Canada may formally recognize the Ukrainian famine of the 1930`s as an act of genocide despite concerns raised by the Foreign Affairs Department, says a Conservative backbencher pushing the idea in Parliament, according to The Canadian Press.

James Bezan, who has tabled a private member`s bill to label the famine as genocide and set aside an annual memorial day in November, said he has been told that Foreign Affairs is worried about his legislation, presumably because it could offend Russia.

"I`m somewhat aware of (the concerns) because these things kind of bubble up through the lines of communication, but you know, that`s their business," Bezan told The Canadian Press on Monday.

"I`m more concerned that we pay proper recognition to what happened in `32 and `33 in Ukraine."

The famine saw millions of people starve in an area that was long known as Europe`s breadbasket. People on Soviet-controlled collective farms went hungry as food was exported from the region.

More than a dozen countries, including the United States, already formally recognize the famine as a deliberate attempt by the Soviet regime of Josef Stalin to eliminate ethnic Ukrainians and end their aspirations for independence.

But some academics, and many Russians, disagree.

Some historians say the famine was a result of Russia trying to pay for industrialization through grain exports while leaving millions of rural residents - not only Ukrainians, but also Russians and Kazakhstanis - to starve.

The lower house of Russia`s parliament said in a recent resolution that "there is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper commemorated the anniversary of the famine last November and condemned the Stalin regime, but did not use the term genocide. Still, some members of Parliament are optimistic the government will come on side.

Bezan said the Prime Minister`s Office hasn`t weighed in on his bill - a sign he sees as encouraging.

"If it was a big issue, I would have been under some pressure not to even put it onto the order paper, right?" said Bezan, who represents the Selkirk-Interlake riding in Manitoba.

The bill is faring much better than most private member`s bills, which die a quick death.

hile there is still no guarantee it will pass, a debate has been set for June 9, and Liberal and NDP members support it.

"I don`t think there is a shred of opposition in Parliament to recognizing the famine as a genocide and I just wish the government would get on with it," said New Democrat MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

Harper will be under more pressure to adopt the genocide label when Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko visits Ottawa and three other Canadian cities starting May 26.

There is also growing support at the United Nations to recognize the famine as genocide, although a date for a vote on the issue has not been set.

"Sometimes I think we have to call things what they really are," said Ostap Skrypnyk, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

"(Calling it a genocide) is another tool that allows people to really come to grips with what was taking place in Ukraine . . . and it honours the memory of the people who suffered there."

The Canadian Press