Canada Reckons With Genocide

A damning new report on the deaths of indigenous women highlights post-colonial nations’ failures.

A sign at a Canadian First Nations protest in Toronto references the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada on April 21, 2018.

A sign at a Canadian First Nations protest in Toronto references the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada on April 21, 2018. ROBERTO MACHADO NOA/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

Every page of testimony from Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is heartbreaking.

It is a mammoth effort—and one that might provide a way forward for the United States and other post-colonial countries, such as Australia and Brazil, trying to grapple with the past treatment of indigenous peoples.

But for Canadians, it’s also a challenge, one that calls for their country to decolonize and fundamentally change its relationship with indigenous peoples. The report demands the country recognize its role in perpetrating a “deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide”—language that already has irked some commentators.

The public inquiry into the deaths or disappearances of thousands of indigenous women was one of Justin Trudeau’s first acts after becoming prime minister of Canada in 2015. The stories contained in the report, gathered by four years of fact-finding work, are harrowing and frustrating. They detail police inaction, cycles of intergenerational violence, and failed government policies that have broken families and locked indigenous peoples into poverty.

The inquiry heard from 1,484 family members and survivors, but it also initiated a forensic document review, poring over police records to identify gaps and problems in the law enforcement response. Officially, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police identified 1,017 homicides of indigenous women between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate nearly five times higher than that of non-indigenous women—as well as 164 disappearances. The report maintains the real number is much higher.

The stories of these cases play out through the report, detailing tragedies from every corner of the country.

The calls to action in the report—not merely recommendations, as the commissioners underscored—are aimed at achieving nothing short of decolonization

On the West coast, the inquiry heard from Robin Rain, who lost her daughter Isabella Rose in 2005. She was killed by Rain’s partner at the time, an abusive man who she remained with out of financial necessity, she told the inquiry in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Even when I was sitting in the hospital beside my daughter’s corpse, the detective told me to get away from her body,” she said. “He stood guard over her body to make sure that I didn’t touch her. I couldn’t even hold her hand. I could only sit across the room and look at her little lifeless body.”

In Quebec, Gilberte Vachon told the inquiry about the night her daughter Adèle-Patricia headed out the door. “She came back after and told us ‘I love you.’ That was the last time I heard her voice.” Her daughter was found, beaten, outside a community center in Pessamit. She died in a hospital. MORE

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