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GUEST COLUMN: Whether it’s ‘genocide’ or not, Canada must do better

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Niamh Ellwood

More than 4,000 Indigenous women have fallen victim to a modern Canadian genocide, according to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Niamh Ellwood

In the recently released report, Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, a member of the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan and a Cree woman, claimed the state of Canada was designed “to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands, social structures and governance, to eradicate their existence as nations and communities, families and individuals, [and] is the cause of the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and [Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people.”

Buller then made her most startling and intense statement: “And this is a genocide,” she declared.

In 1948, the UN Convention on Genocide defined genocide as: “Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, including: 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.¨

The Canadian government has adopted two of the five criteria into the Criminal Code — killing members of the group and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Yet the report calls the negative treatment of indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBT+ people and Canada’s non-action an act of genocide.

Whether maltreatment is genocide has become a matter of debate. Some worry about the implications of using such a powerful word, while others applaud the long awaited exposition of the federal government’s negligence and systematic oppression.

Irwin Cotler, a former Justice Minister and Attorney General and the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, said, “I think we have to guard against using that term in too many ways because then it will cease to have the singular importance and horror that it warrants … If we say everything is a genocide, then nothing is a genocide.”

Whether or not Canada committed genocide is for scholars and The Hague to determine. What the rest of us need to focus on is why so many Indigenous women and girls have gone missing and been murdered.

We should be outraged to see anyone in this country ignored and disregarded, especially when their calls for help are the loudest.

Niamh Ellwood is a St. Patrick’s High School student and Sarnia Historical Society intern who is interested in journalism

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