, 06.11.2019 02:57 PM

My latest: it isn’t genocide

Genocide is one of those words that one does not toss about, like confetti. One does not treat “genocide” like it has no meaning.

It has a very specific meaning.

Justin Trudeau knows it is a serious word, because of what he has said in the recent past. He knows that the word “genocide” describes the most serious crime there is: murder on a massive scale, by a state power, targeting citizens because of their religion or race or ethnicity.

He knows that.

So, in the House of Commons in September 2016, as Prime Minister, Trudeau said: “This government recognizes that acknowledging genocide should be done on the basis of extraordinary facts and wise counsel internationally, not just on political grandstanding by members like the member opposite.”

That’s what he said. Earlier, in June of that year, the Liberal Prime Minister said this: “Mr. Speaker, we feel that determinations of genocide need to be done by objective measures and through proper research on the international stage. We will not trivialize the importance of the word ‘genocide’ by not respecting formal engagements around that word.”

In the same month, Trudeau also said that his government “understand[s] how important it is not to trivialize the word ‘genocide’ and to give it the international legal weight it deserves. That is why we are asking the international community to examine the facts and make an objective determination. We do not want to play petty politics with this issue and these atrocities. Canadians expect better than that from this government.”

And, again in June 2016, when the Conservatives were hounding him about the Islamic State and genocide: “We do not feel that politicians should be weighing in on this first and foremost. Determinations of genocide need to be made in an objective, responsible way.”

And so on, and so on. You get the point. He knows what genocide means. He knows that it is a word that must be used with great, great care.

Last week, Justin Trudeau said that Canada, and Canadians – and every government that preceded his – had committed genocide against Indigenous people. Specifically, the thousands of women and girls whose murders were documented, and lamented, by a National Inquiry he himself created.

The head of the inquiry said that Canada, and Canadians, committed genocide. You, reading this newspaper, committed genocide. Me – the proudest father imaginable, to a beautiful and sweet and perfect Indigenous girl – committed genocide.

You didn’t. I didn’t.

Were we – as a people, as a nation – indifferent for 150-plus years? Yes. Were we inattentive? Yes. Were we ignorant? Yes. Were some of us racist and cruel and simply evil? Yes, yes and yes. All those things.

But the murder of thousands of Indigenous women and girls was not a state-sanctioned, state-led, state-mandated act of genocide. It was a series of murders, committed by individuals, not the state. Fully deserving of investigation and prosecution, still, because there is no statute of limitations on any murder.

When the National Inquiry’s report was handed to him, Justin Trudeau did not say this: “Was it state-sanctioned genocide? No. But we, as a nation, were negligent. We were wrong. We were to blame. So, today, I’m announcing the creation of a fully-funded national police task force to investigate and prosecute these many murders. We will not rest until we get justice for these women.”

That’s what Justin Trudeau should’ve said. He didn’t.

Instead, he spent the morning in Ottawa doing some verbal gymnastics, trying to avoid acknowledging that genocide had taken place. By the time he got to Vancouver, however, he had reversed himself. “It was genocide,” he said at a conference, to some applause.

The international community – the one which Canada belongs to, and which we regularly give pious lectures about things like genocide and crimes against humanity – immediately took note. Within a matter of hours, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States had formally written to one of Justin Trudeau’s government, demanding its compliance in an investigation of acts of genocide committed by Canada against Indigenous people.

Justin Trudeau, at that moment, had made history: he will be the first Canadian Prime Minister to be investigated for genocide during an election campaign. It is a bit of history that will not end well, for him.

Justin Trudeau, being an actor before he is anything else, knows the importance of words. He knows the impact they can have on one’s audience. That is why, until last week, he was always careful not to use one word, above all. He knew its power: “genocide.” The crime of crimes.

The power of that word will now be used against him.

He won’t like how it turns out.

26 Comments

  1. Peter says:

    My, this certainly a week for spluttering, Mr. Prime Minister. “Oh, we didn’t mean that kind of genocide. We meant the other kind. You know, the one where nobody dies? You can tell the rest of the world not to worry. We’re on it.”

  2. Max says:

    The Chicago Way. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Trudeau couldn’t hold a candle to “The Little Guy from Shawinigan”. Or the guy who said “Just watch me!” He’s embarrassing as the Prime Minister, To quote the Smiths, “How Soon is Now?”

    • The Doctor says:

      Well, also, PET would have been much more thoughtful and deliberate if that genocide hand grenade had been rolled into his office. And being a lawyer, and quite a smart one, PET would have appreciated the legal consequences. Further proof that JT has, at best, no more than half of his Dad’s DNA.

  3. hugh says:

    An expertly written treatise on what is obviously a very delicate subject.
    Well done!

  4. Nasty Bob says:

    Well if it isn’t genocide then it’s criminal negligence causing genocide.

    Take a look at Article 2 of the convention and tell me at least 4 of the five grounds are not present. Oh sure you can look at Article 1 and argue about intent and words like deliberately and calculated and so on and say “ oh it’s not that bad”

    Then look at Article 3 – you don’t need to intend it to be punished – complicity is just as bad and that’s just what we’ve been for the last 150 years.

    The fact that ever since the report came out most all the ink is writing about is it or isn’t -instead of figuring out how to fix whatever it is – shows just what a weasel nation we are.

    “ oh it’s not that bad” ranks right up with “ we didn’t know” in my book and it’s disgusting!

    • Fred from BC says:

      “Well if it isn’t genocide then it’s criminal negligence causing genocide. ”

      No, it’s not. It’s not even close.

      Read the column again.

    • JSA says:

      I think ‘indifference’ is a bit closer to the mark than ‘negligence. ‘Depraved-heart genocide’ might work better.

  5. JustSomeAnon says:

    Just call it ethnic cleansing then, the term has a much broader definition.

    Clearing the Plains – Presented by James Daschuk:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2IUCd4yX6E

  6. Leo Fleming says:

    This man is an idiot. He’s buffoonish in a Simpson’s sort of way. October cannot come fast enough. I can’t say that I’ve ever looked forward to a leader’s debate as much as I am this time.

  7. Walter says:

    Is it possible that everyone who believes that Canada committed Genocide – that being everyone who voted for Trudeau’s Liberals – gets deported to the country of their ancestors. I see that as the only way for these people to repent and make amends for their part in the crimes.

  8. ruth cyr says:

    thank you for posting “clearing the plains” on youtube. i note that comments are disabled, a wise move. i’ve read the book and use it as a resource to contextualize disease historically on the plains people. it certainly looks like genocide by non-the-less hero j a macdonald. ‘starve the indian to the point of death’, for land and the railroad. as a treaty indian and old elder and residential school attendee i am deeply saddened by the toxic dialogue ensuing from the mmiwg final report in ‘ appropriating’ the term “genocide” in situating violence experienced by mmiwg. at first i was upset by the report’s use of “genocide” but am rethinking. what concern me are the attitudes reflected in negative comments in the media towards indigenous people and the politics.

    • Peter says:

      It is understandable you are upset by some of the commentary. Unfortunately, the word genocide not only has a technical meaning, it is loaded emotionally and implies the most unspeakable acts humans have ever inflicted on one another. To most people, it means the intentional mass murder of very large numbers of people for no other reason than they are who they are. The Inquiry not only used the word to describe something quite a bit less than that, no matter how shameful and destructive, it used language that suggests it is still ongoing and that all Canadians are complicit. It should not surprise anyone that many people reject that and respond with their hearts as well as their heads. Please do not make the mistake of interpreting these reactions as historical denials or opposition to Indigenous causes. I think it is a big mistake of some aboriginal leaders to use inflammatory, degrading language in these situations and not expect non-aboriginals to reject it and defend themselves.

      • Fred from BC says:

        ” I think it is a big mistake of some aboriginal leaders to use inflammatory, degrading language in these situations and not expect non-aboriginals to reject it and defend themselves.”

        Me too. They lost me at “genocide”, and I refuse to read the report or consider any of their other opinions because of it.

        I’m not alone.

        • Peter says:

          Not cool, Fred. Were you looking for an opening to stop listening to them?

        • Ronald O'Dowd says:

          Fred,

          Don’t base your decision on anger or emotions.

          • Fred from BC says:

            That would have been good advice to give to the Commission:

            Don’t word your final report like an ADHD teenager desperate for attention. There is good attention and bad attention…you want the good kind.

            Sorry, Ronald. I looked forward to seeing if there was anything new in the report (doubtful, after the number of times it has already been done, but you never know, right?). Instead, I was insulted and accused of complicity in murder. I REJECT THAT.

  9. The Doctor says:

    Unfortunately a lot of the discussion on this issue immediately gets muddled because people don’t distinguish between historical acts by the Canadian government and Crown (some of them going hundreds of years back), versus what the Canadian government is doing today.

    I stand to be corrected, but I gathered that what was so controversial (and I think incorrect) about Ms. Buller’s assertion was that she was accusing the current Canadian government of engaging in genocide as we speak. Today.

    I think there are lots of people, most people — myself included — who realize that there are acts that took place historically that could fit the definition of genocide. But that is an important distinction and quite different from asserting that today, Canada is doing that.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Doc,

      I would put it to you that there’s at least a generalized complaceny across Canada as regards First Nations management by the very federal government that is supposed to help lift many of them out of third-world conditions.

      Can anyone argue that non-Aboriginal efforts, across departments, have frequently only fallen short of absymal failure?

      The feds have never ever come close to a B and that chronic state of mismanagement is totally unacceptable. It’s high time for First Nations to become the fourth order of government and manage themselves. They couldn’t possibly do any worse than the feds. In fact, given a chance, they ultimately can and will do far better.

  10. Christian says:

    Here’s the problem, right here:

    https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2019/06/11/blowback-to-the-word-genocide-proves-the-national-inquiry-report-was-right.html

    As Ms. Talaga effectively demonstrates, there is a serious misunderstanding of what the use of the word means in international law. Who should be prosecuted? Trudeau, Harper and every surviving PM? Every MP and former surviving MPs? The current G-G and every surviving former G-G? How about every Canadian citizen and do you include or exclude Metis? What about a recent immigrant who just became a citizen? March them off to Brussels in handcuffs as soon as they take the oath too? As Warren points out, genocide is not just a shocking word that can be thrown around to get attention to an issue. They haven’t thought this through and are simply viewing things through their (justifiable) anger.

    • The Doctor says:

      As someone (I can’t recall who it was) put very well the other day: unfortunately in the age of social media and professional activism, there’s this need that activists feel to be heard above the din. This leads them to use ever more inflammatory and hyperbolic language. It’s pretty clear, listening to the commissioners who issued the report that that was a big part of their motivation, i.e., getting attention. Well, they’ve succeeded in that. Whether they have actually helped their cause long-term is another matter.

      For example, the fact that a progressive like Warren with obvious pro-indigenous cred would write an article like this speaks volumes. In politics and in public policy, when you alienate your friends, that’s a problem.

      • On Reflection 1 says:

        And that’s why we love Warren! He does call them as he sees them and doesn’t let other considerations get in the way of his judgement even though others may castigate him for it. Also, in his favour I know personally that he’s a huge Raptors fan.

    • Nasty Bob says:

      Of course it’s not genocide ! We’re nice polite Canadians , we don’t do atrocities , we’d never think of being complicit in any atrocity.

      In fact , the worst behaviour any Canadian is capable of is cheering a (possibly career ending )injury of an opponent during a basketball game.

      Of course it’s not genocide. And when the OAS finishes their investigation and says it is – or is tantamount to it , as they certainly will, we can all join in with the holocaust deniers and say “ oh it wasn’t that bad”

      But here’s the money quote from the Talaga article :

      In any case, surely something is wrong when so many expend so much more energy defending colonialism against the “genocide” allegation than grappling in good faith with the cruel consequences the commissioners chronicle or their 231 recommendations for redressing those consequences.

      How many Canadians can name even one of the recommendations?

      • Christian says:

        And why do you think that is? Because by using such a controversial and explosive word like ‘genocide’ the commission trampled all over its own message and created the massive distraction away from its own findings that Ms. Talaga is lamenting. Again, they did not think this through and failed to appreciate that some words like ‘genocide’ really do matter and carry all sorts of implications.

        • The Doctor says:

          Exactly. The problem with so many activists these days is that hyperbole is the first (and sometimes only) tool that they reach for. And in some cases, hyperbole backfires on you and hurts your cause rather than helps it.

          The problem is, though, that these activists are often so bound up in their own righteous, ideological bubble that they think anything done in seeming advancement of The Cause is good and justified.

  11. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    In the final analysis, the genocide debate is nothing short of a legal and semantic political sideshow. For SOME, it’s a convenient red-herring that: a) promotes their desire not to seriously address the Commission’s recommendations and b) keep First Nations’ people in their “place”. It has become a debate about us, rather than an urgent response to conditions affecting them, and the unacceptable life circumstances many First Nations face.

    If a majority of Canadians genuinely care about First Nations’ well being and development, then why isn’t there an outcry from NL to BC in favour of Aboriginal Self-Government? No one can honestly argue in 2019 that First Nations can’t run themselves. They already have, for the most part, the high-quality leadership required to successfully do the job.

    But the sad reality is that many Canadians remain, even today, absolutely opposed to First Nations Self-Government and that speaks far more volumes about us, than about them.

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