Canada should mind its own business


Canada should mind its own business

The Globe and Mail
Friday, April 23, 2004 – Page A19

Bring back the friendly dictatorship! Or at least bring it back if the
absence results in the kind of irresponsible, unnecessary and
provocative resolution the House of Commons passed on Wednesday, which
complicates Canada’s relations with an ally and a hugely important
country: Turkey.

That the opposition parties, without having responsibility for Canadian
foreign policy, would act irresponsibly is hardly a surprise. That
government backbenchers would defy their own Prime Minister and Foreign
Minister and muck about in foreign policy for domestic political reasons
should make everyone wonder about the wisdom of free votes in the

By a 153 to 68 margin, the Commons adopted a motion from an obscure Bloc
Québécois MP to “acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915, and condemn
this as a crime against humanity.”

What happened 89 years ago, before the creation of modern Turkey, still
rankles Armenians. Hundreds of thousands of them were killed, tortured
or deported. Books have been written about it, and movies, too,
including Ararat by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan.

That authors and filmmakers should pick over the events of 1915 is fair
game. That Parliament should have nothing better to do with its time
than pass resolutions about events long ago — resolutions that will
reasonably be interpreted in Turkey as reflecting the opinion of
Canadians, and wrongly interpreted as the official position of the
government — is outrageous meddling, bound to irritate gratuitously one
side, Turkey.

What conceivable business is it of Canada’s Parliament, except for
unwelcome meddling, to muck about in historical matters that do not
concern this country directly? How would we like it if the Turkish
parliament started passing resolutions about, say, the hanging of Louis
Riel; or the French parliament voted on the deportation of the Acadians;
or the New Zealand Parliament voted on the treatment of Canada’s

Canada would respond the way the Turkish government did: It called in
the Canadian ambassador in Ankara to lodge a formal protest, and issued
a statement saying correctly that “the responsibility of the negative
consequences to be brought by this motion belongs to the Canadian

No one denies that Ottomans did ghastly things to Armenians 89 years ago
in the context of the First World War. Almost every non-partisan account
underscores those facts. That people can study the historical record and
draw their own conclusions is as it should be.

That doesn’t mean the Canadian Parliament has to set itself up as a
moral arbiter on behalf of the Canadian people — because, why stop
there? Why not condemn the Japanese Rape of Nanking, the killings of
Chinese by European powers during the Boxer rebellion, the invasion of
Turkey by Greece after the First World War, and so on.

Some Canadian politicians were influenced by Armenian or Greek
descendants in their districts. That political pandering to ethnic
sensitivities can be understood, if not justified, but it hardly
explains why so many other MPs couldn’t understand how to conduct
foreign policy, including members of the Conservative Party who hope to
become the government in the next election.

Turkey is an incredibly important country: the only democratic, secular
Muslim state in a troubled part of the world. It is an ally of Canada in
NATO. It has become a democracy, having recently changed its government.
It is trying to solve the Cyprus deadlock, successfully urging Turkish
Cypriots to back the United Nations plan for reunification, which the
Greek Cypriots are apparently going to block. It is trying to meet
European Union conditions for starting entry negotiations.

Canada’s foreign policy, therefore, requires positive, constructive
relations with Turkey. Prime Minister Paul Martin and Foreign Affairs
Minister Bill Graham reminded the Liberal caucus of that yesterday. The
bulk of Liberal MPs told them to get lost, because under the new Martin
rules for remedying the “democratic deficit,” this was a “two-line
whip,” whereby ministers have to support the government but backbenchers
do not.

A handful of assemblies (Italy, Sweden, Russia, Argentina, the European
Parliament) has passed motions similar to the one adopted by the
Commons. All other assemblies, including those of the United States,
Britain, Australia, Japan, and Germany, refused.

Only two governments have made acknowledgment of this “genocide” a
matter of policy: France and Switzerland. Fortunately, the Martin
government, humbled by its own members, said official Canadian policy
won’t change. Thank goodness.

[email protected]