Tag Archive: genocide

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.

My latest: when Trudeau calls it genocide


That’s what the Prime Minister of Canada says Canada is guilty of — the crime of crimes.

That’s what the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal called it, too, when passing judgment on Jean Kambanda, who oversaw the slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu civilians in Rwanda in the Spring and Summer of 1994: “the crime of crimes.”

Said the tribunal: “Genocide constitutes the crime of crimes, which must be taken into account when deciding the sentence.”

Kambanda, like Justin Trudeau, was a prime minister. Like Justin Trudeau, too, he admitted he had facilitated genocide.

Unlike Justin Trudeau, Kambanda is now serving a life sentence.

Trudeau, however, has imposed a political sentence — on himself. On Tuesday, in Vancouver, he talked about the report released by the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

“It was genocide,” Trudeau said.

On Wednesday, one day after the Canadian Prime Minister said Canada had committed genocide against thousands of Indigenous women and girls, the Organization of American States announced it expected Canada to cooperate with its investigation.

Justin Trudeau is now the first Canadian Prime Minister to be investigated for state-sponsored mass murder by an international body in which Canada is a member state.

During a federal election. That, too, is a first.

In a letter sent to Canada’s government, the Secretary-General of the OAS wrote: “The mere presumption of the crime of genocide against Indigenous women and girls in your country should not and cannot leave any room for indifference from the perspective of the Inter-American community and the international community. Given that your country has always sided with scrutiny and international investigation in situations where human rights are violated in different countries, I am expecting to receive a favourable response to this request.”

It didn’t matter, at that point, that various eminent Canadians had said Trudeau had been wrong to say his government, and all of his predecessors’ governments, committed genocide. Former Liberal minister of justice Irwin Cotler was one.

Said Cotler: “If we say everything is a genocide, then nothing is a genocide.”

Retired general Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda when Jean Kambanda was facilitating genocide there, was another. Dallaire, a former Liberal Senator, sounded angry at Trudeau.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” he said. “My definition of genocide (is) a deliberate act of a government to exterminate, deliberately and by force and directly, an ethnicity or a group of human beings. And that meant actually going and slaughtering people.”

That’s how most other experts define genocide, too. State-led, state-sponsored, state-sanctioned mass murder of citizens belonging to a particular race or religion or ethnic group.

On the day the inquiry issued its damning report in Ottawa, calling the murder of thousands of Indigenous women and girls genocide, Trudeau declined to go along. He wouldn’t call it genocide. By the time he got to Vancouver, however, Trudeau had changed his tune.

“It was genocide,” he said.

At that point, the OAS — and, possibly, the International Criminal Court, and other such bodies — had no choice but to act. And Canada, having called for investigations into other nations over the years, has no choice but to cooperate. Its Prime Minister had admitted to the crime before an investigation had even begun.

Was it the ethical thing to do? Was it morally right? Was it the biggest self-inflicted political wound in Canadian history?

None of that matters. Genocide is the crime of crimes.

And the defendant, Justin Trudeau, says he is guilty of it.