Politics
Conservative MP blocked motion to call residential school experience genocide, NDP MP says

Conservative MP blocked motion to call residential school experience genocide, NDP MP says

A motion seeking unanimous consent of the House of Commons to recognize the residential school experience as genocide has been torpedoed by only one Conservative MP, according to the NDP MP who tabled it.

Winnipeg Center NDP MP Leah Gazan said Conservative MP John Barlow, who represents the riding of Foothills, rejected his call to call on the federal government to label the residential school experience as genocide.

“It is an unfortunate act by John Barlow that he has decided to vote against this motion and certainly against the Conservative Party, which continues to deny the genocide,” Gazan said.

“It was an opportunity.”

Reached by CBC News, Barlow declined to say whether he had shouted “no” and instead referred the matter to the Conservative whip’s office, who did not respond.

The NDP says that if the motion had received unanimous consent, it would have shown Parliament’s willingness to recognize the genocide and could have had implications in residential school litigation.

Gazan said she believed the residential school era met the United Nations’ definition of genocide, which describes it as an attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. “.

The UN definition cites various forms of genocide: killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group, willfully inflicting conditions to bring about the total or partial physical destruction of a group , impose measures to prevent births and transfer children from one group to another.

“It is unfortunate that parliamentarians continue to deny the genocide that took place in the residential schools,” Gazan said.

“There is no reconciliation in this country without truth. I will continue to work with leaders, Indigenous families, nations and survivors to push for justice.

Debate continues over the use of the word

Some experts disagree with the use of the word genocide to describe the residential school era.

Frank Chalk, professor of history and co-founder of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, said he saw no evidence of criminal intent, which is required by the United Nations Genocide Convention.

Instead, Chalk said, he sees evidence of criminal negligence in the attempt to strip Indigenous children of their languages ​​and beliefs.

NDP MP Leah Gazan speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 7, 2021. (The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick)

“All of these stages are part of what we call ethnocide – the attempt to destroy a group’s culture,” Chalk said.

Chalk also said the genocide debate distracts attention from the work the federal government should be doing to advance Indigenous rights.

“If we keep quibbling over the legal definition of genocide and how it applies to residential school victims, we will turn away from the concrete action we need today,” Chalk said.

“The real issue is how to institutionalize in the future… respect for indigenous cultures, land rights, clean environments and jobs as they choose them, not as we choose them in the colonial sense. ”

Chalk said he preferred the term “cultural genocide,” which was used by commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in its final report on residential schools.

“Another kind of genocide”

But Gazan said the word genocide should be used because “cultural genocide” does not exist in international law.

Fannie Lafontaine, professor of law at Laval University and holder of a Canada Research Chair in international criminal justice and human rights, agrees.

Lafontaine said the TRC does not have the mandate to decide legal liability and she believes the residential school experience should be recognized as genocide.

“You can destroy a group by destroying its social fabric, its social unit, and I think that’s what Canada has been doing for decades,” Lafontaine said.

“Canada has committed a different kind of genocide.

Fannie Lafontaine was the lead author of the legal analysis of the genocide for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (UQAM)

Lafontaine said the definition of genocide is not limited to massacres and can include events that occur over a long period of time. She cited the forcible transfer of children from their families to residential schools as an example of genocidal act.

Lafontaine contributed to the 2019 Legal Analysis for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, who concluded that violence against Indigenous women and girls amounted to genocide.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the word after accepting the inquiry’s final report and repeated it last week when the national action plan was released.

Lafontaine said there are legal consequences to the government’s recognition of the genocide – consequences that require full implementation of the recommendations of the inquiry and those of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“It’s a structural change,” she said. “It is recognizing the damage that colonization has caused and repairing it by giving power back to the indigenous nations.”

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