Ottawa

GG's apology hits home for Ottawa Rwandans

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean's apology in Rwandan Wednesday for Canada's failure to intervene in the 1994 genocide struck a chord with Ottawa's Rwandan community, which continues to work to repair the damage caused by the tragic event.
Governor General Michaëlle Jean takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at a mass grave at the Kigali Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda, on Wednesday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean's apology in Rwandan Wednesday for Canada's failure to intervene in the 1994 genocide struck a chord with Ottawa's Rwandan community, which continues to work to repair the damage caused by the tragic event.

Jean made her apology to Rwandan leaders after a visit Wednesday to the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre, a mass grave in the country's capital, Kigali, where more than 250,000 bodies are buried.

"The world's failure to respond adequately to the genocide is a failure in which Canada — as part of the international community — readily acknowledges its fair share of responsibility," she said.

At a fundraiser on Wednesday night at the University of Ottawa to raise money for school supplies and aid for children orphaned by the genocide, Jean's words were well received.

Emery Kayiranga, who fled Rwanda seven years ago and is now a student in Ottawa, said even 16 years later, Jean's words carried meaning.

"[An apology] is meaningful even if it takes 100 years," said Kayiranga, a member of Bempong, the charity raising money for Rwandan orphans.

"As Canadians, I hoped we could apologize sooner rather than later," said Kayiranga.

School near site of massacre

Kayiranga said money raised for Bempong will help support a primary school in Ntarama, a town that has its own genocide memorial to commemorate the brutal killing of 5,000 people who had taken shelter inside the local church.

Students at Ntarama Primary School sit at their desks with school supplies purchased by Bempong, an Ottawa-based charity. (Courtesy of Bempong)

Jean's message was written in collaboration with the Foreign Affairs Department, according to Marthe Blouin, the governor general's official spokeswoman. It was also cleared at the highest levels of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, officials said.

Approximately 800,000 people of ethnic Tutsi origin and politically moderate members of Rwanda's majority ethnic group, the Hutus, were systematically slaughtered by extremist Hutus between April and June of 1994.

The genocide was sparked when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down over the Kigali airport on April 6, 1994.

Kenyan-born community activist and radio host Sarah Onyango said Jean's words were a start but on their own will do little to aid the people of Rwanda.

"Apologies are great; action is better," said Onyango. "So, let's do more, Canada, to help the widows and children, because these children are the next generation of Rwandans.

With files from the CBC's Sandra Abma, The Canadian Press

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