What happened to missing and murdered Indigenous women was horrific, but it wasn’t genocide

Posted on June 5, 2019 in Equality Debates

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NationalPost.com – Opinion – The report claims its use of the term is in keeping with the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It’s not

Allegations of “genocide” have been around for so long to describe the 500 years of treatment of the New World’s first settlers by its post-Columbian explorers that there should be no surprise that it is increasingly being applied to Canada’s behaviour towards its Indigenous people.

What should be surprising is that “genocide” was employed to explain why there are proportionately more murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts. The just released Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls minces no words when it says there exists “a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples … empowered by colonial structures … leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.”

The report also claims that its use of the “genocide” term is in keeping with the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the gold standard for determining this heinous crime against humanity around the world.

It’s not.

Article 2 of the UN Convention defines genocide as, “ … 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.”

None of these features apply to the murder or disappearance of 1,200 or more Indigenous women. These crimes, though horrific and far too numerous, were certainly not “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part” a particular racial or ethnic group by the co-ordinated efforts of some other racial or ethnic group. Nor do the organization, causes, and consequences of these murders look like they have anything in common with the genocides officially recognized by the government of Canada: the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Armenian genocide and the Rwandan genocide.

There are other definitions of genocide but those accepted as being legitimate all include the requirement that the murder of members of other groups is deliberate, systemic and organized, not serendipitous, unconnected and unco-ordinated. This is why the United Nations General Assembly resolved in 1946 that, “Genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings.” Translation: a lot of random murders do not add up to a genocide.

Rather than being an inter-group form of violence, the murder of Aboriginal females is largely confined to the Indigenous community. RCMP and other statistics reveal that 90 per cent of these murders are committed by Indigenous men who knew their victims; 72 per cent of Aboriginal women are murdered mainly in their homes; very few women involved in the sex trade, whether Indigenous or not, are murdered by their clients; and, contrary to urban mythology based on the vile Robert Pickton saga, “… it would be inappropriate to suggest any significant difference in the prevalence of sex trade workers among Aboriginal female homicide victims as compared to non-Aboriginal female homicide victims.”

These statistics also suggest that the very formation of this inquiry represented a privileging of the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women over other population groupings, including Indigenous men. Between 1980 and 2012, of the 20,313 national homicides, five per cent of victims were Aboriginal women. Meanwhile, Indigenous men represent at least 70 per cent of murdered or missing Aboriginal persons. Don’t these murdered men deserve some consideration as well?

None of these features apply to the murder or disappearance of 1,200 or more Indigenous women

There is no denying that the murder of hundreds of Indigenous women is a personal and family misfortune that should not have occurred. But these tragedies are not a genocide; they are the sadly expected result of the domestic pathologies that are reality for too many Aboriginal Canadians: isolation, broken homes, family trauma, abuse, addictions and the hopelessness of inter-generational welfare dependence.

On the eve of European settlement there were approximately 500,000 Indigenous people in what became Canada. Tens of thousands of Indigenous people in the early post-contact period died due to the French and Indian War in the mid-19th century and because of their susceptibility to such infectious Western diseases as influenza, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, smallpox, and measles. This is a human tragedy of epic proportion. After this disastrous post-contact period, the Indigenous population began to quickly recover, especially from the early 20th-century, and today is by far the fastest growing demographic cohort in Canada.

Where is the “genocide” in all this?

Canada had an unfortunate and unjustified period of legislated racial segregation for treaty Indians between 1885 and 1951, as well as other small and large injustices from first contact to the present. But Canada has never been a genocidal society and no country has ever done more for its Indigenous people. The prime minister was right to initially steer well away from using the term “genocide” when he responded to the report’s release on Monday. He eventually did on Tuesday. He should not have.

Hymie Rubenstein is a retired professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba.

What happened to missing and murdered Indigenous women was horrific, but it wasn’t genocide

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