Thursday, April 5, 2021
Canadian immigration and the Rwandan massacre
By GLENN WANAMAKER -- CNEWS Politics
In a Quebec City courtroom next week, not far from where General Romeo Dallaire is struggling to overcome his own Rwandan nightmare, a man accused of helping to incite the Rwandan genocide will learn his fate.
After years of legal procedures and multiple delays, a Federal Court judge is expected to decide whether Leon Mugesera, a former university professor and a regional vice-president in a Hutu-controlled Rwandan government in the early 1990's, will be allowed to stay in this country or sent back to Rwanda.
Mugesera arrived in Quebec in 1993, just before the civil conflict in Rwanda erupted into a slaughter of close to one million people.
Soon after, immigration authorities learned about an emotionally-charged speech Mugesera had delivered in the town of Kabaya on Nov. 22, 1992, in which he allegedly called upon the majority Hutus to rid the country of its enemies.
He was arrested at his home in suburban Ste. Foy in January, 1985. After an initial 34-day hearing before the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board in 1996, he was ordered expelled after it determined he had incited violence and genocide, and had misled Immigration officials in his application to come to Canada.
Two years later, an appeal board upheld the expulsion order. But Mugesera succeeded in obtaining a judicial review before the Federal Court.
That hearing, which opened in January, 2000, only ended in October, leaving Judge Marc Nadon with some 50,000 pages of documents to review.
Much of the case revolves around Mugesera's infamous speech, delivered in the Kinyarwanda language and the only record of which is a cassette tape recording.
Defence and government lawyers argued for days over varying translations of the speech, dissecting individual words and phrases, and disputing the meaning of his cultural references and symbols.
For prosecutors, the speech was a blood-thirsty call for a slaughter of the minority Tutsis.
One paragraph in particular was reviewed over and over again. According to one translation (which I have translated from the French), he said:
"It is to Ethiopia that we will send you [the enemy, or Tutsis] by the Nyabarongo [river] so that you will arrive there quickly."
Placed in the context of 28 other paragraphs cited by Crown lawyers, the words were said to mean that Tutsis should be killed and their bodies floated down the river.
Elsewhere, Mugesera used a series of violent images, such as "cutting necks", or called for the dressing of a list of people so they could be "brought to justice. In the event justice for the people is not served, we should do it ourselves in exterminating this bad lot".
Mugesera's case was hurt by a letter written to him just days after his speech by a former political colleague and read to the court.
His ex-colleague told him there is nothing more destructive than "an intellectual resorting to fanaticism", and called his speech "a veritable call to massacre and intolerance".
Mugesera's lawyer is Guy Bertrand, the former Parti Quebecois leadership candidate who became a federalist and pushed the federal government to refer the sovereignty issue to the Supreme Court, ultimately leading to Bill C-20, the Clarity Act.
Bertrand has adopted the Rwandan's case with extraordinary energy, seeking to show the Crown's case is built on nothing but hearsay evidence.
He called it "an exceptional case, the first in the country where someone is accused of a crime against humanity and a war crime", based on "different interpretations of a speech, of a crime committed through words".
He attacked the testimony of the co-presidents of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Violations of Human Rights in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994 as biased, and said they should not have testified as both expert witnesses and as authors defending their own report.
He said Mugesera's speech, while open to different interpretation, was a call for elections and for legitimate defence against the government's opponents.
"It is the speech of an unhappy man which contains violent words. But what must be retained is that Leon Mugesera had not lost hope and that he was calling for elections. Fifteen times in his text, he repeats the word 'election'. Someone who wants to exterminate his enemies -- is he going to talk about elections?"
If the Federal Court judge upholds the expulsion order without reserve, Mugesera, his wife, and five children will have to leave the country. But it's possible he may accept that the immigration tribunal erred in one way or another, in which case the affair could end up before the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile not far away, General Dallaire will continue to deal with his own horrific Rwanda memories, a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his United Nations Mission in Rwanda.
Dallaire, who should be considered a Canadian hero for his efforts, warned his superiors repeatedly of the coming massacre in Rwanda, but his advice was ignored. He remained there long enough, as he told Le Soleil journalist Monique Giguere in an interview last year, to "see the devil", and he's been living through moments of excruciating hell ever since.