Last week, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) published its final report on the dangers and devastation disproportionately affecting women in Indigenous communities. Chief Commissioner of the Inquiry, Marion Buller, told reporters in no uncertain terms that the issue can be termed a “genocide.”
Buller explained her use of the word to describe the “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 people from their lands, social structures and governments, and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families and individuals.”
Buller said that while the genocide they speak of is characteristically different from the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, the label was drawn from the definition provided by the United Nations in the 1948 Convention on Genocide.
The convention reads, “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” and provides the following:
- Killing members of the group
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
Justin Trudeau’s Hesitation
During his comments at the announcement at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau avoided explicitly using the word “genocide” despite being called on to do so by a member of the audience.
Later in the day, however, he changed his tune at the Women Deliver 2019 in Vancouver where he stated, “Earlier this morning, the national inquiry formally presented their final report, in which they found that the tragic violence that Indigenous women and girls have experienced amounts to genocide.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he accepts the findings of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, including that what happened amounts to genocide.
Read more: https://t.co/URh8tyJdoP#MMIWG pic.twitter.com/ufUdx5uq99
— CTV News (@CTVNews) June 4, 2019
Trudeau later referred to the findings as “cultural genocide” which softens the term’s implications.
Andrew Scheer’s Denial
The acknowledgement is a big deal and some politicians are outright resisting the harsh terminology. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was asked about the use of the word in a press conference on Parliament Hill Monday and rejected it, explaining that while the tragedy is real, “genocide” is not the right word to use.
“I believe that, as most Canadians do, that every single life lost is a tragedy, has a huge impact on families and loved ones and that there are concrete things the government can do, that all levels of government can do, to help protect vulnerable people in our society, specifically Indigenous women and girls,” he 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, it is its own tragedy, and does not fall into that category of genocide,” he concluded.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Canada’s treatment of Indigenous women and girls “does not fall into” the category of genocide. Read more here: https://t.co/LW2OmqnmJM #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/YvFJ5s1FRR
— CTV News (@CTVNews) June 10, 2019
Twitter’s Piping Hot Facts
Interestingly, amid the regular Twitter backlash (which we’ve kind of grown numb to at this point), there were quite a number of people who came in with real arguments, sparking actual intelligent discourse (something that happens on the platform from time to time).
Some Twitter users shared the official definition and explained how it applies to the situation and others pointed out it’s the world’s association of “genocide” with the Holocaust that muddies the waters and makes it harder for politicians to use the word.
Here is the real meaning of the word. Not sure which part doesn’t fit. The fact that we would like it to assume it can only be attached to larger atrocities not perpetrated by Canadians makes it disturbing and uncomfortable for us not inaccurate. pic.twitter.com/IjH7KIeN9g
— Coach Daye (@CoachDayejr) June 10, 2019
— Médecin Légiste (@MLegiste) June 11, 2019
The report itself says the term has never been used this way. Also it alleges an ongoing genocide not just a historic one.
— Chris Selley (@cselley) June 10, 2019
The Bottom Line
The long and short of it is: words matter and we have to use them properly and effectively, especially in instances like this one where not using the proper words risks trivializing a problem that is literally killing marginalized women. Not acknowledging the genocide in those terms robs the issue of its urgency and falsely lessens the amount of devastation it is having on the community and the country.
Canada consistently fails its Indigenous populations and refusing to acknowledge that is yet another way it does so.