Wrong words for horrible crimes

Marion Buller, the chief commissioner of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, insisted Monday it's "pretty obvious" that those crimes amount to a genocide.

Not only is it not obvious, it's not even true.

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The first female First Nations judge in B.C. history should know that the word genocide has a specific definition under international law. The tragedy that has claimed thousands of Indigenous women and girls over the past four decades is a horrendous crime but it doesn't come close to clearing the genocide bar.

Sprinkling the word extensively through the inquiry's final report is not only a disservice to the murdered and missing women and girls, as well as their grieving families, it's an affront to real victims of genocide, such as the Indigenous survivors of residential schools.

While many First Nations peoples who attended residential schools enjoyed a positive educational experience, far more endured the forced removal from their homes and their communities and institutional physical, sexual and emotional abuse in a concerted effort condoned by the federal government for more than a century to wipe out Indigenous culture, languages, traditions and ways of life.

Some Canadians grudgingly call this "cultural genocide" and invoke the Holocaust, Cambodia and Rwanda as "real" genocide except that the United Nations definition of the word makes no distinction between the butchering of an identifiable group of people and the violent eradication of their heritage.

Both are genocide without qualification. Intent and action, not body count, are the legal measurements for genocide.

If Buller and the inquiry's commissioners honestly believe missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls were the victims of genocide, then they should file a claim to the International Criminal Court, naming the Canadians who should be formally charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

But whom would they charge? Every living former prime minister? Every living former premier? Every living former minister of Indigenous (previously Indian) affairs? Every living former RCMP commissioner at both the provincial and national level? Should the current occupants of those offices also be charged?

There is no evidence whatsoever that the killers of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women were following orders as agents of a government or police agency or were encouraged to do so. There is a long history of individuals who were apprehended for abducting and/or murdering Indigenous girls and women, convicted of their crimes and sent to prison. The girls and women who suffered crimes that no one was held responsible for were further victimized by government, legal and social negligence, as opposed to a willful attempt to destroy them.

Residential schools, like atrocities in other parts of the world, is relatively easy to prove as a genocide because the people in power were so sure of their righteousness that they kept records of their intent and their direct orders to subordinates to act on those intentions.

Not only did the people in power not try to hide their goals, they broadcast them to the population as responsible social policy.

There are no such records to show a blatant conspiracy to wipe Canadian Indigenous women and girls from the face of the Earth.

Unfortunately, our national leaders have responded with politics, instead of honesty, to the inquiry's findings.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he accepts the commissioners' report but dodged whether he believes it meets the definition of genocide.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer clearly stated he feels the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls "does not fall into that category of genocide" without recognizing the residential school survivors of genocide.

Neither wants to offend their political base so close to the fall election by speaking truth to power.

Remembering the murdered and missing starts with accuracy and facts. Incorrect words and carefully worded soundbites does not give them the justice they deeply deserve.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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