Canada was ready to abandon 1948 accord if UN didn’t remove ‘cultural genocide’ ban, records reveal

You should support or initiate any move for the deletion of Article three on “Cultural” Genocide. If this move not successful’ vote against the article

In the aftermath of the Second World War, as the United Nations debated a ban on “cultural genocide” in its 1948 Genocide Convention, Canada urged its delegate to try to spike it.

Early drafts included this controversial concept, now used by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to describe residential schools policy. It was known as Article Three, and if it was not removed from the final draft, Canada was willing to abandon the entire Genocide Convention, records show.

“Following for Wilgress,” reads a telegram sent July 27, 1948 from the Secretary of State for External Affairs in Ottawa to the Canadian delegation at the Palais Des Nations in Geneva. L. Dana Wilgress was an ambassador to the U.S.S.R. right after the Second World War, later High Commissioner in London. At the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King was acting as his own foreign minister.

Released later under access to information, the message had been copied to the Justice Department, delivered in code, labelled “IMPORTANT,” and approved by R.G. “Gerry” Riddell, who would later be Canada’s permanent UN delegate.

“You should support or initiate any move for the deletion of Article three on ‘Cultural’ Genocide. If this move not successful, you should vote against Article three and if necessary, against the Convention. The Convention as a whole less Article three, is acceptable, although legislation will naturally be required to implement the Convention,” it reads.

“The matters dealt with by Article three are more properly relevant to the protection of minorities.”

Canada was joined in opposition to “cultural genocide” by the United States and most of Western Europe, lined up against the Soviet Bloc, which supported it.

All this was done in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, against which some people viewed cultural protections as secondary. There was also disagreement on protection for political groups, as communists and anti-communists alike were the target of state-level extermination strategies.

When it came to a vote that October, Canada’s view won out, and both political groups and “cultural genocide” were excluded. Genocide officially became the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” not necessarily by killing, but also by measures that include serious mental harm and the forced transfer of children.

The term has been used in Canada in the residential schools context for several years, notably by Paul Martin, the former prime minister. But it was not until the past couple of weeks that it shot to national prominence, first when Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin used it in a speech, calling it the modern equivalent of “assimilation.” Then it became the main conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, under chairman Murray Sinclair.

It has been divisive, but enjoys growing, prominent support. Philippe Couillard, the Quebec Premier, for example, said on Friday that residential schools policy could “certainly” be described as cultural genocide.

No drafting change of Article III would make its substance acceptable to his delegation

Edward Sadowski, who has done extensive research and archival work for the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., unearthed the diplomatic cable in an access to information request for Canada’s historical records of the genocide deliberations.

He provided these records to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and although some of his other work is cited, he was surprised the cable was not mentioned in the final report.

“I don’t understand why they did not use that cable and some of the other documents,” he said, as it would have been a “smoking gun.”

The records he obtained also include reference to Canada’s apparent motivation in a transcript of a meeting in Geneva. In the transcript, an Egyptian diplomat summarizes Canada’s position, as articulated earlier by a Canadian delegate named Lapointe, who said Canada fundamentally disagreed with the idea of cultural genocide.

“No drafting change of Article III would make its substance acceptable to his delegation,” the Egyptian said of the Canadian. He acknowledged Canadians were “horrified” at the very idea of cultural genocide, but they were also “deeply attached to their cultural heritage, which was made up mainly of a combination of Anglo-Saxon and French elements, and they would strongly oppose any attempt to undermine the influence of those two cultures in Canada, as they would oppose any similar attempt in any other part of the world.”

The Canadian delegation “was not, therefore, opposed to the idea of cultural genocide, but only to the inclusion in the convention of measures to suppress it,” he said.



Racism In Canada Is Ever-Present, But We Have A Long History Of Denial

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