Despite cries from the audience in the middle of his speech, Justin Trudeau did not utter the word genocide after being handed a copy of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ final report.
On Monday in Gatineau, Que. the inquiry made its case for Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples — and the disproportionate violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples — as genocide.
“This is genocide,” inquiry Chief Commissioner Marion Buller said during the ceremony, adding an “absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism” in Canada.
In its final report, Reclaiming Power and Place, the inquiry “draws a conclusion on the responsibility of Canada as a state for genocide under international law,” the 1,200-page document reads, explaining that “the definition of genocide in international law, as it stands, encompasses the past and current actions and omissions of Canada towards Indigenous Peoples.
“Targeting victims in a gender-oriented manner destroys the very foundations of the group as a social unit and leaves long-lasting scars within a group’s social fabric. It is inherent to its destruction,” the report continues.
“Unlike the traditional paradigms of genocide, such as the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide… colonial destruction of Indigenous peoples has taken place insidiously and over centuries.”
The report was leaked to media on Friday, and the case for “colonial genocide” made international headlines.
But in his short speech to survivors, family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples, and Indigenous leaders, Trudeau only went as far as to call the report’s findings “challenging and uncomfortable.”
As he uttered those words, one woman in the packed Museum of History’s Grand Hall yelled “genocide!” in an effort to prompt Trudeau to say the word.
“This is an uncomfortable day for Canada. It is an essential day,” Trudeau continued in his speech. “We need to recognize the truths presented here, the truths you carry, the future you have reached out your hands to build alongside all Canadians.”
Trudeau promised to “conduct a thorough review” of the report, “and we will conduct and implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and 2-spirit people,” he added.
“We will work with Indigenous partners to determine next steps.”
Sarah Ponniuk, an Inuk elder from Nunatsiavut, said she was disappointed Trudeau didn’t acknowledge genocide against Indigenous peoples.
Nunatsiavut Elder Sarah Ponniuk says it’s important that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledge the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples as genocide. Justin Brake/APTN.
“To me personally it was important he say that,” said Ponniuk, who flew to Ottawa from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for the event. “It would have been very powerful for him to acknowledge it.”
Asked if he thinks Trudeau should say the word genocide, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said, “I think everybody in Canada should accept the truth.”
“Education awareness leads to understanding, leads to action,” Bellegarde said. “So we’ve got to keep pushing because really, that’s what it was.”
Indigenous leaders were swift to respond to the report’s findings and its 231 “Calls for Justice”.
“First Nations women’s voices must be centred in the decolonization of the nation to nation relationship and lead the national action plan to address the crisis,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a statement.
“AMC will work side by side with the families and First Nations women leaders to work on a more just relationship with the federal, provincial and municipal governments moving forward.”
Inquiry Commissioner Qajaq Robinson said that non-Indigenous people in Canada will have to confront the evidence now before them.
“As a non-Indigenous person I have struggled to come to terms with my role in Canada’s genocide,” she said. “I have sat with feelings that I’m sure many of you non-Indigenous people in the room or watching may be feeling and sitting with right now: Shame. Guilt. Denial. That urge to say, ‘No, that’s not what this is. This is not who I am. I didn’t play a part in this. My ancestors didn’t play a part in this. We’re good people. No.’
“But it’s the truth. It’s our truth. It’s my truth, it’s your truth,” Robinson continued.
“It might challenge who we think we are, who we hope to be, but who we will be and who are are is ultimately defined by how we respond now that we know.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan said in a statement Monday that the report “brings to the forefront the magnitude of the gendered impacts of colonial violence, one so severe the inquiry has called it a ‘Canadian genocide.’
Horgan said his government “will be reviewing the report and recommendations in detail and considering them along with historic recommendations from survivors, families and communities, and the work currently underway in B.C.,” where the province has put into action a plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The report is clear: thousands of Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA ppl were murdered or went missing in a Canadian genocide. We cannot deny this horrific suffering.
Too many Indigenous women & girls suffered unconscionable violence & for too many, this continues. #MMIWG 2/3
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) June 3, 2019
During the ceremonies Conservative leader Andrew Scheer tweeted about immigration and firearms legislation.
Monday afternoon he issued a statement saying the Conservative “support the process of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples,” and that under his leadership “a Conservative government will develop and implement a National Action Plan, in partnership with Indigenous peoples, to advance reconciliation, address violence and achieve measurable improvements in the day-to-day lives of Indigenous women and girls.”
He did not address the allegation of genocide.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh had originally planned an environment and jobs news conference Monday in Ottawa but cancelled it and attended the MMIWG ceremony instead.
“The report is clear: thousands of Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA ppl were murdered or went missing in a Canadian genocide,” Singh tweeted Monday.
“We cannot deny this horrific suffering.”
Speaking to reporters after the event Monday, federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti the government will “leave the discussion of the actual use of the term genocide to academics and experts.
Federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti said Canada will leave the discussion of genocide “to academics and experts.” Justin Brake/APTN.
“What we have said today is we have a responsibility to the people, the families of survivors and the families of the women and girls who have gone missing. We have a responsibility to fixing this problem,” he said.
National Inquiry Chief Commissioner told reporters after the ceremony, “We don’t need to hear the word genocide come out of the prime minister’s mouth, because the families, the survivors, have told us their truths.”
Buller said she’s “glad people are having a conversation about genocide.”
Marlene Thomas of Lennox Island First Nation, who is vice president of the Aboriginal Women’s Association of PEI, told APTN after Monday’s ceremony it was “disappointing” Trudeau did not directly address the allegation of genocide in his speech.
“Being the prime minister, he needs to listen to the people,” she said, adding an acknowledgement “has got to come from the Canadian government.”