The chief commissioner of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls says it’s “pretty obvious” that the tragedies amount to a genocide.
Marion Buller made the remarks in a speech Monday at a conference on the topic held by the University of British Columbia in collaboration with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“We made what to me is pretty obvious, but it’s turned out to be controversial, finding of fact that the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls … is genocide,” she said
The inquiry’s final report, released last week, detailed a deliberate and persistent pattern of abuses against Indigenous women, girls, two-spirited people and LGBT individuals, which it said can only be described as a genocide.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not directly answered questions about whether he agrees with this finding, but has said he accepts it. Other politicians, including Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, have rejected the conclusion.
Buller said in an interview that she welcomes the national discussion about the meaning of genocide.
“I think once people get over, maybe, the shock of the word genocide, I think we’re going to move then onto focusing more on our calls for justice, but we have to have these awful, difficult conversations to start with.”
She said there is more than one type of genocide.
“The type of genocide we’re talking about in our report is generations of underfunding, generations of marginalization, generations of moving communities to new locations without consent, generations of taking children without consent,” she said.
“As my colleague, commissioner (Qajaq) Robinson said, it’s death by a million paper cuts.”
The prime minister has promised a national plan to address the issues raised in the report. Buller said she’s not worried about the possibility that the plan won’t be ready until after the next federal election.
“I don’t think something like a national action plan should be rushed, because there has to be the proper participation of Indigenous people, Indigenous organizations,” she said.
Buller said she’s pleased with Trudeau’s response so far and relieved that he accepts all of the inquiry’s findings of fact.
“That means he believes the families and survivors and their truths,” she said. “So, I think it’s maybe one or two positive steps forward. I just hope over the course of the election we don’t take steps backward.”
Buller also said she isn’t concerned that a new government won’t accept the finding of genocide. There are activists, survivors and family members across Canada who are not going to allow the report to sit on a shelf gathering dust, she said.
“Whoever forms the government is going to be facing a lot of, I think the polite word would be encouragement from all those groups.”
Buller, who was the first female First Nations judge in B.C., also took aim at the media in her speech, accusing some pundits of not actually reading it.
In the interview, she said she was disappointed no media outlet applied for standing to give evidence during the inquiry because the media play a role in how Indigenous women are perceived.
“I thought, and I hoped, that the media would want to take an active part in what we were doing, and they would want to be able to do some self-examination as well,” she said.
The two-day conference hosted by UBC’s First Nations House of Learning is set to address issues of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
Buller told the audience of mostly women and Indigenous family members who have lost loved ones that the report has started difficult conversations, but Canada must know the truth before it can achieve reconciliation.
Commissioners heard family members and survivors share heartbreaking stories of love, loss and grief, she said, but they also heard stories of courage and resistance against colonialism.