Alleged Rwandan war criminal must leave Canada: top court

The Supreme Court of Canada will decide Tuesday if Leon Mugesera, an alleged Rwandan war criminal, should be deported.

The Supreme Court of Canada has restored a deportation order issued to a Rwandan accused of helping spark the genocide that killed 800,000 people.

Government lawyers have been fighting for 10 years to have Leon Mugesera kicked out of Canada, arguing that in a November 1992 speech, he incited fellow Hutus to kill Tutsis and set the scene for the 1994 slaughter in the African country.

Survivors of the Rwandan genocide cheered in the lobby of the courthouse in Ottawa.

"It's the first time I feel very happy, I think justice has returned," said one man on CBC Television. The crowd also jeered as Mugesera left the courtroom.

In an 8-0 decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Mugesera did incite murder, genocide and hatred. The justices also ruled there were reasonable grounds to conclude that the speech amounted to crimes against humanity.

The court said Mugesera, aware of the country's history, ethnic tensions and past massacres of Tutsis, would have known the consequences of his speech.

"A man of his education, status and prominence on the local political scene would necessarily have known that a speech vilifying and encouraging acts of violence against the target group would have the effect of furthering the attack," the court wrote.

Mugesera had been a member of the ruling Hutu party with close ties to the military. During the 1992 speech, he told 1,000 party members that they should kill Tutsis and "dump their bodies into the rivers of Rwanda."

He also allegedly spoke of "exterminating these bastards" and warned that "the person whose neck you do not cut is the one who will cut yours."

David Matas, a lawyer for several intervenors in the case, hailed the ruling because it sets an important legal precedent.

"If [he had been allowed to stay], not only would we have been unable to deport such people, we would not be able to prosecute them either."

It is unclear how soon the deportation order involving Mugesera might take effect, or whether he has any options in his struggle to remain in Canada.

The Rwandan government of the day issued an arrest warrant against Mugesera following the 1992 speech. He and his family fled to Quebec City and were initially granted permanent resident status in Canada.

He had been teaching at Quebec's Laval University, but lost his job when the accusations were levelled against him.

Philip Gourevitch, a journalist who wrote a book about the Rwandan genocide, said Mugesera's speech laid the groundwork for the carnage that was to follow two years later.

"He was one of the first to go in a major public speech and say, 'Look, our mistake in the past with the Tutsi minority has been allowing them to survive, has been allowing them to live. We must get rid of them,'" said Gourevitch.

Guy Bertrand, Mugesera's lawyer, had argued that his client never incited people to kill Tutsis or political opponents.

"His speech should be read in the context of legitimate defence," Bertrand argued in written submissions to the Supreme Court.

Bertrand said his client wil be either killed or tortured if he returns to Rwanda.

The speech was the focus of several immigration hearings and appeals since Mugesera arrived in Canada. Two immigration tribunals ordered his removal from Canada.

But the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the verdicts, concluding that Mugesera's remarks had been taken out of context and that he should be allowed to stay in Canada. It ruled that some of the comments had been badly translated and may have been altered to make Mugesera look guilty.

Mugesera had a reputation as a "fervent supporter of democracy, patriotic pride and resistance to invading forces," said the three-judge Federal Court appeal panel. They described the overall themes of his speech as "elections, courage and love."