In a ceremony on 3 June, attended by the Canadian Prime Minister, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) was released. The opening paragraph of the accompanying press release reads:
The National Inquiry’s Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The … report … calls for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country.
But it was not the report’s 231 Calls for Justice that garnered the lion’s share of media and pundit attention. It was the finding that the violence and other mistreatment catalogued in the report amounts to “race-based genocide”. In the words of Chief Commissioner Marion Buller:
The hard truth is that we live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of fundamental rights, amounting to a genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
Initially avoiding the term, by Tuesday 4 June, Prime Minister Trudeau told a crowd in Vancouver:
We accept their findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide.
Some reactions were perhaps predictably virulent. Former Harper-era Indigenous Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt even derided the motivation behind the finding as “propagandist” activism.
But there was also more thoughtful commentary, like that of Erna Paris, a Toronto-based author, whose book, Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, inspired the House of Commons motion to apologize to survivors of Canadian residential schools. In her article she deplores the ongoing suffering and racism catalogued in the report, while equally fervently disagreeing with the report’s finding:
[not of] cultural genocide, a concept that is broadly accepted today with reference to the attempted obliteration of Indigenous culture in the residential schools, but all-out genocide – without qualification….
For her full article*, see: The report on missing and murdered Indigenous women was searing and important, marred only by its inaccurate genocide charge (Erna Paris, globeandmail.com, 4 June 2019).
For an even more trenchant critique of the finding of genocide, see: The Ultimate ‘Concept Creep’: How a Canadian Inquiry Strips the Word ‘Genocide’ of Meaning (Jonathan Kay, quillette.com, 3 June 2019). And, on the other side of the debate, see: Canada’s MMIWG report spurs debate on the shifting definitions of genocide (Andrew Woolford, theconversation.com, 6 June 2019).
After accepting the finding of genocide, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went on to say:
There are many debates ongoing around words and use of words. Our focus as a country, as leaders, as citizens must be on the steps we take to put an end to this situation.
This was also the thrust of a commentary by veteran CBC journalist Neil Macdonald entitled: Our casual racism causes Indigenous suffering (opinion, cbc.ca, 3 June 2019):
Quibbling over the definition of genocide does nothing but help obscure the long history of vicious racism and undeniable suffering of Indigenous people in this country. It’s bad enough whatever you want to call it.
He ends with this call to action:
The prime minister could and should call in the RCMP commissioner, offer her a hundred million dollars or so to open an Indigenous cold case unit, and tell her to get cracking on results, or expect to be replaced.
For her part, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has promised to “give careful consideration to changes that strengthen investigations, support survivors and their families, bring stakeholders and partners together, and reduce violence against Indigenous women, girls and the two-spirit-LGBTQ community.”
Photo credit: Sally Buck
*For non-subscribers, the Globe and Mail article requires free registration to access a limited number of articles. This one is well worth the effort.