Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is rejecting the finding of the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that a genocide is being perpetrated against Indigenous people, saying that every life lost is a tragedy – but that it does not fit the definition of genocide.
Mr. Scheer told reporters in Ottawa that the ramifications of the term genocide “are very profound” and that the word carries a lot of meaning. “I think that the tragedy involved with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is its own thing," he said. "It is its own tragedy. It does not fall into the category of genocide,” he said.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report last week, with Chief Commissioner Marion Buller telling the crowd at an emotional ceremony that the Canadian state has deliberately and systemically violated racial, gender, human and Indigenous rights.
That was “designed,” Ms. Buller said, “to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands, social structures and governance, to eradicate their existence as nations and communities, families and individuals, [and] is the cause of the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women [and] girls.”
“This is genocide,” said Ms. Buller, who is Cree and a member of the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan. She was the first Indigenous woman appointed as a provincial court judge in British Columbia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later said he accepted the inquiry’s finding, saying, “We recognized the need for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and we have commissioners who came back with findings of fact and with calls to action,” he said to media at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver.
“We thank them for their work, we applaud their work and we accept their findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide. There are many debates ongoing around words and use of words. Our focus as a country, as leaders, as citizens, must be on the steps we take to put an end to this situation.”
When asked specifically if he personally believed the harm done to Canada’s Indigenous people amounted to genocide, Mr. Trudeau repeated, "we accept the finding that this was genocide. And we will move forward to end this ongoing national tragedy.”
Canada signed on to the United Nations 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which included commitments to avert and stop genocidal acts and punish perpetrators. After the inquiry report was released, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States said he wanted to form an international panel to investigate the claim and achieve justice.
Mr. Scheer said the "idea that Canada would now be subject to the types of international actions that follow findings of genocide – I think we have to be very careful with the use of that terminology.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement that Canada’s treatment of First Nations is “consistent with genocide as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”
“All Canadians, including elected officials, need to come to grips with our shared history so we can move forward together,” he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press