OTTAWA — The Canadian government moved yesterday to become one of the first in the world to recognize the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine, the Holodomor, as a deliberate act of genocide.
On a day when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government marked the visit of the leader of the Orange Revolution, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, with elaborate pomp, it also took a historic step to acknowledge the millions who died in one of the darkest chapters of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union.
Mr. Yushchenko was driven to Parliament in a landau and welcomed along red carpets, and gave a rare address to a joint session of the Commons and Senate - honours granted to a leader who is widely admired in the 1.2-million-member Ukrainian-Canadian community.
Last night, Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced at a Parliament Hill ceremony that Mr. Harper's cabinet formally decided yesterday to recognize the Holodomor as genocide, which Ukrainian-Canadian leaders have pressed for, and Mr. Yushchenko has championed.
The Holodomor - "death by starvation" in Ukrainian - was a massive famine made worse by policies of forced collectivization that took food away from peasants and set harsh penalties for those who "stole" it back.
Russia insists no genocide was planned.
Mr. Yushchenko has since 2006 led international efforts to have the Holodomor recognized on its 75th anniversary this year as a campaign to eliminate the heart of the Ukrainian nation, killing 10 million.
"In this brutal, inhumane way, the Communist authorities were trying to deal a mortal blow to the very foundation and heart of our nation, to the peasants and farmers, and thus eliminate the future possibility of reviving and growing as an independent Ukraine," he said in a speech yesterday evening.
Although Ukrainian-Canadians - one of Canada's largest ethnic communities, concentrated mainly in the Prairie provinces - have urged the government to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide, the Commons has never matched a 2003 Senate resolution that did that.
Mr. Kenney said the cabinet decided yesterday to support a private member's bill by Manitoba Conservative MP James Bezan to set aside a day to mark the Holodomor as genocide. That bill will face a debate and second-stage vote today, and will not complete passage unless MPs unanimously agree to expedite it.
"It is, sadly, unknown outside of the Ukrainian community," Mr. Kenney said in an interview. "We all rightfully remember the Holocaust, its history and its lessons. We shouldn't be ignorant about other mass killings that constitute an essential part of the 20th century."
Mr. Harper's government has paid special attention to Ukrainian concerns, and those of Mr. Yushchenko - a reflection both of the numbers of Ukrainian-Canadians and its affinity for a free-market liberalizer who has been cast as a battler against post-Soviet Russian domination.
Mr. Harper has backed Mr. Yushchenko's efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO over the objections of Russia and reluctance from some European allies.
As he introduced Mr. Yushchenko in Parliament yesterday, Mr. Harper said he has called on NATO allies not only to support Ukrainian membership, but "to understand that the decision to seek alliance with others is a decision for, and only for, the sovereign nation of Ukraine itself."
Mr. Harper later said he would press allies on his trip this week to
Britain, France, Germany and Italy to consider Ukrainian membership on
clear criteria alone.