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

Storm clouds gathered in Mulhurst, Alta., just before noon June 15, 2021. Photo/ Dan Moster.
Areas of County of Wetaskiwin remain under severe thunderstorm watch

Environment Canada has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for areas of the County.

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday June 12th, 2021

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

Manluk Centre/ Impress
Manluk Centre re-opens to the public

Drop in and registered programs will be available; one-third facility capacity to be followed.

File photo
Leduc RCMP request assistance to identify armed robbery suspect

Leduc RCMP are looking for male responsible for an armed robbery at Super Car and RV Wash in Leduc.

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

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

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Most Read