Solaye Snider, Blog Writer

The final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), conceived to “investigate and document the history and intergenerational legacy of residential schools,” is due to be released in late June of this year.  It is expected that the release of the TRC’s report will again spark “a national debate” about whether Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people constitutes “genocide”. 

Efforts continue to be made to pressure the United Nations (UN) to accept that “several specific crimes against aboriginal people in Canada” constitute genocide per the post-Second World War Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG).  An official 2013 letter written to the UN accuses the Canadian government of genocide on several accounts, referencing Article 2 of the aforementioned Convention regarding certain acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.  They include: Sir John A. MacDonald’s policy of “deliberately starving First Nations people” to make space for settlers moving to the Canadian west; the residential school system; the inaction in addressing rampant tuberculosis among students; and the ”Sixties Scoop”.

The Sixties Scoop, during which tens of thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes between the 1960s and 1980s and placed with non-Indigenous families, is amongst the many abuses condemned by the head commissioner of the TRC – Justice Murray Sinclair. Sinclair has asserted that the program’s goal of racial indoctrination  “was — and is — an act of genocide”. The federal government currently faces a class action lawsuit because of the Sixties Scoop in which thousands of Indigenous peoples across Canada charge that they have suffered “identity” and “cultural genocide”.  The case has proceeded to trial despite multiple requests for appeals by the Canadian government.

Calls for the Canadian government to take responsibility for these accusations of genocide have been met with continuous resistance. The TRC itself was only initiated after the government was sued by thousands of residential school victims, resulting in the largest class action lawsuit settlement in Canadian history in 2007.

The terminology of Canadian Law has also been structured in a way that impedes prosecution of the government for acts of genocide. Although Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act has no time restrictions for crimes committed in foreign jurisdictions, the act “clearly states that it does not apply to actions [in Canada] that preceded the year 2000”.  Academics have speculated that unless the statute is amended the Canadian government will likely not be prosecuted for genocide. This is troubling as government-led courts are the only ones with the authority to officially take on the genocide debate.

Legal proceedings and terminology aside, it is indisputable that Canada must take responsibility for centuries of abuses directed towards Indigenous peoples.  The trauma and legacy of these abuses  have intergenerational effects that continue today. Acknowledgment of the past is the first step towards justice in the future.