have been under pressure to reconsider its support for the Rwandan government.

Despite knowing that the UN reports had pointed to Rwandan soldiers as Father Simard’s killers, Canada has given $500-million in aid to Rwanda over the past two decades, including $30-million last year. In recent years most of the aid has been channelled through civil-society groups and independent agencies for projects in areas such as agriculture and rural development.

Departmental spokesmen did not respond directly when asked by The Globe and Mail via e-mail whether Canada took any action as a result of the UN reports, or if it did anything to bring the perpetrators to justice, aside from pressing Rwanda to investigate. Asked why Canada gave foreign aid to a country accused of killing Canadian citizens, Adam Hodge, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said only that Canada would “continue to encourage” the development of democracy and accountability in Rwanda. “Since 1994, Canada has raised the issue of Canadians killed in Rwanda on numerous occasions with the Rwandan authorities, insisting on the importance of an in-depth investigation. Canada does not have the legal means to investigate without the full support of the Rwandan authorities,” he said in an e-mail.

The Kagame government has been widely praised for its army’s historical role in routing extremists who were responsible for the Rwandan genocide, and for its economic reforms since then. But there is growing global concern about its human-rights abuses, including the disappearance, killing or jailing of suspected critics at home.

The Globe and Mail has also reported evidence that the government has plotted the assassination of exiled opponents.

Vincent Karega, the Rwandan high commissioner to South Africa, said nobody in the Rwandan government will comment on the murder of the two Canadian priests because the cases are “an old story.”

The killings could have been caused by “thugs” or stray bullets, he said. “Rwanda was quite unstable and insecure in some regions during that time,” Mr. Karega said in an e-mail in response to questions from The Globe and Mail.

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