Few Canadians appear to be aware that Canada’s legal definition of genocide omits a number of the criteria outlined in the UN convention against genocide. Genocide isn’t only mass murder.
We already have a term for that: mass murder.
The use of the term genocide entails identifying the prevailing logic used to justify certain atrocities, but these are in no way limited only to mass murder. Forcibly taking children of a specific group is genocide.
People seem to conveniently forget that.
The definition of “genocide“ as defined by Raphael Lemke; who invented the word:
[G]enocide 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.
However, in writing their own definition, the Canadian government has been amazingly selective:
“genocide” means an act or omission committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an identifiable group of persons, as such, that, at the time and in the place of its commission, constitutes genocide according to customary international law or conventional international law or by virtue of its being criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations, whether or not it constitutes a contravention of the law in force at the time and in the place of its commission.”
The fact that (c), (d), and (e) have been left out of Canada’s definition should be grounds for deep and abiding suspicion – not for comfort.
After all, failure to have achieved their stated goals – “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic” – does not count as a defense.
And every time people from the dominant culture in Canada speak of a “failure” in the residential schools, it leaves one wondering about just which failure they’re addressing:
- the “failure” of their genocidal residential school policy to achieve their goals;
- their “failure” to adequately administer it, resulting in widespread abuse;
- or their failure in imagination when forced to engage with the continuing historical existence – and the unrelenting cultural persistence – of their First Nations neighbours and relations.
While the Truth and Reconciliation process has been the grounds for much healing and much reconciliation, the Canadian governments – and the churches – continue to be evasive with the truth.
And that evasion of responsibility continues to leave the dominant population of Canada with a false idea of the horrific experience that Canada’s First Nations have lived through.
It is – I understand – a principle of Christian dogma that contrition precedes forgiveness. And – aside from some mumbled pieties – the churches and governments seem to have not been contrite enough to expose their crimes and records to the public gaze. Those are well protected behind walls of lawyers and legal subterfuge: bland committees of lawyers and divines have crafted “apologies” which serve to mask those truths. It’s not enough.
Perhaps the churches and governments should look to their catechisms: the blood has been shed; contrition is missing; and forgiveness can not be expected until the country’s religious and political leaders reveal the real truth about their complicity in a genocidal policy. It ain’t just about the child abuse – though that’s bad enough; it’s about a long-held racist belief that somehow the First Nations can be scraped off the land; out of the history books; and out of the nation’s conscience.