Rail blockades could affect vote to change citizenship oath: Conservative critic

May be more virtue signalling to the Conservative base or just another way to raise the profile of the blockade issue and the government’s response. But we shall see (for my earlier commentary on the proposed change to the oath, C-99 New Citizenship Oath: Dead on the Order Paper):

Blockades by Indigenous protesters will make it harder for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to adopt planned legislation to add respect for First Nations treaties to Canada’s citizenship oath, says Conservative immigration critic Peter Kent.

“It will be difficult to engage in debate of this piece of legislation without the shadow of this week’s illegal blockades and the refusal of some in the Indigenous community, and many beyond the Indigenous community, to respect the rule of law,” Kent told CBC News on Friday.

Blockades by Mohawk protesters near Belleville, Ont., have snarled train traffic and stalled shipments of goods by rail. They are calling on the RCMP to leave Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia, where hereditary leaders were blocking roads leading to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has served notice that he plans to reintroduce a bill first tabled last May in the dying days of the last Parliament. The bill would require new citizens to promise to observe the laws of Canada, “including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.”

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which studied the impact of Canada’s residential school system, recommended adding respect for treaties to the citizenship oath.

Trudeau made changing the oath one of his instructions to former immigration minister Ahmed Hussen in his 2017 mandate letter. By the time legislation was finally tabled, however, there wasn’t enough time left before the House of Commons rose for the summer — then dissolved for the election — for it to be adopted.

Now, the 157-seat Liberal minority government is facing a very different Parliament — one where it needs the support of one or more opposition parties to get legislation passed.

Mendicino has started that process; he reached out to Kent on Friday to discuss the bill.

Kent said it’s too early to predict whether the 121-member Conservative caucus will vote to change the oath. However, he said, the blockades should trigger a “dynamic” debate in the House of Commons and within the Conservative caucus.

“This would have received, I think it is fair to say, dynamic debate in the previous Parliament if it had been tabled in time for a responsible consideration,” he said. “But I think in this minority Parliament, and given the realities that we see today, it’s going to be perhaps more dynamic than it might have been.”Kent said the Conservative Party respects treaty rights and the quest for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. He also said it could be argued that a promise in the existing citizenship oath — to observe Canada’s laws — encompasses treaty rights.

“Although I stand to be convinced in debate, I’m not sure that the specificity of including treaties, which are respected and which are among our body of laws, need to be specifically added,” Kent said.

“This is an opportunity to discuss and debate and hear from all quarters.”

Carolane Landry, spokeswoman for the 32-seat Bloc Québécois caucus, said the party will wait to read the bill before deciding whether to support it.

The 24-seat New Democratic Party caucus has not yet responded to questions from CBC News about whether it plans to endorse Mendicino’s bill.

Source: Rail blockades could affect vote to change citizenship oath: Conservative critic

Revamped citizenship guide still a work in progress as election nears

The government clearly dropped the ball on the revised citizenship guide as it is now too close to the election to be released without it being perceived as overtly political. The current guide, Discover Canada, also has a political aspect to some of its messaging.

The delay also means not fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation 93:

“We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the national Aboriginal organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including call upon the officials and host countries of information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.”

The other related TRC recommendation 94, calling for a change in the oath to add “including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples” has also been missed by the government (while including the change in an omnibus budget bill would be highly inappropriate, hard to see how this would be anymore inappropriate to other measures included in the recent budget):

A promised overhaul of Canada’s citizenship guide remains a work in progress with just months left in the Liberal government’s mandate.

That leaves newcomers to the country with the existing guide — which is riddled with historical gaps and outdated information — as their primary document for preparing for the citizenship test.

The government is revamping the 68-page Discover Canada document, last updated in 2012, to better reflect diversity and to include more “meaningful content” about the history and rights of Indigenous people and the residential school experience.

With just five months to go before the federal election, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said a launch date still has not been set and offered no specific explanation for the delay.

“We are committed to getting the citizenship guide right, and that includes consulting with as many stakeholders [as possible] on the proposed changes. This work is ongoing,” said Mathieu Genest. “We are listening to experts, stakeholders and community representatives, because what we want to do is take the politics out of the guide.”

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said it’s “incomprehensible” that the guide is taking this long to roll out.

“Our major concern is that newcomers be presented with a fair and balanced picture of Canada that acknowledges the problems in Canadian and current reality, and how that affects Indigenous people and racialized people. When we fail to provide an accurate picture of our country, it’s a disservice to the country as a whole as well as to the newcomers,” she said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had recommended revising information materials for newcomers and the citizenship test to reflect “a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the treaties and the history of residential schools.”

Historical gaps, outdated information

Until the new guide is released, newcomers will have to use the existing guide to study for the citizenship test. It contains limited information on the legacy of residential schools, outdated information on things like population numbers and lyrics to the national anthem that have since been changed by Parliament to make them more gender-neutral.

Calling the delay “astounding,” NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said it’s unacceptable that there’s still incorrect, outdated information in the guide.

“You want our newcomers to know the wording to our national anthem. It’s embarrassing to have in our citizenship guide this kind of misinformation,” she said.

Kwan said she is puzzled by the delay, given that MPs were consulted on it two years ago and an early draft was leaked last year to The Canadian Press.

“I certainly think that with the citizenship guide, we can take the opportunity to ensure that new Canadians, newcomers understand our history, the good, bad and the ugly, and … fully appreciate the history of Canada, most certainly around the issue of Indigenous people,” she said. “To give full recognition to that, I think, is very important.”

Plan was to release guide in 2017

A draft copy of the revised guide obtained by The Canadian Press showed a reference to the illegal practice of female genital mutilation had been dropped. CP also reported that the Liberals hoped to have the new guide in place for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

Last fall, CBC News reported that the updated citizenship guide would, in fact, include a warning to newcomers about female genital mutilation.

The issue had become politically charged, with Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel repeatedly pressing Hussen on the topic. She also sponsored an e-petition in the House of Commons on the matter.

Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Zool Suleman said the government likely thought the updating exercise would be easier than it turned out to be. He said the citizenship guide reflects the priorities and values of the government that writes it, and helps to define how people see the country.

Political tilt on focus

The previous Conservative government tilted the guide’s wording toward military history and rights and the responsibilities of citizenship, while the Liberal government appears to be inclined to explain Indigenous reconciliation and multiculturalism, Suleman said.

“Given that we have an election coming up, there’s probably a calculus about whether it’s worth releasing a new guide, which inevitably will make some people happy and other people unhappy,” he said.

Dory Jade, chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, said he believes it’s better to take the time to get it right instead of rushing it for political reasons.

“I personally believe the bureaucratic machine requires more time to do such a job and the government did not foresee that in their promise,” he said, noting that the Conservative government also took a long time to finish its update.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the revamp is focused on several key areas:

  • Responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call for language that better reflects the perspectives and history of Indigenous peoples of Canada.
  • Showcasing Canada’s cultural diversity and commitment to official languages.
  • Presenting the social evolution of civic rights and freedoms for LGBT, women and people with disabilities.
  • Using language that is more accessible for second-language learners and structuring the document so the newcomer can more easily identify the main points of each chapter.

The government has also pledged to update materials for newcomers and to amend the oath of citizenship to reflect respect for Indigenous rights. That change to the citizenship oath was also recommended by the TRC and included in Hussen’s Feb. 1, 2017 mandate letter.

Those initiatives are also still ongoing, according to Hussen’s office.

Source: Revamped citizenship guide still a work in progress as election nears

Proposed citizenship oath change prompts some to call for more education about Indigenous people: Consultations

Good account of the results of the consultations:

A revised oath of citizenship that will require new Canadians to faithfully observe the country’s treaties with Indigenous people is nearly complete.

The proposed new text was put to focus groups held by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in March, following months of consultation by departmental officials.

The language comes from the 94th and final recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the legacy of Canada’s residential schools.

Implementing that recommendation was one of the tasks given to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen when he was sworn into his portfolio in January 2017, but work on it began soon after the commission delivered its recommendations in late 2015, briefing notes for the minister suggest.

Focus groups mixed on proposed changes

The notes, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show the government also wants to modify the script delivered by those who preside over citizenship ceremonies. The proposed notes say the script should refer to ceremonies on traditional territories, and include remarks on the history of Indigenous people.

When it comes to the oath, the inclusion of a reference to treaties is the only proposed change.

Changing the wording requires a legislative amendment to the Citizenship Act. The Liberals are in the process of overhauling the act in a bid to make citizenship easier to obtain.

When the proposed text was put to focus groups composed of both recent immigrants and longtime Canadian residents, reaction was generally positive, according to a report posted online by the Immigration Department this week.

But there was a caveat: “Participants only agreed with the modifications insofar as newcomers are adequately educated about Indigenous Peoples and the treaties,” the report said.

“Many felt that they themselves would struggle with this new formulation, given their own limited knowledge of the treaties.”

Some wondered about the need for changes at all.

“A few participants took it upon themselves to question the need to modify the oath and that it might represent a precedent whereby other groups in Canada will want to be represented in the oath,” the report said.

The new oath comes along with a major overhaul of the study guide used for the citizenship exam. A draft copy obtained by The Canadian Press earlier this year revealed it, too, will include extensive references to Indigenous history and culture.

The Liberals had originally been aiming to unveil both the new guide and oath around Canada Day, but work is ongoing.

It reads: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

Source: Proposed citizenship oath change prompts some to call for more education about Indigenous people – Politics – CBC News

Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians: Tom Flanagan

Focused commentary by Flanagan on how Indigenous obligations are reflected in the current language of the draft new citizenship study guide (Discover Canada).

Surprising he did not mention the planned revision to the oath (TRC recommendation 94) that will include: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples.”

The federal government is currently working on a revision of Discover Canada, the study guide for the test that immigrants must pass before obtaining citizenship. To judge from a recent Canadian Press story, the new manual will read like a Liberal campaign platform. Perhaps that’s not surprising, because the Liberals control the government. Maybe it’s even fair, because the Conservatives revised the manual in 2011, when they controlled the government. But it would be nice if those who are politicizing the Canadian citizenship manual would at least represent Canadian law accurately.

According to The Canadian Press, the draft revision says, “Today, Canadians, for example, can own their own homes and buy land thanks to treaties that the government negotiated.” But a moment’s reflection shows that this statement can’t be correct. Land-cession treaties have never been negotiated in the Atlantic provinces, most of Quebec, and most of British Columbia. Yet, Canadians can own homes and buy land in those provinces, just as they can in Ontario and the Prairie provinces, where land-cession treaties were signed with First Nations.

The ability of Canadians to own land and homes depends upon grants of land from the sovereign. In the English legal tradition, sovereignty includes the title to land, which the sovereign can subsequently grant to individuals or corporations. Modern Canadian sovereignty rests upon earlier French and British sovereignty, founded upon discovery, (occasional) conquest, establishment of governments able to enforce territorial boundaries and administer law and recognition by other sovereign states.

Even while recognizing Indigenous land rights, including full ownership in certain circumstances, the Supreme Court of Canada has consistently upheld Canadian sovereignty as the basis of the Constitution. Chief Justice Antonio Lamer in Van der Peet phrased this as “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown.” From the beginning, French, British and Canadian sovereigns have made grants of land upon which our system of private land ownership has developed. Those grants did not depend upon prior negotiation of treaties with First Nations, otherwise there would be no private property today in much of Canada.

Ironically, private property in land does not exist on most Indigenous reserves today. That deficiency in the Indian Act is only one of the many ways in which the property rights of First Nations have been abused. But mistakes in that area do not mean the private-property rights of other Canadians depend upon treaties.

Another misleading statement in the revision is this advice to new Canadians about their legal obligations: “Obeying the law, serving on a jury, paying taxes, filling out the census and respecting treaties with Indigenous Peoples are mandatory.” But treaties were legal agreements between the Crown (advised by cabinet) and First Nations (represented by their chiefs). They imposed obligations on the Crown to set aside land and provide assistance of various types. But they don’t impose any specific obligations upon citizens other than the general obligation to obey the law, which incidentally is also imposed upon First Nations by the text of the treaties.

These wording changes, if the government follows through with them, won’t have any immediate legal effect. But we should be clear about what’s happening. In the past election campaign, the Liberals made many irredeemable promises to Indigenous voters, such as adopting the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Now, instead of impossible legal changes, they are offering words – and words matter in the long run. As the great philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, “Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon with them, but they are the money of fools.” These foolish words will tend to make new Canadians, and indeed all Canadians, feel like interlopers in their own country.

Source: Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians – The Globe and Mail

New Canadians to pledge honour for Indigenous treaties in revised citizenship oath – Politics – CBC News

The first change to the oath since 1977:

New Canadians will soon promise to honour treaties with Indigenous peoples as part of their oath of citizenship.

The mandate letter for new Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen lists making the change to the swearing-in ceremony as one of his key priorities, along with enhancing refugee resettlement services and cutting wait times for application processing.

According to the mandate letter, the proposed change is to reflect the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

That reads: “We call upon the government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following: I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including treaties with Indigenous peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”The current oath does not include the words “including treaties with Indigenous peoples.”

The call for action was among 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in December 2015.

Call to revise citizenship test

Another recommendation called on the federal government, in collaboration with national Indigenous organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and the citizenship test to “reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”

That would include information about the treaties and the history of residential schools, according to the document.

Lorna Standingready - RTR4YPUL3

Residential school survivor Lorna Standingready, left, is comforted during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada closing ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

This past December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the creation of an independent national council to help implement the recommendations.

Source: New Canadians to pledge honour for Indigenous treaties in revised citizenship oath – Politics – CBC News

The specific commitments of Minister Hussen’s mandate letter are (the emphasis on measuring outcomes for settlement services and “rigorous approach to data” is also of note):

In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:

  • Ensure the effective implementation of Canada’s increased annual immigration levels.

  • Working with the provinces and territories, ensure a renewed focus on the delivery of high-quality settlement services to ensure the successful arrival of new Canadians.  This will require a rigorous approach to data in order to accurately measure outcomes.

  • Following our government-wide efforts to resettle more than 39,000 Syrian refugees as of January 2017, continue to welcome refugees from Syria and elsewhere, and work with provinces and territories, service provider organizations, and communities to ensure refugees are integrating successfully into Canada to become participating members of society.

  • Work on reducing application processing times, on improving the department’s service delivery and client services to make it timelier and less complicated, and on enhancing system efficiency including the asylum system.

  • Continue to work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness towards the adoption of Bill C-6 which would repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act that give the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.

  • Conduct a review of the visa policy framework, including its application to the transit of passengers through Canada, in a way that promotes economic growth while ensuring program integrity.

  • Work in collaboration with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to make changes to the Oath of Canadian Citizenship to reflect the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action.

  • Work with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to improve the temporary foreign worker program so it meets the needs of Canadian workers and employers.  This would include:

    • further developing a pathway to permanent residency so that eligible applicants are able to more fully contribute to Canadian society; and

    • working with stakeholders to act on the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities’ study of the temporary foreign worker program.

These priorities draw heavily from our election platform commitments.

The door to reconciliation [with Indigenous peoples] is truly open: Adams

Michael Adam’s overview of the findings of the recent Environics Institute survey on non-indigenous adults on indigenous issues:

The survey measured support for key areas related to the TRC’s recommendations and other long-standing unresolved issues. There is almost universal public support (90 per cent) for increased government spending to ensure that indigenous peoples have decent housing and safe drinking water, basics that most other Canadians take for granted.

Unsurprisingly, the people who support other equity-oriented initiatives like universal health care are the same people who support addressing inequities in indigenous living standards.

Nine in 10 non-aboriginal Canadians (91 per cent) also support the TRC’s recommendation that funding to indigenous schools be increased to ensure that students have equal access to educational opportunities. Canadians today overwhelmingly believe that education is the key to sustained economic well-being.

This finding from the 2016 survey dovetails with findings from our 2010 Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study, which found that the top priority of indigenous people living in Canadian cities was education. Of course, the history of Canadian intervention in indigenous education is a painful one. This country’s policies of forced assimilation through education, which the TRC, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and former prime minister Paul Martin have called cultural genocide, robbed tens of thousands of children of family and cultural heritage and inflicted damage across generations.

Our survey shows that awareness not only of the Indian residential school system but of the specific abuses and consequences of that system has grown among non-aboriginal Canadians since 2008; 73 per cent now make this connection.

Canadians see education as not only as a key to economic success, but as one means of unwinding the prejudices and stereotypes that have accrued during Canada’s colonial history. More than nine in 10 non-aboriginal Canadians say that it is very (62 per cent) or somewhat (30 per cent) important for all non-aboriginal Canadians to understand the true history of how indigenous people have been treated by governments and society.

Better indigenous education for all Canadian students has the potential to create a platform for true reconciliation and partnership, a project in which 64 per cent per cent feel strongly that all Canadians have a role to play (a proportion that has increased by 22 points since 2008). Only 6 per cent strongly reject the idea that we all have a role to play in reconciliation.

Our survey did find negative attitudes, including the belief that aboriginal peoples have a sense of entitlement about receiving support from government, and the belief that suffering communities are partly to blame for their own difficulties. Despite the ongoing presence of these sentiments, there is broad public support for key TRC recommendations, some of which the recent federal budget took steps toward.

Of course, government action on issues so deeply rooted in our cultural and political experience will not deliver immediate benefit. But these results suggest most Canadians would rather be moving along the path to progressive change, even if we stumble, than standing still or moving backward.

Source: The door to reconciliation is truly open – The Globe and Mail

Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

One of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and one that will likely be implemented to some degree.

As Adrienne Clarkson notes in her book, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, when immigrants become citizens they inherit both the good and bad parts of our history, and thus better knowledge of the history of Indigenous Peoples and their treatment is essential.

It is likely, should the Liberal government revise the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, (almost a certainty), the overall diversity and inclusion theme will feature prominently, including with respect to Indigenous Peoples:

Canada’s Indigenous people are asking immigrants to join the nationwide process of reconciliation by learning about and celebrating Indigenous culture.

One of the many recommendations that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published in their final report calls on the government to incorporate more information on the history of Canada’s diverse Indigenous communities in information kits for newcomers and in citizenship tests.

This includes information on residential schools and the Treaties through which settlers dispossessed the Indigenous peoples of their land.

The recommendation is just one 94 outlined in the report from the TRC, whose work on restoring the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous communities culminated with the report’s delivery on Dec. 15, 2015.

Learning the true history of Canada

“I really think it’s important to realize that this was not an empty land when people came here. There were thriving nations in this land,” says Jane Hubbard, acting director of operations of the Legacy of Hope Foundation.

Her organization works to raise awareness about the history of residential schools in Canada and to promote reconciliation among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

“I think it’s very important that the true history be told, so that people understand that Canada did not start in 1867. There was a long history before contact as well,” she says.

Hubbard says Aboriginal peoples’ present-day contributions to society should also be included and celebrated.

“Often in a lot of government materials, Aboriginal peoples are referred to in such a way as to make someone think that perhaps they are a historical entity,” she says.

It is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative.

“We would like to see more of the current-day representation. Thriving cultures, restoration of language. That people are here and walking amongst us and that they are lively contributors to society.”

Andrew Tataj is a second-generation Canadian whose parents came to Canada in the 1970s from Ireland and former Yugoslavia. “Learning about our history is important, because it can help newcomers assimilate into our culture, especially knowing about the country’s past – good and bad things,” says the computer engineer.

However, he is skeptical about the positive effect of providing more information. “I don’t think much can be changed when it comes to awareness. … It won’t get their land back,” he says.

Participating in reconciliation

Heather Igloliorte, an Inuit professor and chair in Indigenous art history and community engagement at Concordia University, outlines some ways in which newcomers can participate actively in the process of reconciliation.

“I think that one of the things that new Canadians could do is attend festivals and celebrations and Aboriginal peoples’ day and other events, so that they have an opportunity to meet and converse with Indigenous people. So that their understanding does not come only from literature, but also from first-person experience,” she says.

One of the primary focuses of the TRC was to expose the truths of the residential-school system.

Igloliorte says that it is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative about them.

“It’s incredibly important for newcomers to Canada to understand the history of how we got to where we are today, so that they do not simply absorb the stereotypes and the racist perspectives towards Indigenous people that we still have in Canada right now,” says Igloliorte.

“I think Aboriginal people did not receive enough respect from the very beginning,” says Khaled Elrodesly, a biomedical engineer from Egypt who recently took his citizenship test. “They are supposed to be the first settlers of the Americas and everyone else that comes after them should respect their thoughts and ideas and try to connect with them.”

Source: Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

Cultural genocide: When we debate words, we delay healing – Payam Akhavan

Akhavan on the history and meaning of cultural genocide (reprinted in entirety):

What is “cultural genocide” and why does it matter? This powerful label was first adopted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) last June. It was meant to describe a colonial assimilationist policy, aimed at extinguishing Canada’s indigenous peoples “as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities.”

The long-suffering survivors of the residential schools celebrated this declaration with rapturous applause. But what followed was a storm of controversy on whether “genocide” was an appropriate term for this purpose; a controversy that has distracted us from confronting the reality facing Canada’s indigenous peoples.

As a former United Nations prosecutor at The Hague, I am well aware of the legal definition of this crime. What disturbs me is how this polemical debate disregards the deeper meaning of words; the importance of recognition for healing wounds. The TRC process was not a criminal trial. It was an opportunity for some 6,750 survivors to break the silence, to tell their heartbreaking stories to fellow Canadians.

Whether “cultural genocide” is a proper legal label is less important than its reality as a mourning metaphor; and abstract disputations about precise terminology are even less important than the urgency of national reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous people.

The history of the UN Genocide Convention sheds some light on this controversy. It was adopted in 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust, following months of negotiations, after delegates agreed to include “physical” and “biological,” but to exclude “cultural” genocide from an earlier proposed draft. This was motivated by two reasons: On the one hand, some believed that the Nazi exterminations in gas chambers was a different crime than the destruction of historic monuments and minority languages; on the other hand, most non-European nations were still under colonial domination so their devastating experience with “civilizing missions” was not reflected in the debates.

Although “cultural genocide” had a short life, it was seriously considered as a legal concept. It is best described today as the ghost of proposed crimes past. What is most relevant for the residential school policy is that the “forcible transfer of children” – initially qualified as a form of “cultural genocide” – was retained in the formal definition as one of the acts by which genocide could be committed.

The postwar trial of Nazis had included prosecutions for the kidnapping of thousands of “racially valuable” children from occupied Poland. More recently, the International Court of Justice has interpreted the permanent transfer of children as “biological” genocide because, like forced sterilization, it destroys a group’s reproductive capacity. Whether the temporary removal of children for the purpose of destroying a group’s culture also qualifies is a matter of legitimate debate. At the very least, if accurate legal labels are that important, to the extent that residential school policy constitutes persecution of a group because of its identity, then it qualifies as the equally serious category of crimes against humanity. So why the storm of controversy about the TRC’s declaration?

As the legislative history demonstrates, even as a legal concept, “cultural genocide” is not as far-fetched as some may imagine. But the TRC used it reasonably as a non-legal descriptive term, and what is even more important, the survivors see it as a recognition of their intense grief and anguish. We should not underestimate the power of words in redeeming the humanity of victims. It could even be said that “cultural genocide” is more important as a mourning metaphor rather than a legal label, because the moral imperative facing us as a country is healing and transformation, and not sterile debates on taxonomy.

Moving forward, the challenge is ensuring that Canada respects the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples so that we can make the legacy of colonialism a thing of the past. The reality today is that among indigenous Canadians, 40 per cent of children go to bed hungry, and the infant mortality rate is 2.5 times, the homicide rate six times and the incarceration rate 10 times the national average. Whether we call the past “cultural genocide” or something else, this shameful situation is obviously connected with a history of forced displacement and ethnic demonization.

How can we champion human rights at the UN if we cannot clean up our own backyard? Why don’t we replicate the outpouring of compassion towards Syrian refugees for our indigenous brothers and sisters? Moving from historical truth to national reconciliation – the challenge the TRC has put before us – is a litmus test of our self-conception as Canadians. There are hopeful signs of political progress. But in responding to this urgent call, we must also consider how each of us can contribute, as individuals and communities, to building a just future.

Perhaps in this way, instead of debates on “cultural genocide,” the next generation will dwell on cultural jubilation, as we celebrate the redemption of our shared humanity.

Source: Cultural genocide: When we debate words, we delay healing – The Globe and Mail

Justice Murray Sinclair’s challenge for Canada as it seeks reconciliation

Good interview with Justice Sinclair. My two highlights:

“We didn’t write this report for this government,” he said. “We wrote this report for all governments including this government. We expect there will be other opportunities to talk with people when governments change, and governments always change.”

….Many of the people who come to Canada today are from developing nations that were themselves at one time oppressed by colonial powers. “They will be able to say, if we let them, ‘I had nothing to do with that, so therefore I don’t need to worry about it,’” he said. “But on the other hand, everyone coming here has a responsibility to the future.”

That is one reason why the commission wants the residential school experience to be incorporated into school curricula, into citizenship guides, into law and journalism programs, into the very fabric of national life.

And Mr. Sinclair points out that Canada’s robust immigration policies may mean that visible minorities could be a majority in 50 years’ time. Those who see Canada as a nation founded by French and English settlers and inhabited by their descendants may one day know what it’s like to struggle to preserve one’s culture and heritage.

“You are going to be the aboriginal people of the future,” he predicted. “So let’s talk about how you are treating aboriginal people today.”

Justice Murray Sinclair’s challenge for Canada as it seeks reconciliation – The Globe and Mail.

Doug Saunders’ take:

The period of what we now call cultural genocide lasted just a century, though its consequences could continue much longer if we do not intervene to reverse the toll of this period.

In many ways, the artifacts of this system continue to function. We still have the forced collectivization of reserves, and large-scale non-ownership of aboriginal land. We are still perhaps the only country in the world with federal government offices whose function it is – under the “status Indian” policy – to determine racial purity. We still have terrible schools, staffed with ill-equipped teachers and given pathetic levels of funding, on reserves.

Compared with other “cultural genocide” events, the number of people affected is small: Aboriginal peoples are 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population: 1.5 million people, only half of whom live on reserves. To strike a new settlement with these populations as recommended in the commission’s report (we have already done so, to a large extent, with the Inuit) would not, then, be an overwhelming challenge.

This newly named crime may be a source of national shame, but it does not have to define Canada: Another century of progress and co-operative relations could transform it from a current event into a piece of history. We have a chance, in the aftermath of this report, to begin a less shameful era of Canadian and indigenous history.

Residential schools, reserves and Canada’s crime against humanity – The Globe and Mail.

Lastly, John Ralston Saul:

The Commission’s report is very clear about how reconciliation works – respectful relationships, restoring trust, reparations, concrete actions leading to societal change. To put it bluntly, reconciliation without restitution would be meaningless. It is not so difficult to work out what restitution means. Part of it is laid out in this report. Above all, it is not about winners or losers. If indigenous peoples have more and do better, we will all do better.

In 1996, Georges Erasmus and his fellow commissioners wrote, “Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony. But there cannot be peace or harmony unless there is justice.”

Since then, indigenous peoples have more than played their part – leading the way with constructive arguments, developing an ever larger new leadership, re-establishing their cultures, winning repeatedly at the Supreme Court. The rest of us have done very little.

And the Canadian people – you and I – have not taken the stand we need to take. We have not given that fundamental instruction – the instruction of the ethical, purposeful voting citizen. Justice Sinclair and his colleagues have shown us what to do. We are the only barrier to action being taken.

Truth and Reconciliation is Canada’s last chance to get it right

Know the truth, make amends – Erna Paris

Erna Paris on the need to face our history of residential schools and ‘cultural genocide,’ with some interesting contrasts with other countries who have (e.g., Germany, France), or have not (e.g., Japan, USA) faced up to their past:

A new challenge for Canadians will be to acknowledge the endemic disconnect between our myths and our reality. We view ourselves as a tolerant society that values diversity, but what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made clear is that we could believe this only because we excluded native peoples from the picture.

One key to reconciliation will be the rejection of all forms of coercive assimilation. For example, the Quebec Charter of Values, with its discriminatory rules about religious dress codes, was a throwback to attitudes that have historically produced ideas of lesser peoples.

The TRC has shown us where that leads.

The past can never be overcome. It can only be managed. With accountability on the part of lawmakers. With memorials to the victims. And with a major effort to pursue justice – however difficult that may be.

Know the truth, make amends – The Globe and Mail.