Why did Ottawa ignore warnings of Rwandan genocide?

A Rwandan family walks in the rain with all their belongings as they get close to home near Luhondo, Rwanda.

Newly-released documents detailed building crisis, but they hit bureaucratic wall.

Months before the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a steady stream of detailed messages about the killings of Tutsis arrived in Ottawa from Canadian diplomats stationed not only in Rwanda but also Kenya and Tanzania.

Never-before-seen documents obtained by the Star paint a clear picture of a Rwanda rife with ethnic tension, spiraling deeper and deeper toward war in the months leading up to the April genocide. All of it was laid out for the Canadian government of the day.

Telexes from the Canadian mission in the capital of Kigali in February and March 1994 report that the U.N. mission in Rwanda had proof of the existence of training camps for militia recruits, a massive distribution of arms. The telexes also warn there have been many “deaths by bullets” in which the “marksmen” walk away with impunity.

But the warnings never moved beyond the Africa desk in Ottawa at what was then known as the department of external affairs.

André Ouellet, the then-minister in Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, said in an interview with the Star that this kind of specific information never made it to his desk.

“I suspect if it had come to me I would remember or remember some of it,” said the now-retired Ouellet.

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