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April 4, 2016

The declaration by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that atrocities being committed against Christians as well as Yezidis and other minorities in the Middle East amounts to genocide is a welcome recognition of the reality faced by millions of people in the region. The U.S. declaration, combined with a similar stance by the European Union, surely implies that the nations of the world must act effectively to halt the slaughter which is occurring.

What amounts to effective and proportional action is a matter for debate. However, the bombing campaign against the Islamic State in which Canada has participated has been far from effective in deterring the genocide.

Canada is rightly welcoming tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, an act which acknowledges that we have a responsibility to these people. Carrying out that responsibility should also involve acting to halt the genocide which is creating refugees in the first place.

Diplomatic means should be an essential step towards protecting the persecuted minorities of the Middle East. Yet, diplomacy in itself is not likely to lead to a cessation of genocide by a terrorist group which thinks nothing of beheading innocent people at home and blowing them up in all corners of the world.

A 278-page report by the Knights of Columbus and an organization known as In Defence of Christians detailed dozens of incidents of torture, rape, kidnapping, murder, forced conversion, bombing, and the destruction of religious property and monuments. "Murder of Christians is commonplace. Many have been killed in front of their own families," said the report, Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East.

The atrocities, in all likelihood, extend far beyond those listed in the report. In Defence of Christians says ISIS has murdered 1,100 Christians because of their faith.

The declaration of genocide should not be a paper statement. Western and other nations with large numbers of Christians, in particular, should be earnest in defending the minorities under attack. It may be too late to halt the depopulation of Christians in the Middle East, a process that began decades ago. But it is not too late to protect the lives of those persecuted people who remain in the region.

What can Canada do? While Canada is a G8 nation, its military power is not extensive. Yet, in a coalition with other concerned nations, it can play a part in providing effective defence against genocide. That, almost certainly, would involve deploying ground troops.

Canada, meanwhile, abandoned one important tool in the fight to protect persecuted people when it decided to close the Office of Religious Freedom and refused to appoint a new ambassador for religious freedom to replace Andrew Bennett. Bennett and his office were a force for human rights whose role should have been expanded, not cut.

Persecution of religious minorities, including Christians, is a significant and growing threat to human dignity.

Canada should not be watching from the sidelines.