Canada’s House of Commons has unanimously adopted a motion declaring Russia’s war on Ukraine to be a genocide as the military assault enters its third month.
The motion Wednesday said “there is clear and ample evidence of systematic and massive war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed against the people of Ukraine by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, directed by President Vladimir Putin and others within the Russian Parliament.”
Russia’s military assault in recent weeks has refocused with additional might on Ukraine’s east and south. Many cities lie in ruins and the United Nations estimates that more than 2,700 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and that more than 3,100 have been injured. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) predicts 8.3 million people will flee Ukraine this year.
NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson, the sponsor of the motion, cited reports of mass atrocities against civilians, the forced transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia, and “widespread instances of physical harm, mental harm and rape” of Ukrainians.
The motion ends by saying the House recognizes “the Russian Federation is committing acts of genocide against the Ukrainian people.”
The Genocide Convention adopted by the United Nations in 1948 identifies five acts to constitute genocide if carried out with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group,” including killing members of the group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group, preventing births and forcibly transferring children out of the group.
Ms. McPherson said members of the Liberal Party tried to convince her to soften her motion. She declined, she said.
“They asked us to water it down. I said no,” she said.
The motion required unanimous consent of the House of Commons to pass. Advance notice of the motion was given to all parties and a single MP could have voiced opposition in order for it to be rejected. None did.
Russia’s ambassador to Canada dismissed the Commons motion Wednesday.
“We deplore the motion and reject the allegations,” envoy Oleg Stepanov said in a statement. “Such labelling makes no sense, carries no weight. So it’s just a politically-empty Russophobic gesture.”
Ms. McPherson said she hopes the adoption of a motion calling Russia’s conduct genocide will spur Ottawa to do more.
So far, Canada has pledged more than $500-million in military aid to Ukraine, including eight armoured vehicles. It’s sent Ukraine four heavy artillery guns and shipped $110-million worth of military gear since the start of the Russian assault in February. Canada has also pledged $1.62-billion in loans to help Ukraine function during the war – $1-billion through the IMF and $620-million directly.
Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, said the declaration of genocide “is an important political expression of opinion by our Parliament.” But, he added, “it has to be followed by the straps required to bring the conflict to an end and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month accused Russia of genocide in Ukraine, saying Russia is “trying to wipe out the idea of even being Ukrainian,” but said he’d leave it to the lawyers to determine if the standard for the crime is met. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he thinks it’s “absolutely right” for people to describe Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide.
Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler said he would have preferred that MPs study the matter in a parliamentary committee before making such a declaration and said this should still be undertaken.
“Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity” and any determination must meet a high threshold, he said.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong agreed the matter should be probed by MPs. Before the House of Commons last year declared that China is committing genocide against its Muslim minority, a human-rights subcommittee had studied the matter and issued a report. International media reporting and evidence-gathering by human-rights groups had also fleshed out the evidence.
“The determination of genocide over the Uyghur people took place over a number of years. It just didn’t happen overnight,” he said.
“I think it’s clear war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. I think it’s also clear these crimes may rise to the level of a genocide but we need to collect evidence to hold the Russians accountable.”
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide would fit the pattern that President Putin has established” in Ukraine.
But press secretary Adrien Blanchard said it will be up to experts to determine if this represents genocide. He noted the International Criminal Court is investigating Russia’s conduct in Ukraine and its remit includes war crimes and genocide.
“Genocide is a legal determination which will be confirmed by international legal professionals in the appropriate bodies.”
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