The chief commissioner of the inquiry that spent 2½ years exploring the root causes of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls says she is confident of its central finding that the violence is part of a continuing genocide.
Since Marion Buller and the three other commissioners handed their final 1,200-page report to the federal government on Monday, there has been much heated discussion about the use of the word, and of the inquiry’s pronouncement that “colonial violence, racism and oppression” have been aimed at eliminating First Nations, Inuit and Métis as distinct peoples and communities.
Ms. Buller, a Cree and a member of the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan who is also a retired judge of British Columbia’s Provincial Court, said in a telephone interview this week that she is not worried that reaction to the finding of genocide has taken focus away from the report’s 231 recommendations, which the inquiry termed Calls For Justice.
“I am not concerned about the attention that is being paid to the word genocide because that’s the first step in the discussion,” Ms. Buller said, “and it’s going to provide the understanding and the framework for people to see how important it is for our Calls For Justice to be implemented immediately.”
The chief commissioner said she appreciates that talking about a genocide is “a very uncomfortable conversation to have.”
But, if it spurs action from governments and Canadians, it will have done its job because “there is an urgency to tackling the problem,” she said. “This genocide is ongoing.”
The inquiry concluded that no one knows the exact number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada because many of the deaths over the decades have gone unrecorded. Still, the report said, thousands “have been lost to the Canadian genocide to date.”
Ms. Buller said the four commissioners agreed to use the word genocide while sitting around a table together and doing a deep analysis of the information they had gathered since the inquiry was officially started in September, 2016.
“We looked at all the evidence. We read the transcripts of statements, we read the reports, the submissions made by parties with standing,” she said. “And it was just an inescapable conclusion. There was just no other way to describe the history and the current state of the safety, or lack thereof, of Indigenous women and girls.”
The commissioners had heard the word genocide in the testimony of family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. They also heard it described in other ways. Many times, Ms. Buller said, the commissioners were told “there’s a war on our women.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which looked into abuse of children at Canada’s Indian residential schools, said in its 2015 report that there has been a “cultural genocide” perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in Canada. But the finding of the inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls was far more direct and sweeping.
The TRC’s determination of cultural genocide comes from a very different set of objectives and evidence, Ms. Buller said.