Click here to view original web page at Gormley: Misuse of “genocide” does more harm than good
John Gormley Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix There are many ways to describe the history and contemporary reality of Canadian Indigenous women victimized by violence. For the victims there is the tragedy of loss and trauma; and, if we get it right, there can be hope for a way […]
There are many ways to describe the history and contemporary reality of Canadian Indigenous women victimized by violence. For the victims there is the tragedy of loss and trauma; and, if we get it right, there can be hope for a way toward healing.
For the grieving families of the murdered and missing, there is heartbreak, confusion, anger and irreparable loss. For communities, there is an uncomfortable and difficult discussion about marginalization, vulnerability, racism, domestic violence and predators in our midst.
But one word does not fit: genocide.
Repeatedly used throughout the 1,200-page report of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), the misuse of ‘genocide’ distracts from the inquiry’s work and diminishes its credibility.
Genocide, from its origins during the Holocaust and its evolution in customary international law, is “distinguishable from all other crimes and the gravest and greatest of the crimes against humanity,” according to Alain Destexthe, author of Rwanda and Genocide in the 20th Century.
The reason for this gravity is not just the horrifying outcome and the many victims but the deliberate planning, motivation and “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
The term “cultural genocide” has been aptly used to describe some of Canada’s historic dealings with Indigenous people. But the outcomes of racism and failed government policies — even the hurtful and tragic — falls short of the deliberate intent to exterminate a group of people, as genocide requires.
While every single death or missing person case is painful — and Indigenous women are disproportionately overrepresented — the actual number of cases involving Aboriginal women, according to the RCMP, totalled 1,182 in the 32 years up to 2012.
RCMP records indicate that, of these, there were 1,017 Aboriginal female homicide victims and 164 missing women. More recently, in 2017 alone, Statistics Canada listed 38 Indigenous women who died from homicide.
It is difficult to construe numbers of this size as being “genocide” or close to it.
On my radio show, MMIWG Inquiry Chief Commissioner Marion Buller admitted to deliberately choosing the word genocide because it makes people “uncomfortable,” and she believes that this will move them to action.
But it is more likely to have the opposite effect. Particularly on difficult issues, modern culture and politics have become increasingly binary. There is a choice — either strive for engagement, authenticity and constructive dialogue or succumb to identity politics and the hard division of taking sides.
Because of this, a precise strategy involving carefully chosen words has never mattered more. And deliberately overreaching on the word genocide is not helpful.
Many of the inquiry’s 231 recommendations, referred to as “Calls for Justice,” are appropriate, attainable and worth fighting for, particularly in providing personal and community supports to victims and families, education, awareness, and accountability along with improved policing and criminal justice approaches.
On a general level, the need for each of us to explore our own attitudes, through a lens of compassion and understanding, has never been more important if we are all going to live and grow better together.
But the report’s often sweeping sociological and political generalizations and incendiary language do little to engage or motivate ordinary people to action.
While the report’s language will energize some academics and ideological activists at the centre of the culture wars, many other people will tune out and turn away, particularly when faced with grim hopelessness, white settler colonialism, oppression and even the assertion of continuing genocide.
The MMIWG inquiry could have done better.
John Gormley is a broadcaster, lawyer, author and former Progressive Conservative MP whose radio talk show is heard weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on 650 CKOM Saskatoon and 980 CJME Regina.