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British Columbia Western Canada: MMIW report sparks debate over term genocide

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls runs 1,200 pages and presents more than 200 recommendations – the report names them “calls for justice.”

The recommendations vary in complexity.

Some are straightforward actions: The commission demands the federal government create a national Indigenous and human-rights ombudsperson and to provide more money for better transit to and from remote communities.

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Other recommendations require broad societal shifts with potentially reverberating consequences: Remove the “maximum security” classification in the federal Correctional Service because it limits access to rehabilitation and reintegration programs; create a guaranteed annual livable income for all Canadians, taking into account “diverse needs, realities and geographic locations."

But in the few days since the report was released, much of the discussion has been around the commission’s declaration that Canada has engaged in a genocide of its women and girls, a word of such gravity that the use of it has generated more debate than the report’s actual recommendations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, upon release of the report, initially refused to use it on Monday. He used it later in the day when opening an international conference on women’s issues in Vancouver. On Tuesday, he acknowledged the word.

“I accept the findings of the report, and the issue that we have is that people are getting wrapped up in debates over a very important and powerful term,” he said.

“As I’ve said, we accept the finding that this was genocide. And we will move forward to end this ongoing national tragedy.”

The word has also caught the attention of the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, who wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to suggest an international body be created “to clarify the accusations and denunciations of genocide in your country.”

The letter suggested such an outside panel “would be essential to contribute with the scrutiny of the hemispheric community to a situation that, given its terrible severity, exceeds the borders of the country and violates values that transcend the Canadian context.”

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Ms. Freeland’s office said Tuesday she would be responding to the secretary-general.

But although the inquiry commissioners were careful to detail their logic in arriving at a conclusion of genocide, some scholars disagree with the use of the term.

In an op-ed in The Globe and Mail, author Erna Paris, who has written about the dark legacy of residential schools, argued it is inappropriate.

“Genocide, as opposed to cultural genocide, is the planned extermination of peoples,” she writes. “It is not, as asserted by the Inquiry, ‘the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report.’ Genocide [like all crimes] is an act. To lose sight of this fact is to jeopardize the usefulness of one of the most important tools of international criminal law.”

In another opinion piece, Signa Daum Shanks, a Métis from Saskatchewan, writes that debate over the term, ultimately, isn’t helpful.

The associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School calls the controversy a cop-out because it "lets society get away with not doing more to realize what problems have led to the inquiry’s need to be invented at all.

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“What we should focus on is what we can do today to stop the racism and the indifference. Moving forward means reframing our thoughts and accepting that, although we may not be sure about all the details, we need to use the report to guide us.”

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. editor Wendy Cox and Alberta bureau chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West:

Manitoba election: Manitoba will be going to the polls early, Premier Brian Pallister indicated Tuesday. He told a news conference he has ordered his government into a communications blackout, signalling a vote is coming in the fall, a year earlier than the province’s fixed voting date.

Mr. Pallister said it would be inappropriate to hold a vote as required by legislation in October of 2020 because the province will be celebrating its 150th anniversary at that time. But political scientists suggested waiting could be risky for Mr. Pallister: The economy could worsen and newly announced reforms to the province’s health-care and education systems could wind up being unpopular in a year.

Surrey police force: Surrey, B.C.'s plans for a new municipal police force will cost more for fewer officers than the city’s current RCMP service, according to a long-awaited city report released Monday.

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Subject to provincial approval, British Columbia’s second-largest city will deploy the new police department in August, 2021, one year later than Mayor Doug McCallum had originally promised. The new force will cost 10.9 per cent more a year than the current arrangement that has had the RCMP police the community since 1951.

Mountain caribou: The B.C. government has run out of time to enact plans to save the southern mountain caribou. Although a fact-finder’s report into the issue was delivered to Premier John Horgan last week, the federal government’s deadline for action before it imposes an emergency protection order is looming.

That threat prompted the province to negotiate recovery plans with Ottawa and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations – a strategy that drew anger from residents of the Peace River region who fear job losses if caribou habitat is protected. Chief Roland Willson, leader of West Moberly, said there is no time to renegotiate the draft plans.

B.C. is home to 52 herds of woodland caribou, which for decades have been under pressure because of habitat loss from logging and mining and predation by wolves and bears. More than half of B.C.’s surviving herds are at risk of disappearing.

Cheque day: The first study into income assistance payment schedules in B.C. has found that while varying payment timing and frequency can lead to reduced drug use, such changes could also lead to increases in other drug-related harms, including exposure to violence, treatment interruption and overdose frequency.

Payment day, commonly called cheque day or “welfare Wednesday,” has long been linked to an increase in drug overdoses, hospital admissions and calls for emergency services. Income assistance cheques are currently distributed on the same third or fourth Wednesday of the month for all recipients.

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Opinion:

David Schindler and Maude Barlow on contaminated water from oil-sands activity: “Releasing more polluted mine tailings into the Athabasca River may soon become a lot easier for oil-sands companies. According to The Globe, the federal and Alberta governments are working with companies on new regulations to authorize the discharge of treated effluent.”

Frank Ching on Hong Kong’s pending extradition agreement with China: "Few believe that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive will ever say no if Beijing asks for anyone’s extradition. After all, the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, states clearly that one of the Chief Executive’s functions is ‘to implement directives issued by the Central People’s Government.’”

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