If Canada wants to be a human rights leader and address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, it will first have to acknowledge ongoing genocide, says a leading First Nations lawyer and advocate.
Pam Palmater, chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, says the prime minister must go further than saying he “accepts” the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ findings of genocide.
“It is the most fundamental and important thing that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could do, to stand up and have the honour and the integrity and the sense of accountability and the commitment to human rights and Native issues, and say: ‘We did this. Canada, we engaged in long-term acts of genocide through our laws, policies and practices. We created this crisis, we accept full responsibility for it.
“And now we’re going to find a way forward and we’re going to be thankful that Indigenous peoples are still willing to work with us despite the fact that we are guilty of this.’”
Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer with standing in the national inquiry, said if Trudeau does not acknowledge Canada’s continued genocide against Indigenous peoples, the prime minister will jeopardize the country’s reputation.
Pam Palmater, Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, says Trudeau “needs to stand as a leader” and admit to Canada’s ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples. APTN file photo.
“Canada is always the one that calls out other countries for their genocide or for their gross violations of human rights,” she says. “However, in order for Canada to retain its integrity and its place in the international community as a defender of human rights and Native rights, then it needs to stand up and say, ‘Listen global community, this is how you do it when you commit a crime.’
“You stand up, you take accountability, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Canada is presently vying for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, where it hasn’t had a spot in two decades.
In the fall of 2020 the UN General Assembly will choose between Canada, Ireland and Norway for the prestigious seat, which carries with it significant diplomatic power on the global stage.
“We are determined to help the UN make even greater strides in support of its goals for all of humanity,” Trudeau said in 2016 when he announced Canada’s bid for the seat.
“My friends, it’s time. It’s time for Canada to step up once again.”
Palmater says Canada “needs to stand as a leader, because if it can’t, then what strength does it have to call on other countries to end their genocides, or their gross violations of human rights?”
On Tuesday reporters continued to press the prime minister on his personal view of the Inquiry’s findings of genocide.
Trudeau doubled down on his talking point that Canada “accept[s] the findings of the commissioners that it was genocide.
“But our focus is going to be, as it must be, on the families, on the communities that have suffered such loss. On the systems that have repeatedly failed Indigenous women and girls across this country.”
Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have said they want to hear Trudeau acknowledge Canada’s ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples.
— Tessa Vikander❄️ (@TessaVikander) June 4, 2019
But the prime minister said Tuesday that “people are getting wrapped up in debates over a very important, powerful term.”
Pressed further by APTN News at a women’s conference in Vancouver, Trudeau again did not refer to genocide in the present context, situating it only in Canada’s past.
When he did refer to the present, Trudeau called the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples an “ongoing national tragedy.”
During Monday’s ceremony in Gatineau, Que. to mark the national inquiry’s release of the final report, Commissioner Michelle Audette said, “to the people who don’t think there’s a genocide today, we have 1,200 pages.”
After the ceremony Audette told reporters she was “hoping that [Trudeau] would have that courage” to say the word “genocide”.
During his speech at Monday’s ceremony Trudeau didn’t utter the word genocide, despite cries from the audience that he say it.
On Monday evening Trudeau used the word genocide, but only in the context of the national inquiry’s report.
He still has not officially stated whether he agrees with the Inquiry’s findings.
On Tuesday Liberal Cree MP for Winnipeg, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, made similar comments to the prime minister.
“The contact between Europeans and Indigenous peoples in North America clearly constitutes genocide,” he said in a statement to reporters. “It occurred in 1491 and…we still suffer the ripples of those effects to this day.”
Pressed on whether he thinks genocide is still taking place against Indigenous peoples, Ouellette said, “We’re still suffering the impacts and we suffer a lot of the impacts related to what occurred in contact.”
On Tuesday the national inquiry’s four commissioners released a joint statement saying “the acceptance of our findings of fact by the federal government, especially our finding of genocide, is an acceptance of the truths shared by families and survivors.
“They no longer need to convince others that genocide is a part of Canadian history. We expect that all governments will move forward and promptly implement our Calls for Justice.”
Last month the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) changed its policy on the issue of genocide in Canada.
In a May 16 tweet from the museum’s official account, it said the CMHR “considers the entire colonial experience in Canada, from first contact to today, as genocide.”
We would like to share that the Museum does recognize the genocide against Indigenous people and considers the entire colonial experience in Canada, from first contact to today, as genocide. We are always learning and growing.
— #AtCMHR (@CMHR_News) May 16, 2019
The national inquiry wrote in a supplementary document to the final report on genocide that, “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 intent to destroy Indigenous peoples in Canada was implemented gradually and intermittently, using varied tactics against distinct Indigenous communities. These acts and omissions affected their rights to life and security, but also numerous economic, cultural and social rights.”
They also noted that Canada’s failure to act on a number of current events, such as the child welfare crisis, human trafficking, police brutality, coerced sterilizations of Indigenous women, and underfunding of essential human services, as part of the ongoing genocide.
Palmater, who partnered with the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) and Canada Without Poverty in making a submission during the national inquiry’s Truth-Gathering process, said she’s happy to see their priority recommendation of an immediate National Action Plan in the report, and that it has been promised by Trudeau.
The plan “must be founded on truth, including the truth that systemic discrimination and violence against Indigenous women are instruments of genocide,” Palmater’s coalition wrote in their submission.
She says if Trudeau corroborates the Inquiry’s finding of genocide, then Canada is much more likely to have a “corresponding urgent response.”
“It’s so important for him to say it,” she says.
“It cannot be like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, where they just cherry-pick a couple of recommendations to make it look like they’re doing policy changes over time.”
With files from Tina House.