Seven key learnings from the MMIWG legal analysis on genocide

A participant in the Greater Than Fear rally and march in Rochester, Minnesota. The red handprint painted is a symbol of condemnation of silence in the face of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirited people. Lorie Shaull/Flickr.

By Lynn Gehl

In June 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) concluded that Canada had committed genocide against Indigenous peoples – one which “especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.” Although many Indigenous scholars and activists have been using the word for decades to describe the impacts of historic and ongoing colonization, many Canadians bristled at the word. Genocide is thought to be something that happens in far-away countries, and a lesson we learned not to repeat after the atrocities of the Holocaust. It’s a word that directly challenges Canadians’ notion of their country as a benevolent peacekeeper and multicultural mosaic. Anticipating the backlash, the National Inquiry released a dense 46-page supplementary legal analysis of genocide appended to the report, wherein they argue their position.

It’s a word that directly challenges Canadians’ notion of their country as a benevolent peacekeeper and multicultural mosaic.

This article represents seven key learnings from the MMIWG Legal Analysis of Genocide. Although I am no jurist or scholar of genocide studies I felt it was my responsibility to read and wrestle with this Legal Analysis because I use the term “genocide” – specifically “cultural genocide” – when talking about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people. While Canada has undoubtedly committed both physical and biological genocide, I always stress cultural genocide because it is ongoing. I often encounter thinkers outside the realm of genocide studies who question and debate my use of “cultural genocide.” Some people think I am implying that Canada is denying us our material culture such as our fringe and feathers. Although Canada has historically criminalized our culture and confiscated our regalia, when I use the term “cultural genocide” I am not talking about Canada’s denial of our material cultural accoutrement. I am talking about culture in a much different and deeper way, as I’ll later explain.

1. On defining genocide

The Legal Analysis begins with a warning that constraining our understanding of genocide to the Holocaust model – “a limited prototype of genocide as time-intensive, mass murder, which is calculated, coordinated within a nation-state, and well-planned by authoritarian leaders espousing ideological worldviews” – allows the collective Canadian consciousness to dismiss Canada’s current form of genocide against Indigenous people.

The term “genocide” was coined by Raphaël Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. In it, Lemkin – a Polish-Jewish lawyer, who had 49 family members killed during the Holocaust – uses the extermination of the Jews during World War II as the basis for formulating the concept of genocide. But in both his earlier and later writing, Lemkin takes a more expansive view of genocide. As I have recently learned from Holocaust scholar Dorota Glowacka’s chapter “‘Never Forget’: Intersecting memories of the Holocaust and the settler colonial genocide in Canada,” Lemkin “regarded colonialism, including Hitler’s territorial ambitions, as an integral part of the world history of genocide. In unpublished essays and notes on the history of genocides, Lemkin wrote extensively about the conquest of the Americas.”

In fact, Lemkin argued that the destruction of culture is inseparable from the destruction of people.

With this in mind, Lemkin first defined genocide as the “destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group” and “the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor” – a broad definition that included many mechanisms of destruction. He identified three types of genocide: physical genocide, the physical destruction of a group; biological genocide, the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity; and cultural genocide, the destruction of structures and practices that allow the group to live distinctively as a group. In fact, Lemkin argued that the destruction of culture is inseparable from the destruction of people – meaning cultural genocide is genocide.

2. Canada worked to exclude “cultural genocide” from the UN Genocide Convention

When the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was approved in 1948, Lemkin’s definition had been narrowed. Article III of the original draft – which codified cultural genocide – was removed. The MMIWG Legal Analysis writes that “Colonial states, including Canada, actively pushed for elements of ‘cultural genocide’ to be excluded from the Convention, knowing that they were, at the very least, perpetrating this type of genocide contemporaneously with the drafting of the Convention.”

Through my education in chemistry, psychology, anthropology and Indigenous studies, I know that it is our cultural knowledges that make us the humans we are. All peoples have cultural knowledge – not just Indigenous people. It is our many and various cultural patterns that both differentiate us from the animal world and distinguish human collectives from one another. For the most part, animals do not have culture; and all that humans are – inclusive of our social, cultural, and political structures – emerges from mythological realities, mores, and teachings our ancestral collectives proved and tested over time and thus gathered, practiced, and retained. The point I am making is the denial of Indigenous culture through the imposition of power – such as denying us our land, waterways, and the economic means needed to survive as distinct cultural and thus political groups – to the point where we are forced to take on the oppressor’s mode of culture, is indeed cultural genocide.

“Colonial states, including Canada, actively pushed for elements of ‘cultural genocide’ to be excluded from the Convention, knowing that they were, at the very least, perpetrating this type of genocide contemporaneously with the drafting of the Convention.”

Today, Article II of the Genocide Convention reads: “In the present Convention, 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; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

While this UN definition focuses on physical and biological genocide, cultural genocide is inherent in points (c) and (e). What is more, we also need to keep in mind that it is through cultural mechanisms created by humans that the racist and sexist hatred becomes so deeply instilled within us that we are willing to become complicit in the extermination of a people. It is in this way that cultural genocide is inherent in both physical and biological genocide. Said another way, it is through cultural means that physical and biological genocide unfolds.

3. What Canada’s legislation offers

In reading the Legal Analysis it was interesting for me to learn that Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act adds “acts of omissions,” or a failure to act, as a crucial element of genocide. This makes sense to me in that standing around and doing nothing to prevent cultural genocide is no better than an act of genocide. In the work I do I see too many people doing nothing to prevent the cultural genocide I experience today, where other people, such as researchers, journalists, photographers, politicians, lawyers, and judges, gain economically from the cultural genocide. It goes without saying that cultural genocide has spawned its own industry.

Key here is that both the act of genocide as well as the intent of genocide must be present for the crime to have occurred.

The Legal Analysis notes that Canada’s definition of genocide is then divided into two main legal elements: actus reus (conduct) and mens rea (intent). Actus reus is broken down to two parts: the act of genocide; and the perpetration against a protected group. Mens rea, which literally translates to “guilty mind,” refers to the subjective or mental elements of genocide, and it has two parts as well: a general intent; and a specific intent to destroy a protected group in whole or in part. Key here is that both the act of genocide as well as the intent of genocide must be present for the crime to have occurred. Relearning this took me back to my high school law course, but there is more to learn on this as we think through how nation states commit genocide.

4. Understanding genocide as a “composite act”

In line with the International Law Commission, the Legal Analysis states that genocide in Canada is best understood as a “composite act,” meaning the sum of a series of repeated actions and/or omissions against a protected group, which has spanned decades. The Legal Analysis then argues that Canada’s genocide, as perpetrated as a composite act through its policies, is also attributable to Canada under the rules of customary international law. I, though, am not sure what customary international law means.

The Legal Analysis states that genocide in Canada is best understood as a “composite act,” meaning the sum of a series of repeated actions and/or omissions against a protected group, which has spanned decades.

In her three-point commentary on genocide, Indigenous legal thought leader Pamela Palmater explains how genocide is a violation of  customary international law: “it doesn’t have to be written down in a book, it doesn’t have to be written down in a treaty, it doesn’t have to be agreed to by anyone. […] Even without a treaty on genocide, it is still against the law, and a crime, to commit genocide.”

“It’s extremely important to understand that Canada is bound both by customary international law and by this UN convention,” she adds.

I hope I gained this key learning correctly — public learning always comes with risk. I am willing to take this risk.

4. On Canada’s actus reus

The Legal Analysis argues that actus reus exists within colonial policies and practices and includes, but is not limited to: the Indian Act; the Sixties Scoop; residential schools; breaches of human and Indigenous rights; the denial of Indian status and citizenship; the crisis in child welfare; the abuse imposed through state institutions; forced re-locations; chronic underfunding of essential services; coerced sterilizations; and the failure to protect women and girls from death in custody, from exploitation and trafficking, and from known killers. These examples include biological, physical, and cultural genocide, where the latter is imposed through policies and practices.

To this list I will add two more acts of cultural genocide that the Legal Analysis does not mention. First is the land claims and self-government process – what Canada calls the “modern treaty process” – such as the one the Algonquins of Ontario are involved with. In these processes, Indigenous Nations are forced to extinguish their land and resource rights through manipulative and obfuscating euphemisms such as “defining our rights completely” and “the non-assertion model”; as Russell Diabo argues, these processes force Indigenous Nations to live as a fourth level of government under Canada’s provincial and federal laws and policies – not as self-determining Nations, but as Indigenous municipalities. Second is the continued destruction of our sacred places, such as Akikpautik – also known as Creator’s First Sacred Pipe – located just minutes upstream from Canada’s Parliament buildings in the Kitchi Zibi (Ottawa River). For the Anishinaabeg, the Sacred Pipe and associated rituals and ceremonies are the ultimate act of reconciliation. Today, this sacred land and waterway are being further desecrated, instead of being preserved as the late Grandfather William Commanda had hoped. The late Grandfather William Commanda, a respected teacher and spiritual leader, lived in what is called Quebec in the community of Kitigàn-zìbì Anishinàbeg First Nation. He was the teacher of many people.

6. Now to Canada’s mens rea

The Legal Analysis notes that there is some difficulty proving state intent to commit genocide, because the development of jurisprudence has pertained to individual responsibility. Regardless, the Legal Analysis quotes international criminal and human rights law scholar William Schabas, who argues nation states “do not have specific intent. Individuals have specific intent. States have policy. The term specific intent is used to describe the inquiry, but its real subject is State policy” (emphasis mine). Essentially, Schabas has argued bodies such as the International Court of Justice look at state policy to determine a nation state’s intent.

What is important is the overall pattern of cultural genocide inherent in Canada’s policies and practices; through this pattern it becomes clear that Canada’s ultimate goal is to destroy the integrity of Indigenous Nations as distinct entities.

A key learning for me here is that this means Canada’s mens rea (intent) is inherent within Canada’s actus reus (the prohibited conduct). Put another way, what is important is the overall pattern of cultural genocide inherent in Canada’s policies and practices; through this pattern it becomes clear that Canada’s ultimate goal is to destroy the integrity of Indigenous Nations as distinct entities.

In thinking about acts (or acts of omission) of cultural genocide through policy I have often wondered if an actual written policy that explicitly outlines the state’s intent to commit genocide has to exist for the genocidal intent to be proven. I am wondering about whether written evidence of genocidal intent has to exist. In clarifying this for me, the Legal Analysis cites Paola Gaeta who has argued, “Absent direct evidence of the existence of a genocidal policy, it would be necessary only to prove that, because of the overall pattern of violence, the ultimate goal of the policy of the state cannot but be that of destroying the targeted group as such.” That said, as I think about this more I come to think that an act of omission is not likely to be written down in policy.

7. What does it mean to destroy a group “in part”?

Within the UN Genocide Convention, the “destruction of a group” does not mean the complete physical and biological annihilation of the group as a whole, as in the case of the Beothuk people of the island of Newfoundland, who became extinct following European colonization. Destruction of a group “in part” refers to the destruction of the group as a social and cultural unit in such a way that they are unable to reconstitute who they are as a group according to the group’s own socio-cultural political structures. On this matter the Legal Analysis concludes, “Canada has displayed a continuous policy, with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention, to destroy Indigenous peoples physically, biologically, and as social units, thereby fulfilling the required specific intent element [of genocide].”

On the contrary, individual silos void of the depth of their cultural knowledge, and First Nation Reserve communities that are forced to live under the oppressor’s national pattern are both evidence of cultural genocide.

I think this is a key learning for many people, because some people who think through physical and biological genocide think the existence of brown people with brown eyes who are phenotypically distinct as Indigenous people indicates that genocide in Canada did not happen and that cultural genocide is not presently happening. Other people are under the impression that the existence of First Nation reserve communities acting as social cultural units – either under the Indian Act or under self-government models – means Canada is not guilty of cultural genocide. On the contrary, individual silos void of the depth of their cultural knowledge, and First Nation Reserve communities that are forced to live under the oppressor’s national pattern are both evidence of cultural genocide.

In conclusion

I have always stood firm on Lemkin’s broader definition of genocide, even before I learned that cultural genocide was deliberately removed from the UN Convention on Genocide. My thinking process was not narrowed by what is stated in the UN Convention. I knew better. Laws do not codify all truth; sometimes a void serves to hide truth.

That said, in reading the MMIWG Legal Analysis I have learned that both international and domestic laws, as well as international jurisprudence, recognizes and defines genocide more broadly than mass murder and forced sterilization and includes acts of cultural genocide through laws, policies, and practices, as well as acts of omission.

What is worse, because it is harder to see, cultural genocide can unfold for generations, while we all sit around and argue about its existence.

While, of course, physical and biological genocide was a part of Canada’s colonial genocidal legacy, cultural genocide continues to this day. It has always been my contention that cultural genocide through legislation, policy, and practice is a far more insidious form of genocide because people have a harder time seeing it, placing their finger on it, and thus rallying against it. What is worse, because it is harder to see, cultural genocide can unfold for generations, while we all sit around and argue about its existence.

The National Inquiry, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and I are not alone in our position of a Canadian-made cultural genocide. Palmater has argued that Canada’s genocide has relied on, and continues to rely on, several policies of physical, structural, legal, and political erasure. These are all cultural creations and cultural attacks on Indigenous people’s and Indigenous Nations’ ability to live as distinct sovereign Nations. Today, genocide in Canada moves slowly, primarily – though not exclusively – through cultural means, and is thus harder to identify. This is especially true when prime ministers and politicians giigdiyan wezhigeyan (speak with forked tongue), masking it through the use of such terms as “reconciliation” and “nation-to-nation relationship.” SOURCE

Why we need a law against ecocide

From claiming lives to threatening the country’s native wildlife population, the Australian bushfires have had an immense impact on the drought-stricken country

Australia is guilty of ecocide.

More than one billion animals have been killed in the multi-state bushfires, and that toll is expected to climb sharply. The scale of the loss of life is unprecedented and beyond comprehension.

However, we humans are so selfish and narrow-minded that animal lives merely form a footnote to our calculations about losses from bushfires and other disasters. We tally the human lives cut short and the property damage, but animal life comes a distant third in our evaluations.

A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires.
A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires. THE TIMES
One billion dead animals are a tragedy for each individual animal: the lives lost and the incomprehensible suffering. Each of those animals felt pain and fear,  exactly as humans do,  and died in terror. The fact that we don’t really care about that, and barely pause to contemplate it, says much about us as a species.

However, although the loss of animal life is shocking, it is neither surprising nor was it unforeseeable.

Australia is a climate-change denier and has failed utterly to act to mitigate the destructive effects of human activity. It has ignored – and continues to ignore – the scientific consensus on what action is required.

It is the world’s second-largest coal exporter and its main political parties support continuing to extract and export coal. Politicians keep focusing on the “cost” of combating climate change, while closing their eyes to the far greater toll that is being paid for failing to act. Australian MP Craig Kelly appeared on British television this week and continued to deny the link between climate change and the Australian bushfires.

Now is the time to change that.

The late British barrister Polly Higgins led a decade-long campaign to make ecocide a crime. In a submission to the United Nations Law Commission in 2010, she explained ecocide as being “the loss, damage or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory … such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.”

Ecocide covers the direct damage done to sea, land, flora and fauna, as well as the cascading impact on the world’s climate. The term was first used in the 1970s at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington, and academics and lawyers have in the decades since then argued for the criminalisation of ecocide.

Ecocide would sit alongside the four other international crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression – which are set out in the 1998 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court.

Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.
Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.

Higgins’ website,, explains that there is currently no international, legally binding duty of care towards the Earth. This means that companies can destroy environments and communities for profit without fear of prosecution.

The website states that existing laws put shareholders first, meaning that the laws of individual nations are regularly contravened in the pursuit of financial returns – often with the consent of governments that issue permits to pollute.

Higgins’ vision was that a crime of ecocide would act as both a brake on companies by making senior executives personally criminally responsible, and discourage government ministers from facilitating harmful activity and make banks and investors less likely to finance it. Like senior executives, ministers would face the prospect of criminal proceedings.

Ecological Defence Integrity was founded by Higgins and Jojo Mehta in June 2017 to lobby for the creation of a crime of ecocide under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It launched the public campaign Stop Ecocide in November 2017.

Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide.
Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide. Cat MacLennan is a barrister and founder of Animal Agenda Aotearoa
Four elements would comprise the crime of ecocide:

* A perpetrator’s acts or omissions causing ecocide

* The actions severely diminishing peace

* The perpetrator having knowledge of actual or possible outcomes; and

* The perpetrator being a senior official.

Ecocide law would also provide legal backing to the campaigns of indigenous communities in many nations to protect their lands.

Ecocide is already recognised as a crime in 10 nations, including the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Vietnam and Belarus.

Scientists have warned humans about climate change for decades, and we have ignored those warnings. As recently as last month, Australia and the United States worked with other nations at COP25 to block stronger action on climate change.

A crime of ecocide would prohibit harmful activity and force governments, businesses and financiers to prioritise clean generation and production.

New Zealand is included in that imperative. We are watching on in horror at the Australian bushfires, but our own action to combat climate change is woefully inadequate. SOURCE

OMNICIDE: Who is Responsible for the Gravest of All Crimes?

Danielle Celermajer calls for accountability for the destruction unfolding in Australia – a crime against humanity she believes is akin to genocide.

As the full extent of the devastation of the Holocaust became apparent, a Polish Jew whose entire family had been killed, Raphael Lemkin, came to realise that there was no word for the distinctive crime that had been committed: the murder of a people.

His life’s work became finding a word to name the crime and then convincing the world to use it and condemn it: genocide. Today, not only has genocide become a dreadful part of our lexicon, we recognise it as perhaps the gravest of all crimes.

During these first days of the third decade of the 21st Century, as we watch humans, animals, trees, insects, fungi, ecosystems, forests, rivers (and on and on) being killed, we find ourselves without a word to name what is happening. In recent years, environmentalists have coined the term ecocide, the killing of ecosystems, but this is something more. This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.

Some will object, no doubt, that the events unfolding in Australia do not count as a “cide” – a murder or killing – because it is a natural phenomenon, albeit an unspeakably regrettable one. Where is the murderous intent? It is difficult to locate, admittedly, but a new crime also requires a new understanding of culpability. Indeed, one of the most serious problems with the laws against genocide is that they were written in a way that requires that the specific intent to destroy a people can be shown to have existed. Even where it did exist, such intent most often remains hidden in people’s dark hearts.

We can, however, identify the political representatives who refused to meet with fire chiefs who had tried to warn of, and act to mitigate, the impending disaster. The same political representatives who approved, and continue to approve, new coalmines in the face of scientific consensus on the effect that continuing to burn fossil fuels will have on the climate in general, and drought and temperatures in particular. The same political representatives who approve water being diverted to support resource extraction, when living beings are dying for want of water and drying to the point of conflagration.

We can identify the media owners who sponsor mass denial of the scientific evidence of the effects of a fossil fuel-addicted economy on the climate. The same media owners who deploy the tools of mass manipulation to stoke fear, seed confusion, breed ignorance and create and then fuel hostile divisions within communities.

We can identify the financial institutions that continue to invest in, and thereby prop up, toxic industries and who support the media owners to protect themselves from accumulating stranded assets. We can identify the investors who use their financial and social capital to support politicians who will protect their financial interests. We can identify a corporate culture and a legal system – populated by lawyers, management consultants and financial analysts – that incentivise or even require companies to maximise short-term shareholder profit and externalise costs to the future and the planet.

And then we can identify  those closer to home.

Business owners and investors whose profits depend on systems of extraction and resource exploitation. Consumers addicted to lifestyles based on resource extraction and the exploitation of the natural world. Citizens who prioritise narrow, short-term interests over the sustainability of the planet. Citizens who lack the courage or fortitude to undertake the social and economic transformations required to give our children and the more-than-human-world a future. Citizens who do not bother to take the time or to make the effort to develop well-informed opinions, but would rather run to the comfort of the truisms of their tribe.

We can also identify the humans and human cultures that have told themselves that they are superior to, and thus have the right to dominate and exploit, other animals and the natural world. That they are the ones who get to flourish and that everything else that is here is here for our use. That other beings are not life but resource.

None of those mentioned in this list developed a specific intent to kill everything. But all of us have created and are creating the conditions in which omnicide is inevitable.

When I was growing up, my parents used to play a Bob Dylan song called Who Killed Davey Moore? about a boxer who died in the ring when he was just 30 years old. Each verse begins with some party – the coach, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, the other fighter – answering the title’s question: “Who killed Davey Moore?” They each respond with “not I” and then explain that they were just doing what it is that they do: going to the fight, writing about the fight, throwing the punches and so on. And, of course, they each told the truth.

We Can Only Walk as Fast as the Slowest Among Us when it Comes to Climate Change—CJ Werleman

We too are just doing what it is that we do: ensuring that the largest political donors support our political campaigns, maximising profits, ensuring a high share price, living a comfortable lifestyle, avoiding change, lazily buying back in to the conceit that we humans are special.But, sometimes, just doing what it is that we do is sufficient to kill – not just Davey Moore, but everything.

Omnicide is the gravest of all crimes. And, as with all crimes, those responsible must be held accountable. SOURCE

PRESS RELEASE: Criminal Climate Change Obstruction

PRESS RELEASE: County Sustainability Group, December 29, 2019


While the ‘Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ is designed to protect individuals from unconstitutional acts by the government,  the International Criminal Court prosecutes Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The legal test for criminal liability is whether one knew or should have known that an action or lack of action resulted in criminal behaviour. This is the approach the youth are taking in cases coming before Canadian courts.

Since the United Nations Paris conference in late 2015, climate change indicators have risen sharply. The IPCC reports have issued scientific predictions warning political leaders of the catastrophic results of overshooting a 1.5 Celsius climate target. An unprecedented emergency response is imperative if we are to avoid global ecocide and eventual collapse.

We are in an unparalleled  climate emergency. It is criminal to fail to act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including methane and nitrous oxide.  It is criminal to promote the expansion of the tar sands ecocide and to build pipelines to export tar sands bitumen. It is criminal neglect to fail to set hard targets for compliance.

Solutions to climate change are well known and available.

The Parliament of Canada should immediately act to 

    • stop the tar sands ecocide expansion and stop building pipelines to export tar sands dilbit
    • remove all direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels, extractive industries, and cement production. 
    • introduce strict regulations to minimize greenhouse gasses 
    • establish a carbon tax regime with firm targets and timelines to keep emissions at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius
    • Redirect tax revenues to support renewable energy: offshore and onshore wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and ocean power.
    • Invest in R&D for renewable development and climate mitigation 
    • Develop robust, smart power transmission corridors to electrify everything in the new green economy.  For example, building a transmission corridor between Onttario and Quebec would allow cheap, renewable energy from Quebec’s wind and hydro power surplus to flow to Ontario, saving billions, and allow the closure of Pickering Nuclear and cancellation of the Darlington expansion.

Climate criminals are thwarting action. Act to protect future generations.

-30 –


Canadian youth suing federal government over climate change

Image result for canadian youth climate protestA group of Canadian youth have officially filed a lawsuit against the federal government for what they say is the government’s contribution to “dangerous climate change.” Shutterstock

Murray Sinclair has tried for years to shock Canada into confronting colonialism. He’s not done yet

After leading landmark inquiries on racism in Manitoba, residential schools and police discrimination in Thunder Bay, this jurist turned politician says he’s learned that shocking words are sometimes best: Genocide. Apartheid. War. Now, he has more to say.


The words are so shocking, so evocative of foreign atrocities, that many Canadians are still unwilling to accept that they apply to their own country – words such as “apartheid,” “genocide” and “war.”

But after decades of research from his inquiries into racial abuses in the justice system and in residential schools, Senator Murray Sinclair never hesitates to use those terms – even when he knows they might spark a backlash.

“Sometimes the shock value is worth it,” he told The Globe and Mail.

“It’s about making people sit up and take notice. It’s about getting people out of their comfortable chair and getting them to think seriously about it.”

A strong case can be made that the 68-year-old independent senator and retired judge has done more than any other Canadian to educate the country about the painful realities that have dogged its history and institutions.

As chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from 2009 to 2015, he documented the existence of cultural genocide in Canada’s residential schools. As a leader of justice and policing investigations in Manitoba and Thunder Bay, he exposed officials who were willfully ignoring racism in their police forces. And in his personal writing and speeches, Mr. Sinclair has hit even harder, describing a web of genocidal policies and apartheid laws that Canadian governments deployed in a “war” against Indigenous people – a war he says never really ended.

Although his formal inquiries have ended, his work is far from over. As he tirelessly follows a busy schedule of speeches across the country this year – including a recent one describing how Indigenous people were excluded from Confederation’s bargains – Mr. Sinclair continues to have an outsized influence in shaping Canada’s understanding of itself.

He sees himself as struggling to dismantle the legacy of a system that can be compared, in many ways, to the apartheid of South African history. Despite frequent hate messages on Twitter and Facebook, he continues to make that point on social media, shrugging off the anonymous attacks.

“There will be people who will always resist those statements,” he said in a two-hour interview in his Winnipeg office, symbolically located on an “urban reserve” under the authority of the Peguis First Nation.

“If you say that there’s been racism by white people against Indigenous people historically, you run the risk of white people standing up and saying, ‘No, we’re not racist.’ But if the evidence is there to support your position, you will also garner a level of support among the non-Indigenous population who will say, ‘Yes, we acknowledge it, so let’s get on with it.’”

At top left, Mr. Sinclair is ceremonially welcomed as TRC chair in 2009. The commission’s task was to learn what happened at the schools, such as Wabasca Residential School, whose unmarked graveyard is shown at top right. In 2015, commissioners unveiled the final report, shown at bottom right. Since then, Canadians have honoured residential-school survivors on annual Orange Shirt Days on Sept. 30, like the one shown at bottom left in Thunder Bay this year.  THE GLOBE AND MAIL, THE CANADIAN PRESS, REUTERS

His inquiries, beginning with the pioneering Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba in the late 1980s, were prompted by tragedies and injustices: the deaths of young Indigenous people in Manitoba and Thunder Bay and in residential schools, neglected by the police and the courts and never properly investigated.

But from those tragedies, Mr. Sinclair found lessons that have shifted Canada’s public debates.

When he was appointed associate chief judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba in 1988, he became the province’s first Indigenous judge and only the second in Canada. Within weeks, he was immersed in a hugely complex inquiry into the discrimination faced by Indigenous people in the province’s justice system. His relentless work to expose the barriers that hold back Indigenous people – and to find solutions – has scarcely paused in the three decades since then.

In interviews, he chooses his words carefully, speaking in calm and measured tones, even when his anger at historical abuses is clear. In speeches, he uses gentle humour and warm stories of his own family to make his points.

His goal is to reach Canadians who are open to learning about the country’s history – to give them “the sense that now they can talk about it, too.

“It’s not simply about confronting, it’s also about assisting. The intent from that is always, ‘So what are you going to do about it? So what should we do about it?’ Statements like ‘there’s racists in society’ that are not accompanied by ‘now what should we do about it?’ are not very helpful.”  MORE

In 2019, What Should We Do with Sir John A. Macdonald Statue?

SINCLAIR SPEAKS Author, educator and columnist Dr. Niigaan Sinclair spoke at St. Mary Magdalene Church Tuesday evening about all sides of the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

In a Letter to the Editor  (Nov 22, Picton Gazette) Paul Allen wrote:

“Good morning, Councillors

On Tuesday evening I attended a presentation by Dr. Niigan Sinclair on Sir John A Macdonald’s mistreatment of Indigenous children, women, and men in Canada.

I understand that Dr. Sinclair’s presentation was the first in a series of talks that is being scheduled in the County – and that is sponsored, at least in part, by the municipality.

The launch of this series is meant to coincide with the re-installation of “Holding Court” – a sculpture depicting the start of Sir John A Macdonald’s legal career in Picton – in front of the public library on Main Street.

I admit that I’ve not been particularly conscientious in my own response to Dr. Sinclair’s father’s call for truth and reconciliation. I learned many profoundly troubling things about the abuse of Indigenous peoples in Canada on Tuesday evening.

I’d heard of various controversies surrounding public monuments to Sir John A Macdonald and other figures who played major roles in this shameful part of our nation’s history, though I hadn’t paid any of them especially close attention.

On Tuesday evening, I learned much more about how different communities across Canada have been struggling with these difficult issues.

Which brings me to write to you this morning.

I would like to make a deputation to Council on November 26, 2019; meanwhile, I respectfully submit that Council should defer the re-installation of “Holding Court” until there’s been further opportunity for residents in the County to learn of this pending change in our common space and to share their perspectives with Council.

I worry that no amount of interest in people’s opinions after the fact will make up for an apparent lack of interest beforehand.

Thank you.
Paul Allen, Picton

The presentation that Mr. Allen that Mr Allen refers to was given by Dr. Nigaan Sinclair, the son of Dr. Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.

In his presentation describing Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy, Nigaan Sinclair said,

“I’m aware of his vision of the railway, of a united Canada which we have all inherited. I’m aware he was driven, unwavering, forceful and the prototypical dream of every Canadian. I know that he is the vision that Canadian’s want to imagine themselves as and that even in his death, as Wilfred Laurier said, he is the history of Canada itself. But here is where we get honest. I’m a bit tired of having to defend the merits of Macdonald, because the conversatoin goes as follows: he is a man of his time. He needs to be viewed in the context of the way people viewed the world at that time. We need to forgive him for his complicatedness.”

“Violence is violence is violence,” echoed Sinclair. “What I mean by that is Macdonald’s career, while remarkable and important and impactful, is defined by incredible brutal and draconian violence, particularly against Indigenous Peoples.

“Violence is violence is violence.”—  Dr. Niigan Sinclair

“He is the primary perpetrator of genocide against Indigenous People, something that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged, recognized and accepted responsibility for. If the Prime Minister of of a country acknowledges genocide has occurred and the perpetrator is the man we’re speaking about tonight, it’s worth having a conversation and using the word itself.”

So what does the statue actually say to our children? At the very least, just re-positioning the statue must include a plaque that describes Macdonld’s full legacy: father of Confederation and perpetrator of the ongoing Indigenous genocide.

Here is where we need to be honest. Violence is violence is violence.




Chris Selley: Somehow, the missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry just got worse

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau literally copped to Canada committing genocide under his watch. And then, somehow, nothing happened

Back in June, the debate over whether Indigenous Canadian women are victims of genocide drowned out many concerns and criticisms that had been levelled against the inquiry that concluded they are. Those came not least from the families of victims, who alleged a lack of empathy compounded by endless staff turnover, a glacial pace of evidence-gathering and a lack of transparency. This week CBC reported the inquiry also made some very basic factual errors.

The final report alleges “Indigenous women and girls now make up almost 25 per cent of homicide victims,” when of course it’s 25 per cent of female homicide victims. In her preface, commissioner Michèle Audette claims “statistics show … Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other women in Canada.” Statistics Canada pegs it at around 2.7 times more likely.

“We were on the ground, we were with the families,” Audette explained. “Sometimes we were able to see that numbers don’t connect to the reality on the ground.”

This validated widespread concerns that the inquiry was disastrously uninterested in collecting actual data about victims, perpetrators and circumstances, but it gets worse: Corrections made to the report in light of CBC’s inquiries are not annotated, nor have they been included in all versions — including the official one filed with the government.

Some are understandably worried the inquiry’s useful findings might be overshadowed by such blunders. But if anything I think it could be a useful reminder, because the discussion following the report’s release came nowhere near running its course. At one point, amid much waffling, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau literally copped to Canada committing genocide under his watch: “We accept the finding that this was genocide, and we will move forward to end this ongoing national tragedy.”

And then … nothing. We are about to have an election campaign in which a head of government has admitted at the very least to failing to prevent genocide — itself a breach of international law, putting Trudeau’s Canada in the same league as Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia. A lot of perfectly mainstream jurists and commentators said they agreed with this. And now, bupkes.

I suspect a lot of people who claim to support the inquiry’s findings are rolling their eyes at this point. It’s not, you know, GENOCIDE-genocide. Justin Trudeau’s not going to wind up in The Hague, for heaven’s sake.

All I can say is read the report. Its legal analysis concedes “there is little precedent in international law for situations where the state is the perpetrator of genocide through structural violence, such as colonialism,” but it very much implicates Canada in GENOCIDE-genocide, “in breach of (its) international obligations, triggering its responsibility under international law.”

It’s not, you know, GENOCIDE-genocide

Most ridiculous were the folks who ostensibly supported the report’s findings but accused skeptics of getting too hung up on the genocide thing….Just because you’re accusing a person or entity of a novel kind of genocide doesn’t mean you aren’t accusing them of something that needs answering for. It’s a big word for a reason. MORE


London climate change protesters daub Brazilian embassy blood red

“state-sanctioned human rights abuses and ecocide”

An activist splashes red paint over the embassy's facade during Extinction Rebellion climate change protest in front of Brazilian Embassy in
An activist splashes red paint over the embassy’s facade during Extinction Rebellion climate change protest in front of Brazilian Embassy in London

LONDON (Reuters) – Climate-change protesters threw red paint at the Brazilian embassy in London on Tuesday to demonstrate against damage to the Amazon rainforest and what they described as violence against indigenous tribes living there.

Police arrested six activists from the Extinction Rebellion group after they glued themselves to the embassy windows and climbed onto a glass awning above the entrance.

The protesters had splattered red paint and sprayed red handprints over the facade, along with slogans such as “No More Indigenous Blood” and “For The Wild”.

Extinction Rebellion, which disrupted traffic in central London for several weeks earlier this year, said Tuesday’s protest aimed to challenge the Brazilian government over “state-sanctioned human rights abuses and ecocide”.

Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, a bulwark against global warming thanks to the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it soaks up and recycles into oxygen.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has long been sceptical about environmental concerns. He argues that the Amazon is a resource that belongs to Brazil and should be economically developed. He also criticizes the existence of protected lands.

Critics say his rhetoric has emboldened loggers, ranchers and informal miners, resulting in a dramatic acceleration of deforestation and in violence against the rainforest’s indigenous inhabitants.

Last week, data from Brazil’s own space research agency showed that deforestation on Brazilian territory had jumped around 67 percent in the first seven months of the year. Bolsonaro has rejected the agency’s data and fired its chief. MORE


London climate change protesters daub Brazilian embassy blood red
Germany cuts $39.5 million in environmental funding to Brazil
Brazil tribal women protest President Jair Bolsonaro’s ‘genocidal policies’
‘Poop every other day’ to save Earth says Brazilian president as he destroys the Amazon

The Canadian state seems like an immovable object. But Indigenous women are an unstoppable force.

Tiny House Warriors install solar panels. Photo via Tiny House Warriors’ Facebook page.

It’s Monday in the colonial state; Canada enters its 152nd year.

It’s been barely two weeks since the federal government released Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.The chief commissioner has said that the homicides, disappearances, and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are the result of a “persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human and Indigenous-rights violations and abuses, perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state, designed to displace Indigenous people from their lands, social structures and governments, and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families and individuals.” She named it Canada’s genocide. And yet, amid an admission of genocide, the colonial project continues apace; its existence met with celebration for another year.

Survivors of violence and family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women have put together a deeply researched report with a tangible set of actions. Activists, media, and communities must now insist upon the implementation of the report’s 231 Calls for Justice – supporting survivors, family members, and Indigenous peoples in overcoming the disinterest and dismissal of the Canadian public.

And yet, amid an admission of genocide, the colonial project continues apace; its existence met with celebration for another year.

I have come to realize that ignorance and apathy amongst Canadians should be expected, but not tolerated. Settler colonialism relies on indifference, reinforced by myths that protect the settler state from critical examination. When critical examination is undertaken, like in Reclaiming Power and Place, the true nature of the state is revealed. Canada is a project with the deliberate aim of destroying Indigenous nations in order to assert control over Indigenous lands, waters, and peoples. Poor health outcomes, criminalization, and violence that exist in Indigenous communities are not the symptoms of peoples who have failed to modernize, nor can they be dismissed as the inevitable consequence of competing ways of life.

With this in mind, it becomes clearer why settler governments are willing to include Indigenous women in decision-making in some areas, but not others.

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments have been willing to cede control – financial responsibility and liability – over the design and delivery of services through legislation that does not include a statutory requirement for funding. These services, which include language restoration and child welfare, are crucial components to ending violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. They address multi-generational issues that vary from family to family based on those families’ particular experiences and interactions with structural racism and settler colonialism. Overcoming these issues requires a multi-year effort, if not a lifelong commitment. These programs are costly to administer and critically important to the survival of Indigenous peoples. As a result, communities who assert their jurisdiction in these areas take on massive amounts of liability and financial burden, alleviating the Crown of that responsibility.

What you are not likely to see is policy-making that cedes decision-making and financial control to Indigenous women in areas where it would impact the accumulation of capital from Indigenous lands – like in the decision to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline. (I know you’re thinking about the few chiefs – mostly men – who, without clear community support, suggest their communities may want to share ownership and profit of the project. To that, I say: I said what I said.)

This includes the right to survival, to say no, and to determine for ourselves and our communities the best way to protect waters, lands, and children.

But having Indigenous women at the table is not enough. We have seen how damaging it can be when colonial oppression is internalized and perpetuated, through lateral violence and toxicity,by Indigenous women themselves. Each of us, including Indigenous people, must critically examine our own role in upholding a status quo that tolerates indifference to the basic human dignity of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. We must question what makes our society unwilling to hear the needs and aspirations of Indigenous women, unwilling to do the critical work required to empower us, and what barriers exist to our political mobilization.

Indigenous women have collective and individual rights that include “the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights.” These rights are inherent, affirmed by human rights conventions and declarations like Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This includes the right to survival, to say no, and to determine for ourselves and our communities the best way to protect waters, lands, and children. When it comes to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Kanahus Manuel, a leader with the Tiny House Warriorsand member of the Secwepemc Women Warriors has said, “We’re reclaiming our ancestral village and bringing our traditions back to life. If Trudeau wants to build this pipeline, he will need to empty this village a second time; in doing so, he would make continued colonization and cultural genocide part of his legacy of so-called reconciliation. Trudeau may have agreed to purchase this pipeline to make sure it gets built, but we’re here to make sure that it doesn’t. This pipeline is unfundable and unbuildable. It’s time Trudeau and all potential financial backers of this pipeline realized that we will never allow it to destroy our home.”  MORE


‘The world should have stopped’: An Indigenous woman responds to Canada’s admission of genocide

Debate should be over, Canada is guilty of genocide

Image: Provice of British Columbia/Flickr

It’s no longer up for debate. Canada is guilty of genocide.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has found that Canada has and continues to engage in “race-based genocide.”

The inquiry called to investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder and disappearance of an estimated 1,200 Indigenous women and girls came to its conclusion after hearing from their family members, survivors of violence and expert witnesses, as well as conducting its own independent research.

This was not an academic exercise nor a political tactic, as some pundits in the mainstream press have suggested. The finding that Canada is guilty of genocide is based firmly on the evidence and law.

Canadians should not be shocked.

This is not the first time an inquiry or commission has come to this conclusion. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Indian residential schools also found Canada guilty of genocide — cultural, physical, and biological.

Canada is at a crossroads. Yes, an admission of genocide will have political and legal consequences, but that is a small price to pay.

False comparisons to the Holocaust

Canada’s political leaders have long professed a commitment to human rights and Indigenous rights at home and on the international stage. Yet the national inquiry found that it is Canada’s very breach of those rights that have led to genocide.

Various prime ministers have called out grave human rights violations and genocides committed by other states — and rightly so.

Unfortunately, the response of many politicians, journalists, and armchair critics to the inquiry’s findings has amounted to denial — and that is precisely how genocide is allowed to continue in plain sight.

Much of the debate among media commentators has focused on false comparisons to the Holocaust. In their minds, if millions did not die within a short time, then it simply cannot be called a genocide.

But in law, the Holocaust is not the standard of what constitutes a genocide.

The Holocaust is one of the worst examples of genocide, but not the only way in a which a systemic, state-sponsored genocide can occur.

Both international law and the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide define genocide as a crime that can occur in a variety of forms, and which may or may not involve the mass killing of a targeted group.

The definition of genocide in Article II of the Convention includes killing members of a national, racial or ethnic group — like Indigenous peoples. The definition also covers other acts: causing serious bodily or mental harm; creating the conditions of life to bring about the destruction of a group; preventing births in a group; and the forced transfer of children from the group.

A state need only commit one of these acts to be guilty of genocide. Sadly, Canada is guilty on all these fronts when it comes to its treatment of Indigenous peoples. MORE