UN Urged To Declare Canada’s Treatment Of Aboriginals ‘Genocide’

Cree students at the Anglican-run Lac La Ronge Mission School in Saskatchewan in 1945. (Archives and Library of Canada)

Cree students at the Anglican-run Lac La Ronge Mission School in Saskatchewan in 1945. (Archives and Library of Canada)

 

By Michael Bolen, The Huffington Post, Canada

A fresh campaign is underway to push the United Nations to label Canada’s treatment of First Nations people “genocide.”

On Monday, former National Chief Phil Fontaine, elder Fred Kelly, businessman Dr. Michael Dan and human rights activist Bernie Farber sent a letter to James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, arguing that several specific crimes against aboriginal people in Canada qualify as genocide under the post-Second World War Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG)

Article 2 of the Convention states that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

 

The letter writers assert that at least three actions on the part of Canadian governments constitute genocide under those rules.

1. Sir John A. MacDonald’s policy of deliberately starving First Nations people to make way for settlers in the Canadian west.

2. The residential school system and especially the decision of Department of Indian Affairs chief Duncan Campbell Scott not to address rampant tuberculosis among students.

3. The forcible removal of aboriginal children from their homes for the purpose of adoption by white families, a practice known as the “Sixties Scoop.” Estimates put the number of children removed between the 1960s and the mid 1980s at around 20,000.

Farber and Dan have previously argued that the recently revealed nutrition experiments performed on children at residential schools also qualify as genocide.

The genocide argument has been criticized by Sun News pundit Ezra Levant, who wrote this summer that “Canada does not and never has had a policy of exterminating Indians. Genocides don’t normally include billions of dollars a year in government grants to the group in question, affirmative action hiring quotas, land reserves and other privileges.”

Levant accuses Dan of hiring Faber to curry favour with First Nations people so his Gemini Power Corp. can get permission to build power plants on reserves.

Farber told HuffPost Canada in an email that Levant’s characterization is inaccurate.

“Ezra, as usual, gets it wrong.”

The letter from Farber and company was sent as special rapporteur Anaya concluded a visit to Canada. He said Canada faces a “crisis” regarding its indigenous people and called for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The Conservative government pledged to renew efforts to address the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women in its throne speech Wednesday.

Earlier this year, former prime minister Paul Martin referred to residential schools as “cultural genocide.” In 2012, Justice Murray Sinclair, the chairman of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the removal of children from their homes to residential schools was an act of genocide, but that it didn’t necessarily qualify under the UN Convention.

There have only ever been two successful prosecutions under the Genocide Convention, former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda and ex-mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu for crimes during the 1994 slaughter in that country. The UN’s highest court cleared the government of Serbia of genocide charges in 2007, but found it breached international law in failing to stop the killing and by not handing over officials accused of war crimes.

The push for action from the UN comes amid renewed violence between authorities and aboriginal peoples. On Thursday, police cars were torched during an attempt by the RCMP to enforce an injunction to end a demonstration against shale gas exploration in eastern New Brunswick. The Mounties said at least 40 people were arrested

The violence has sparked a renewal of the cross-country protests seen during the Idle No More movement last winter.

With files from The Canadian Press

 

First Nations Transparency Act may do more harm than good: Hayden King

Aboriginal people may find themselves with even less power to create change

By Hayden King, for CBC News, Canada, Aug 02, 201

 

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act may result in aboriginal people finding themselves with even less power to create change.The First Nations Financial Transparency Act may result in aboriginal people finding themselves with even less power to create change. (CBC News)

 

This week the federal government’s legislation, The First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA), was made law.

Financial statements and salaries of First Nation council’s were posted on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s website earlier this week. And those councils who refuse to participate will face a court order.

According to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, this is an effort to provide First Nations people with transparency and allow them to hold their elected leaders accountable. In other words, to empower them.

Given the early reactions to the publication of this data, I don’t share the assessment. So what can we expect?

First, we can expect the media to find a handful of chief and councils that pay themselves unjustifiable salaries.

This reporting has already begun and at least one B.C. chief has found himself on national news broadcasts and other national media for consecutive days.

AFN National Chief Ghislain Picard says the act calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

AFN National Chief Ghislain Picard says the act calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Of course, this information is important to know. But we can also expect the media to do little else. Few will cover the hundreds of chiefs and/or councils that make $10,000 a year. Few will examine the extreme AANDC underfunding this new data reveals.

Few will ask critical questions about the consequences of First Nations (which are often both governments and corporations) disclosing the details of business dealings with current and/or future negotiating partners.

Second, because of the likely superficial media reporting we can expect many to run with the popular “corrupt chief” narrative to shape their desired policy changes.

Many so-called experts on First Nations peoples in the media and politics will generalize to indict all leaders as taxpayer leeches (though the language will be more delicate).

‘With the media identifying the problem of corrupt chiefs and so-called experts proposing assimilatory solutions, there will be confirmation that the Indian problem is the Indian’s own fault’– Hayden King

Certainly we’ll see organizations like The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which spearheaded the legislation in the first place, use the generalization to call for the erosion of treaties, end of “special” Indian status, privatization of reserves, etc. While taxpayer activism is certainly common, it seems to provoke a special kind of fury when involving Indigenous Peoples.

Third, we can probably expect many Canadians to harden their perspectives on First Nations peoples.

With the media likely focusing on the corrupt-chiefs problem and the so-called experts proposing assimilatory solutions, that will be confirmation for many that the Indian problem is the Indian’s own fault.

And since the challenges indigenous people face will be perceived as a self-inflicted suffering, many Canadians will feel absolved of any responsibility to First Nations, and will instead feel permitted to cast judgement and simply wait for civilization to reach the natives.

In short, the transparency act will be an effective tool to solidify apathy and disengagement with indigenous perspectives and ideas.

Fourth, we can probably also expect the federal government to double-down on the unilateral “aboriginal” policy that has been ongoing for some time.

This includes stripping communities of power in areas of social policy, extinguishing rights and title, reducing program resources, andgenerally trying to transform communities into municipalities under provincial jurisdiction.

With the First Nation leadership being stripped of legitimacy, and Canadians oscillating between aloof and angry, much of the opposition to this increasingly transformative trend will be neutralized. The FNFTA may actually grant AANDC greater licence to intervene in the lives of indigenous peoples.

Finally, we can expect First Nations people to use this data to continue to hold their leadership accountable.

The reality is that most communities already have access to this information (and much more) and generally they do not skirt or ignore issues of bad governance.

From the broad Idle No More movement to specific cases like the ongoing Wahta Community Fire in central Ontario (where a Kanien’kehá:ka community shut down its administrative building because the band council wasn’t following transparency rules), the formal and more provocative examples of communities holding leaders accountable and pushing for new (or very old) governance models independent of the Indian Act are numerous.

‘In an era where reconciliation actually means confrontation and our public discourse is often shallow, every new policy, law, court decision, protest and blockade is a struggle to shape the narrative’– Hayden King

All of this is not an argument against the legislation itself or an endorsement of the status quo.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of Canada continuing to dictate to and administer First Nation communities, the content of the legislation is relatively benign. But the consequences may be significant.

In an era where reconciliation seems more to mean confrontation and our public discourse is often shallow, every new policy, law, court decision, protest and blockade is a struggle to shape the narrative.

Despite what Bernard Valcourt claims about the FNFTA, First Nations may find themselves with even less power to create change.