question period — Privy Council

Use of the Term "Genocide"

June 6, 2019


Honourable senators, my question is for the government leader. Leader, yesterday I asked you about the necessity of having a uniform definition of anti-Semitism across the Government of Canada. It seems that after this week the government also needs a uniform definition of the term “genocide.”

Let me quote Prime Minister Trudeau when he was asked if the atrocities committed by ISIS constituted genocide. On September 22, 2016, the Prime Minister stated:

This government recognizes that acknowledging genocide should be done on the basis of extraordinary facts and wise counsel internationally, not just on political grandstanding . . .

On June 14, 2016, he stated:

. . . we feel that determinations of genocide need to be done by objective measures and through proper research on the international stage. We will not trivialize the importance of the word “genocide” by not respecting formal engagements around that word. . . .

Also on June 14, 2016, he said:

We do not feel that politicians should be weighing in on this first and foremost. Determinations of genocide need to be made in an objective, responsible way. That is exactly what we have formally requested the international authorities to weigh in on.

Senator Harder, why did the government change its position on the definition of “genocide”?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate)

The government has not.


I do note that the Prime Minister says he accepted the findings of genocide in the report on missing and murdered Indigenous women, so it seems he has changed his definition.

Let me ask you about something that former Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in 2016. He said about genocide that the determination should be, first, a legal one, completed by a competent court, and not a political one.

Do you agree with Minister Dion?

Senator Harder

It is not for me to agree or disagree with a former minister of the government, and now an ambassador; it is for me to answer questions of honourable senators with respect to the government’s position. Let me say that the government’s position on genocide and the consequences of genocide is in accord with international law, and that the comments made with respect to the recent report were carefully chosen and should be acknowledged as such.