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Inquiry says killing or disappearance of indigenous women is 'Canadian genocide'

Murder or diappearance rates are much higher among indigenous women
Murder or diappearance rates are much higher among indigenous women
By Lindsay Rempel
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A long-awaited report from Canada's national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls will call it a 'Canadian genocide.'


The disappearance or murder of thousands of indigenous women and girls in Canada is as a "national tragedy of epic proportion" according to the head of a national inquiry into the issue.

Commissioner Marion Buller has spent almost three years leading the inquiry into higher homicide rates among female indigenous Canadians and the final report is due to be published on Monday. It doesn't pull punches.

The report will call the episode issue a "Canadian genocide" according to CBC, Canada's national broadcaster, which obtained an early copy.

It is a powerful label because many previous Canadian governments have used the softer term, "cultural genocide." Indigenous advocates have been lobbying for years to drop the "cultural" qualifier.

"What else would you call it?" said Wawmeesh Hamilton, a reporter on indigenous issues at the Discourse newspaper in Vancouver.

"It is the worst possible term that describes the worst possible crime, done in the state's name, and there's no other way to describe it."

The highest estimates are that nearly 4,000 indigenous Canadian women and girls have gone missing or been murdered in recent decades.

Indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of Canada’s female population but 16 percent of the females killed, according to official figures.

Grassroots activists protested for years, calling for an official inquiry — but they were denied, until Justin Trudeau's Liberals swept to power in 2015. An inquiry into the issue was one of his key campaign promises, and was launched shortly after he assumed office. The commission asked for a two year extension and millions more dollars to continue its work, but was given a six month extension instead.

The process was plagued with issues, several high-profile resignations, including that of one of the five commissioners.

At the time, former Commissioner Marilyn Poitras told the CBC that it was not a "community-involved process." She said that she feared the final result would not lead to solutions for indigenous people in Canada.

The report highlights historical government policies as perpetrators of genocide. Canada established residential schools in the late 1800s, which Indigenous children were forced to attend. In many cases, they were forcibly separated from their parents and held against their will at schools where they experienced physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition and were forbidden from speaking their native languages.

It also examined the so-called "Sixties Scoop" — a government policy in the 1960s that saw indigenous children removed from their family homes and adopted by Caucasian families.

Both residential schools and the Sixties Scoop were labelled as perpetrators of "cultural genocide" in the final report of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established to uncover the truth about residential schools. This report goes further.

"The fact that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples are still here and that the population is growing should not discount the charge of genocide," says the report according to the CBC. It also says that another, separate report will be filed at a later date that will contain more details on the legal definition of genocide.


Backlash already

Bernard Valcourt served as Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper

Even before the report was ready, it attracted criticism. A former Indigenous Affairs minister in the previous national government, Bernard Valcourt, called the report "propagandist" and rejected the idea that the report was a step forward for reconciliation.

Many high profile Indigenous activists have reacted angrily on Twitter, criticising Valcourt's track record in government. Meanwhile, the current Conservative Party of Canada has distanced itself from his comments.

Cathy McLeod is a current Conservative member of Parliament and the shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs

A Way Forward

The report will detail 231 recommendations, which it calls "legal imperatives" for the government to take action. The recommendations include measures to reduce racism in police forces, more money for rural communities, and improving sexual assault investigations.

In 2015, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the history of residential schools in the country and exposed shocking stories of abuse, released its final report. It included 94, "Calls to Action" as a starting point to repairing the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous peoples. Today, only ten of those recommendations have been implemented. But there are still hopes that this latest report will be effective.


"It sets us on a course. It illuminates a very dark part of this country's past, that authorities did in the state's name," said Wawmeesh Hamilton.

"It puts us on a course to reconciliation, and it gives us something, the recommendations — provided that they're collaborated on between Indigenous people and government officials — something to legitimise the process, and gives us something to work together collaboratively on, and gives us something to work towards, as we work towards a new way of living."

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