“Genocide – the mass extermination of human beings, esp. of a particular race or nation."
– Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English
When you hear the word ‘genocide’, you immediately think of millions of Jews being herded into gas chambers in the Holocaust during the Second World War or the 100 days of slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 or the four million Ukrainians who died of forced starvation in the 1930s Holodomor, but do you relate that to the murdered Indigenous women and girls that have gone missing along the Highway of Tears near Prince George, B.C., or the 70 per cent of murdered and Indigenous women slain by their native colleagues and families? I don’t!
Even the 1984 Genocide Convention defines genocide as ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.’ Does that fit? I don’t see that it does.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently endorsed the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls he stated: “We accept their findings, including what happened amounts to genocide”; this only escalated the dismissal of the findings of the inquiry. This was not a genocide – it was and still is a horrific time for many families and created frustration amongst native groups that the investigation into these murders was somewhat lacking. Therein lies the real issue!
These were crimes against individuals, not crimes against a race. It is however true, that many were young Indigenous women, perhaps even engaged in the sex trade but that does not absolve the crimes. Nevertheless, they were not targeted as a movement to exterminate a native group.
But there is a bigger issue at stake. Throughout the past 20 years or so there have been several studies on the dilemma of Indigenous peoples in Canada, not the least of which was the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Several of these inquiries have produced some useful results, implementation however has been fraught with problems.
Quite frankly, I believe that the use of sensational inflammatory language like ‘genocide’ does more harm to the concept of reconciliation than it does good. It creates more disrespect for the Indigenous community than it does sympathy. Similarly, with the ‘Idle no More’ movement a few years back. It soon resulted in the ‘Pay no More’ backlash from the non-Indigenous community and ‘Idle no More’ soon fizzled.
It is unfortunate that Aboriginal issues always appear to end up in litigation rather than negotiation. When our Prime Minister says he will adopt all of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and all 94 "calls to action" of the Inquiry into Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, he is raising expectations to an unreasonable level. These are all issues for negotiation and they will only be resolved through negotiation as opposed to litigation.
There is no question that a high degree of compromise will be necessary to resolve these issues, and it will take time, and in particular will require an understanding and acceptance within society, including the judicial system, that all people are equal before the law. But above all, we need to tone down the rhetoric and avoid sensationalizing these issues with inflammatory language.
Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.