Prime Minister Justin Trudeau carries a copy of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report as he and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau leave the ceremonies marking the report’s release, in Gatineau, Monday, June 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau carries a copy of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report as he and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau leave the ceremonies marking the report’s release, in Gatineau, Monday, June 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Trudeau’s acknowledgment of Indigenous genocide could have legal impacts: experts

Law expert Bruno Gelinas-Faucher says Canada could be held responsible for genocide under international law

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s acceptance of an inquiry’s finding that Canada committed genocide against Indigenous people could have tremendous legal impact if a court ever weighs Ottawa’s responsibility for crimes against humanity, experts say.

Amid growing outrage and grief over an unmarked burial site at a residential school in British Columbia, Trudeau reiterated this week that he accepts the conclusion of the 2019 inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that “what happened amounts to genocide.”

“To truly heal these wounds, we must first acknowledge the truth, not only about residential schools but about so many injustices both past and present that Indigenous Peoples face,” he said Thursday.

Bruno Gelinas-Faucher, a University of Montreal law professor, said that if a court was determining whether Canada committed genocide, it would assess whether the acts in question amount to genocide under international law and consider whether the country is responsible for those acts.

The missing and murdered women’s inquiry concluded in its 1,200-page report that Canada deliberately and systematically violated racial, gender, human and Indigenous rights.

Gelinas-Faucher said the report attributed the actions of genocide to Ottawa because they were committed by the government or through its guidance or instructions.

“A court could say, under current rules of international law, that the state has accepted responsibility under international law for the crime of genocide,” he said.

“That’s a big deal.”

The news of the unmarked burial site, believed to contain the remains of 215 children, in Kamloops, B.C., has raised questions about whether Canada could face new legal consequences, either for the individual case or for the widespread abuse and deaths in residential schools.

The RCMP said this week it has opened a file into the unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School but that the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc are the lead investigators.

As for a broader criminal case, genocide and crimes against humanity are illegal in the Canadian system, but a case would need to be initiated by public prosecutors.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, can examine cases referred by the United Nations Security Council or the state itself, or if the court prosecutor launches an investigation.

A group of Calgary-based lawyers has formally asked the international court to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Canadian government and the Vatican for the findings in Kamloops.

But there are many thresholds that must be met before the court prosecutor launches an investigation, said Gelinas-Faucher.

“The court only prosecutes the most heinous, the most grievous crimes … It won’t prosecute low-level officials,” he said. “The court goes only after the big fish.”

Trudeau’s reiteration that Canada committed genocide comes after Germany officially admitted last week that the 1904 mass killings of the Herero people, who rebelled against German colonial rule in Namibia, were a genocide.

Germany’s admission came with a promise of about $1.6-billion in development aid to the southwest African country.

Guelph University political science professor David MacDonald said Germany has long been an exception in acknowledging its historical genocides, as governments rarely recognize their own countries have committed mass murder.

However, the Kaiser political regime committed the genocide in Namibia and the Nazi regime committed the Holocaust, which makes it easier for the current democratic regime in Germany to acknowledge these crimes, MacDonald said.

If Canada admits to genocide, it’s not just admitting that some earlier and completely different government committed genocide, he pointed out.

“Here you’ve got a Liberal government and a Conservative opposition. And the whole time of the residential schools, you had Liberal governments and Conservative oppositions or Conservative governments and Liberal oppositions,” he said.

The Canadian government would be admitting that the genocide occurred by the hands of institutions that still function more or less now as they did before, MacDonald said.

“The earlier versions of their parties, the earlier versions of their Parliament, the earlier versions of the RCMP, the earlier versions of the Department of Indian Affairs … committed genocide.”

“The attitudes have changed and all the personnel are different, but there’s institutional continuity in Canada, which doesn’t happen in Germany.”

On Thursday, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, welcomed Trudeau’s acknowledgment that Canada committed genocide.

“Our leaders have been calling out this genocide for decades and it is about time that their efforts are acknowledged and the prime minister admits what happened to our people was nothing short of genocide,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in a statement.

“There is a long road of healing that will come and acknowledging the genocide our people faced is a start. Holistic and wellness services must now become essential and immediately begin in every First Nations community across Canada.”

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Justin Trudeauresidential schools

Just Posted

Cowichan Tribes man Adrian Sylvester is worried that he was targetted by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Tribes man worried he was target of trailer hitch

Adrian Sylvester says no one has reported a missing hitch after one nearly hit him

CVSAR search the Puntledge River following a report of an abandoned kayak. Photo, CVSAR Facebook page
Comox Valley Search and Rescue spends four hours searching for no one

Overturned kayak a reminder for public to contact officials if they have to abandon a watercraft

Processed sewage is still being deposited at the Hartland landfill rather than sent as biosolids to a Richmond cement plant. (Black Press Media file photo)
Treated sewage bound for dump until CRD upgrades processing to required standard

Richmond cement plant up and running, but CRD end product not suitable for purpose

Threads N Tails owner Lee-Ann Burke’s pet clothing has been featured on the cover of the June/July issue of Pet Connection Magazine. (Submitted)
Lake Cowichan business featured on magazine cover

Lee-Ann Burke hopes the extra publicity will increase sales

Improving safety at Keating Cross Road and the Pat Bay Highway is the goal of the flyover project currently in the works. The province aims to reveal the final cost and design this fall. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Final budget, design of Keating flyover in Central Saanich still in the works

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says information coming by this fall

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Graeme Roberts, who was mayor of Nanaimo from 1984-86, died this month at age 89. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Community Archives)
City of Nanaimo flags at half-mast as former mayor Graeme Roberts dies at 89

‘Giant-killer’ beat out Frank Ney in mayoral election in 1984

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascaras contained high levels of fluorine

White Rock’s Marine Drive has been converted to one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants. (Peace Arch News)
Province promotes permanent pub patios in B.C. post-pandemic plan

More than 2,000 temporary expansions from COVID-19 rules

Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake campus students Ethan Reid, from left, Brenden Higgins, Ty Oviatt, Kaleb Alphonse, Nathan Kendrick and Landon Brink with RCMP officers Const. Nicoll and Const. Stancec. (Photo submitted)
RCMP thank 6 teens for helping prevent forest fire in Williams Lake

The students came across fire in a wooded area and used the water they had to try and extinguish the flames

There is an emergency shelter near the Golden Ears peaks. (Facebook/Special to The News)
Hiker fogged in on Golden Ears, spends 2 nights

Talon Helicopters, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue bring him home Monday

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

Most Read