(Ottawa) The discovery of 215 remains of Indigenous children at an anonymous burial site in British Columbia has reignited debate over the federal residential school system. According to some experts, it meets the definition of genocide in international law.
Posted on 1is June 2021 at 6:29 pm
The Canadian Press
Law professor Pamela Palmater of Ryerson University in Toronto believes that the definition of “genocide” in the United Nations convention applies to this action taken by Canada against Indigenous people.
Forced transfer of children from the group to another group
Under this convention, genocide is committed when members of a group are killed, are subjected to serious injury to their physical or mental integrity, or subjected to conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part. The UN definition also encompasses – and specifically – “forcible transfer of children from one group to another group”.
To be charged with genocide, Canada must be guilty of only one of the five acts sanctioned by the United Nations convention, “committed with intent to destroy, or in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. “. However, Professor Palmater believes that Canada is guilty of the five acts, including that of “preventing births within the group”.
“This is, at all times, what genocide looks like in any country that has committed genocide […] anonymous graves of innocent children, ”said Mme Palmater. “First Nations across the country have reported the presence of other mass graves and anonymous graves of children who have been murdered, starved, abused or died. ”
“Tangible proof”, says the chief of the chefs
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said on Tuesday the residential school system was genocide and the anonymous graves found in Kamloops are tangible proof of that. “I demand that all governments commit to supporting First Nations who want thorough investigations into former residential school sites and to take all available measures to hold perpetrators accountable. ”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report in 2015, after years of studying these church-run and federally-sponsored residential schools, which operated in Canada for over 120 years. The report explained that “physical genocide” is “the slaughter of members of a targeted group”, while “cultural genocide” is “the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue to live as a group. “.
Professor of political science David MacDonald, of the University of Guelph in Ontario, recalls that the commission could find a “cultural genocide”, but not genocide under the UN convention, because it does not was not authorized, by virtue of his mandate, to present legal arguments. “Their job was to gather information, but they weren’t allowed to determine whether the government had broken any laws,” says Professor MacDonald.
In contrast, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was created under the Inquiries Act, which enabled it to subpoena witnesses and make legal decisions, argues Professor MacDonald. . And in 2019, the inquiry concluded in its voluminous report that Canada had deliberately and systematically violated Indigenous rights, and that its actions did indeed amount to genocide.
Following the release of the report, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted this conclusion of “genocide”, but argued that Canada should focus on concrete actions to remedy the situation, not words.
Already a verdict
Professor Palmater, also a Mi’kmaq lawyer, also believes that Canada has been convicted of genocide, both historic and ongoing, by the Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Women. “Not from an academic or political point of view – it was not a question of theory: it was indeed a concrete legal assessment, carried out by the national inquiry,” she argued.
And she believes that Canada continues to commit genocide today. “There are three times more Aboriginal children in foster care than in residential schools,” she said. “Children in foster care here experience higher rates of physical and sexual assault, lack of education, lack of access to health care, emotional abuse, attacks on their culture and, of course, two-thirds of all aboriginal people in prisons today come from this foster care system, one-fifth came from residential schools. ”
Canada could only face legal consequences for its actions against Indigenous people if a court ruled that the country had committed crimes against humanity or genocide, said Bruno Gélinas-Faucher, professor of law at the University of Montreal and doctoral candidate in international law at the University of Cambridge. He recalled that Canada has already criminalized genocide and crimes against humanity in its national legal system, but that it would be up to federal prosecutors to open a criminal investigation.
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