The dead, wrote German novelist W.G. Sebald, are forever returning to us. Unhappily, some governments continue to deny them, in the name of trade, realpolitik or revisionism. Even as the Dalai Lama was leaving millions of Canadians light-headed last month with his mantra of gentleness and compassion, the federal government shrugged off a genocide. It came after Canada's parliament voted to recognise the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks 89 years ago. One US president called it 'the great crime of the [first world] war'. But Canada's minister of foreign affairs repudiated the vote, effectively apologising to Turkey, a trading partner. So much for compassion and altruism. 'Turkey is an incredibly important country,' wrote columnist Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail, the country's national newspaper. Parliamentarians, he said, have no business meddling in foreign policy, especially when it concerns a 'disputed' atrocity nearly a century ago. 'Canada should mind its own business,' the headline read. 'Business' is what this is all about. Canadian companies are trying hard to sell subway cars and engineering services to Turkey. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, and a Canadian cabinet minister warned that the genocide vote could have 'negative consequences' on trade. It is not the first time Canada has put money ahead of morality. A Canadian oil company operated for three years in Sudan with Ottawa's approbation, pumping out profits for a Muslim government that was bombing civilians in Africa's longest civil war. And with the Dalai Lama here seeking support for his people's struggle against Beijing rule, Ottawa gave Tibet only the barest official nod. China, of course, is Canada's second-largest trading partner. Enough said. Half a dozen other countries have already recognised the 1915 genocide. They, like the Canadian parliamentarians, felt it was important to do so because Turkey continues to deny that a genocide even happened. This denial is offensive to Armenians, and to anyone who believes that history matters. We deny it at our peril. Hitler told his generals: 'Kill without mercy. Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?' So why is it important that civilised nations condemn genocides past and present? 'It's easy for the international community to say, 'never again',' says Robert Adamson, of the Global Justice Programme at the University of British Columbia. 'But there has to be some recognition of what went wrong and who was responsible. People have to be brought to account for these injustices.' The moral is: if you ignore yesterday's barbarity, you risk ignoring what is happening today.