One of the interesting offshoots of the Toronto Raptors’ incursion into championship basketball has been the chance to show off our city as the vibrant, multi-ethnic, successful place it is. Now the world knows what Torontonians look like – the ones who came here with nothing and can now afford the eye-bleeding seat prices, the ones who can’t and stand shivering in Jurassic Park.
It’s beautiful and heartwarming, a tourism ad for tolerance. Racism? Please! We’re Canadian.
Unless, of course, it comes to the people who were here before any of our settler ancestors arrived. That is a continuing legacy of racism that we have not even begun to deal with, despite the constant promise that we’re going to get to it. Really soon. Maybe with the next report, because that reckoning sure isn’t happening with this one.
This week, we saw the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the result of more than 2,000 survivors and family members sharing their trauma. “Today, the commissioners and I hold up a mirror to Canada,” chief commissioner Marion Buller said.
I thought for a moment that we would have the strength to look into that mirror honestly. I am naive and possibly an idiot, so I thought that Canadians – who love to trumpet our diversity when the world is watching – would sit back with humility and introspection and accept the education born of other people’s suffering.
The 231 Calls to Justice in the report demand reform of justice, policing, health and welfare systems, but they also make simple but profound requests of all Canadians: that we take the time to learn about Indigenous history and the crushing consequences of colonialism and misogyny. Here’s one radical concept contained in the calls to justice: "Create time and space for relationships based on respect as human beings, supporting and embracing differences with kindness, love, and respect.” What madness!
Instead of doing this and taking time to absorb the report or watch the testimony of family members devastated by the loss of their loved ones, or to ponder even for the brief moment of a commercial break how we might be complicit in this tragedy and how we could make it better, there has been a rush to judgment – most of it negative.
Before the report was even released, former Conservative aboriginal affairs minister Bernard Valcourt – who must have magically downloaded its contents into his cerebellum – tweeted, “How far do those activists will go? What has been the cost to Canadians for this propagandist report? What have we learned that we did not already know?”
The keyboard warriors were not far behind. If you dive into social media or the comments sections of newspapers (including this one), an entire class of pundits, who modestly hide their advanced academic degrees behind anonymous nicknames, have come to the same conclusion: This report was a waste of time. It is Indigenous women’s own fault. (“Indigenous” is not their preferred identifier, of course.) I’ve now been through hundreds of these comments, and there is not one iota of evidence that any of these geniuses has read any of the report nor watched any of the testimony. I recommend taking a deep dive into these comment sections, although you’ll need to have a lye shower after.
These insta-pundits have also become scholars on the subject of genocide overnight. There is no way what has happened to Indigenous people in this country could be considered genocide, they write, having once seen a YouTube video on the subject. But as Ms. Buller has said, "Genocide can come in many forms.”
After listening to testimony for nearly three years on the subject of intergenerational trauma perpetrated by institutions, the commission came to the very deliberate conclusion that genocide was the only way to describe what’s happening. They spend thousands of words in the report discussing their reasoning. There is even a supplementary report devoted to it. I encourage you to read it. It’s only one click away, the same amount of effort it takes to get to Facebook.
Sure, you may be saying, those people in the newspaper comments are racist. Definitely the people on Twitter. Those are just the crazies; it’s not us, the good Canadians. This would be a fine argument, except for the fact that people do tend to spew their deepest truths on social media, under cover of anonymity. More importantly, how then do we explain all the real-world discrimination toward Indigenous women documented in the report and amplified in Canadian society – from the top down – on a regular basis?
What about Senator Lynn Beyak, who has just been suspended from the Senate for refusing to take down letters on her website that call Indigenous people lazy, opportunistic, inept and incompetent?
What about the Thunder Bay police department, whose inept handing of the deaths of Indigenous people was, according to a 2018 report, “at least in part, attributable to racist attitudes and racial stereotyping"? What about the seven- and eight-year-old Indigenous hockey players who were called “savages” by the opposing team’s parents? What about the fact that 130 new cases of missing or slain Indigenous girls and women have been added since the inquiry began in 2016?
I could go on – boy, could I go on – but I am running out of space. If you’ve been paying attention, none of this is news to you. But how many of us have? Reading the report, I was struck by the words of Jeremiah Bosse, widower of Daleen Bosse, a 25-year-old student from Onion Lake First Nation who was murdered in Saskatoon in 2004. He said he wasn’t sure a new inquiry would do any good. “Doubt wandered around my brain, knowing how many First Nations issues have been swept under the rug. I now hope this National Inquiry touches the hearts of the people of Canada, helping non-Indigenous people understand the need for reconciliation. Today I feel hopeful for the first time that as victims of violence our words will be heard. The words of our lost ones are spoken!”
I hoped we wouldn’t let Mr. Bosse down this time. Now I’m not so sure.