The national MMIW report’s use of the word genocide sparks an international debate
On June 3, Canada’s National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women released an extensive and long-awaited final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The report, which was released to the public and political officials — most notably Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — at an official closing ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec on Monday, initiated a firestorm of international debate when Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry shared the commission’s findings in the report.
“The significant persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses — perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state — designed to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands, social structures, and governance; and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families, and individuals, is the cause of the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA (Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people … and this is genocide.”
After Buller stated the word genocide, the audience erupted in applause.
"This is genocide": Full statement on MMIWG report by CTV News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the audience and later addressed the crowd consisting of families and victims of missing and murdered Indigenous women: “We have failed you, we will fail you no longer.”
The following day, Trudeau, when asked by APTN journalist Tina House about the term, stated, "We accept 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." Trudeau later reiterated that he accepted the reports’ findings of genocide.
Editorials from the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star - An Indigenous journalist resigns
Days after the MMIW National Inquiry was released and Buller and Trudeau had issued statements publicly, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star posted editorials calling to question the use of the term genocide when describing the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.
The Globe and Mail’s editorial titled Is Canada committing genocide? That doesn’t add up sparked an already growing debate on social media.
The editorial, which does not list a specific author, but rather is put out by the organization, says the following as part of the narrative opposing the use of the word genocide:
Is the commission saying that the deaths of the 38 Indigenous women who, according to Statistics Canada, died by homicide in 2017 should be investigated under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, the law governing genocide?
And is there evidence that the federal government is criminally complicit in those deaths, and that the homicides were “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an identifiable group of persons”?
If that seems ridiculous, it’s because the charge of a continuing genocide in Canada is absurd. It simply does not bear scrutiny in 2019.
As a result of the editorial, an Indigenous journalist, Alicia Elliott announced her resignation on Twitter from contributing to the Globe and Mail soon after the editorial was posted.
She tweeted, “I've made the decision to no longer write for @globeandmail based on this editorial - written by editors who clearly have not read even the supplementary report on the legal reasons the word "genocide" was used. They are shaping public opinion against Indigenous women like me.”
Elliott, an author, and indigenous journalist has received worldwide support as well as conflicting responses to her stance, but so far her tweet has been shared over 1,800 times and has received nearly 5,000 likes.
Elliot also called into question the inaccurate reporting by the Globe and Mail writing in the same Twitter thread, “Also you didn't even read the damn into the report, Globe editors, because your stat that Indigenous women are only four times as likely to be murdered as non-Indigenous women is challenged in the first few pages. It's actually seven times.”
A Toronto Star editorial jumped into the debate over the use of the term genocide with an editorial titled We need a new word: ‘genocide’ isn’t it. The “Star Editorial Board,” listed as the author(s) of the editorial quickly dives into how the word genocide evokes “the most appalling images — concentration camps, gas chambers, wholesale slaughter and mass graves.”
The editorial continues with the following claim:
But has Canada actually been out to “destroy” Indigenous peoples, as the UN definition of genocide says? The inquiry argues that should include not just physical destruction, but “the destruction of a group as a social unit” with a distinct history, traditions and relationships. By that definition, relocating people or removing children from families could amount to “destroying” them as a people.
A poignant response on social media
While a plethora of commentary has been going back and forth on social media, award-winning First Nations film director and actress Jennifer Podemski posted to Instagram her response to the growing debate:
To the entire Indigenous population, from all of the hundreds of communities and nations across this land.
I’ve been asked by many outlets this week, to share my thoughts on the word “Genocide” as it relates to Indigenous people, specifically women and girls. I’ve not been able to bring myself to discuss it so I will stick to my own channel. I, myself, feel triggered and traumatized at the notion that after near total destruction of the many advanced civilizations and systems of knowledge and governance, the systematic removal of Indigenous people from their lands, legislated assimilation, residential school, 60’s Scoop and MMIW, Canadians are in an uproar over the word genocide yet completely OK with ignoring the facts that have persisted over the past 500 years.
We have an opportunity here, to turn this around and grab onto our Indigenous friends, neighbours, classmates, colleagues, doctors, teachers and community members hands and say:
I’m sorry for your loss.
I. Am. Sorry. For. Your. Loss
To those of you, Indigenous families, who have sisters, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties and friends who have been taken. I am so sorry that, at a time when we should be holding you up, so many just cannot accept that word and are co-opting your grief by dominating the conversation with their ignorance.
I think it’s important to understand that by accepting this word you accept the whole package. You become a bridge builder and a barrier breaker. You stand for a future built on truth and reconciliation.
My hope is that we find our way, together. Communities are so much better and those who live in them can thrive when we stand together and support each other.
The crosshairs are now pointing toward Canada
One day after the MMIW report findings, Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States wrote a letter to Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland and tweeted publicly that he would offer to create an “Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts” to clarify the allegations by the National MMIW inquiry commission.
Almagro tweeted along with a posted copy of the letter, “Given evidence of genocide perpetrated against indigenous women and girls in Canada I have offered the creation of an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts. It is necessary to clarify these allegations and achieve justice”
According to Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, Canada as a whole could be on target for investigations into genocide or negligence by policymakers who would have to answer for their actions at the International criminal court in The Hague, Netherlands.
“It's entirely possible that the prosecutor's office will at minimum be opening a file or carrying out some investigations, said Neve to CityNews. “There is some possibility that individuals who have been responsible for decisions or policies or acts that contribute to or cause genocide, could be held criminally responsible at the international criminal court.”