Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the level of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls in Canada should not be labelled a genocide.
In its final report, released last week, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) came to what it called an “inescapable conclusion” — that genocide was committed by the state against Canada’s Indigenous peoples from the colonial era to the present.
It pointed to the Indian residential school system, the ‘Sixties Scoop’ of Indigenous children, instances of forced sterilization of Indigenous women and allegations of police inaction on murder cases to justify its genocide conclusion.
“Every single life lost is a tragedy and has a huge impact on families and loved ones, and there are concrete things the government, all levels of government, can do to help protect vulnerable people in our society, specifically Indigenous women and girls,” Scheer said.
“That being said, the ramifications of the term genocide are very profound. That word and term carries a lot of meaning. I think the tragedy involved with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is its own thing, its own tragedy, and doesn’t fall into that category of genocide.”
Marion Buller, the inquiry’s chief commissioner, said this “Canadian genocide” is different from the Holocaust or the genocidal campaign against the Tutsi in Rwanda, but the term can still reasonably be applied to the Indigenous experience in Canada based on the UN’s 1948 convention on genocide.
After the report’s release, Conservative Indigenous affairs critic Cathy McLeod said the party did not want to focus on the word alone, but rather on some of the inquiry’s 231 recommendations. “The Conservative Party will commit to a national action plan in terms of moving forward in partnership, of course, with Indigenous peoples,” she said.
Despite calls from some in the crowd for him to say the word ‘genocide’ during the inquiry’s closing ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not use that word to describe the violence. The following day, however, Trudeau appeared to embrace the description: “We accept their findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide.”
In a Monday morning interview with CBC’s French-language service, Radio-Canada, Trudeau said that while he accepts the inquiry’s findings, he cited “cultural genocide” as his preferred term to describe the Indigenous experience.
After the the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its report on the Indian residential school system in 2015, Trudeau called on the Conservative government of the day to take action to address that instance of “cultural genocide.”
The inquiry went further than the TRC by saying Canada, through its policies, has aimed to “destroy Indigenous peoples.”
“Canada has displayed a continuous policy, with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention, to destroy Indigenous peoples physically, biologically, and as social units, thereby fulfilling the required specific intent element,” the inquiry said in a supplemental report on the use of the word genocide.
The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of other demographic groups in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women.
Citing research from Statistics Canada, the inquiry said Indigenous women and girls made up almost 25 per cent of all female homicide victims in this country between 2001 and 2015.
To help Indigenous women, the inquiry recommended sweeping reforms to the justice system and policing, including stiffer penalties for men who carry out spousal or partner abuse and “Indigenous-specific options” for sentencing. It also said more Indigenous judges, justices of the peace and police should be hired to ensure Indigenous voices are in positions of power in the criminal justice system.
The report also calls on provincial and territorial governments to improve the restraining order system by making them “available, accessible, promptly issued and effectively serviced and resourced” — to help Indigenous women stay out of harm’s way when faced with a violent partner.
Beyond facilitating access to restraining orders (or “protection orders,” as they’re often known in Canada), the inquiry is calling on the government to offer guaranteed access to financial support, legislated paid leave and disability benefits and “appropriate trauma care” to Indigenous victims of crime or other traumatic events.
Trudeau has vowed to review the calls for justice and implement meaningful reforms.
“You have my word that my government will turn the inquiry’s calls for justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action … we must continue to decolonize our existing structures,” he said.
For immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. This is a national, toll-free 24/7 crisis call line providing support for anyone who requires emotional assistance related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling and community-based cultural services through Indigenous Services Canada.