Canada’s Genocide Part 3

T​his is the third in a series of posts covering the final report from Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls.

In the first post, we reported on the fact that that the inquiry found that the handling of this issue amounted to genocide. Our second posting reviewed the subject of healing and the recovery strategies that had proven most effective for victims and their families. In this installment, we will review the basis for the inquiry’s Calls for Justice, which is what it calls its long list of sweeping recommendations.

The Calls for Justice are ambitious to say the least. They view the issue of missing women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people to be the result of monumental colonial violence. As such, the solutions they call for are equally monumental.

Of particular interest to us here, given Dare to Know’s interest in Human Rights, is that the inquiry aligns its Calls for Justice with established human and indigenous rights instruments. That’s why the inquiry doesn’t use the word recommendations. The inquiry declares that the Calls for Justice are not optional. They are legal imperatives.

For the inquiry, it’s not a question of the government approving these Calls for Justice. The Canadian Government has been ignoring its legal obligations in this area for its entire history. The government must bring itself into compliance with international and domestic human and Indigenous rights laws, including the Charter ̧ the Constitution and the Honour of the Crown. They have no choice.

It’s important that the inquiry made this point because there have been lots of recommendations about indigenous rights in Canada already. Most of those recommendations have been gathering dust. There have been both a Royal Commission and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both produced voluminous reports and both made countless calls for action. In practice, not much has changed for indigenous people in Canada.

The Calls for Justice are derived from four basic principles. The first principle is a Focus on Substantive Equality and Human and Indigenous Rights. We mentioned a sampling of the human rights instruments involved above. The term “substantive equality” is important.

In these populist times, it has become fashionable to denounce the idea of equality of outcome. This is misguided. Substantive equality is an established principle in human rights law. It calls for equitable outcomes and equal opportunities for marginalized groups. No group is more marginalized than Canada’s indigenous population.

The second principle on which the Calls for Justice are based is A Decolonizing Approach. The colonialist violence on which Canadian society is founded has to be dismantled. We need to replace it with a recognition of Indigenous Nationhood. It has long been established that indigenous peoples have the inherent right to govern themselves. Yet, in Canada, this right has never existed in practice.

Thirdly, the inquiry based its Calls for Justice on the principle of Self-Determined and Indigenous-Led Solutions and Services. Up until now, the government has treated indigenous peoples like children; essentially wards of the state. Solutions are developed by non-indigenous bureaucrats in Ottawa and imposed on indigenous groups assuming that the government knows best. This is the main reason that solutions have failed. Indigenous people themselves have to be the source and the leaders of any meaningful change.

The fourth principle the inquiry follows is called Recognizing Distinctions. Canada’s indigenous people are not all the same. They may think of themselves as Inuit, Metis or First Nations. They may connect with a geographical region. Often, they feel that they belong to their place of residency, for example whether they live on or off reserves. Of course, in the context of missing and murdered women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, it’s obvious that reconizing distinctions around gender and sexual orientation is vital.

A fifth principle is Cultural Safety. It’s not enough for those who work with indigenous peoples to be “culturally competent”, as we used to say. Cultural Safety means that that government has to interact with indigenous peoples in a way that empowers them. We have to include their languages, laws and protocols, governance, spirituality, and religion in those interactions.

The sixth and final principle is a Trauma Informed Approach. Trauma is so widespread among Canada’s indigenous peoples that all interactions between the state and indigenous peoples has to take this into account. Knowledge of trauma has to be part of all policies, procedures and practices.

We’re finished now with the foundations on which the inquiry’s Calls for Justice are based. It has been a lot to cover, but we found it essential to give readers a sense of the context in which the inquiry made these Calls for Justice. In our fourth and final installment on the inquiry we will get down to business and tell our readers what Canada needs to do to fix all this.


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