A well-worn axiom in journalism holds that the truth is not to be found in the high sounding words of politicians, but in their actions.
Lately, we’ve been treated to the concerns expressed by the Conservative Government of PM Stephen Harper on the 26-year old exemption of the Indian Act from Canada’s Human Rights legislation. Is it just me, or does anyone else get just a wee bit anxious at the combination of those words into one single sentence?
The Conservatives recently passed a bill in Parliament to remove that exemption. It’s called Bill C-27, An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act. Why does it bother me? Why should it bother anyone else? Consider the following.
The exemption was originally allowed because there are so many discriminatory facets to the Indian Act and programs that have been designed for Aboriginal peoples, that it would take major revisions to other existing Canadian policies, laws, regulations and institutions to remove them. For example, Human Rights legislation is designed to protect individual rights. However, most Aboriginal rights are based on collective rights such as language, culture, territory, treaties and Indigenous nationality. Many programs and services deliberately discriminate FOR Aboriginal peoples as a means of overcoming centuries of discrimination AGAINST them. It’s called ameliorative programming.
Canada hasn’t been willing to change what it could, and removing the exemption with Bill C-27 will not solve anything. In fact, it will create division, undermine existing programs and services, and spark legal challenges but only to those who can afford it. Remember: the Conservatives killed the constitutional Court Challenges Program.
Those other guardians of Aboriginal rights, the Liberal Party of Canada, did not oppose Bill C-27 because nearly every bill the Harper Conservatives proposed in Parliament was billed as a “confidence” bill. Defeat of a “confidence” bill (similar to a confidence ploy, or a con) would result in an election — and the Liberals would rather dispose of their principles than risk an election.
Why so negative? Why can’t I trust the elected officials of Canada to do the right thing? Read on, McDuff.
I have something in common with the United Nations’ International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. We were both born in 1952. We have also been sort-of recognized by Canada — but not completely. I may explain about me sometime. Right now, let me explain how Canada has been selective in accepting only those parts of the Convention on Genocide that it likes, but not to other parts that it apparently does not like. It goes to why I am and must remain pessimistic of Canada and its politicians to ever do the right thing when it comes to Indigenous peoples.
A couple of years ago, I read an article by Pierre Loiselle at dominionpaper.ca. I don’t have a link anymore although I still keep a copy on my computer. The title was “Genocide, International Law & Canada’s ‘Indian Problem.'” Much of it was circumstantial, and hyperbolic. Still, it raised some interesting points.
The gist of the article was this:
The following parts of Article Two [of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide], which define the crime of genocide, were omitted from Canada’s Criminal Code after the Convention was ratified and became law in 1952:
- “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” and,
- “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The writer and Dr. Roland Chrisjohn (then director of Native Studies at Trent University) concluded that the omissions of these two parts of the UN’s Convention from Canada’s own laws “are not a coincidence,” and “correspond directly to Canada’s official policy of abducting Native children and keeping them in residential school, where many were subject to gruesome and well-documented abuse and torture.”
They assert that the definition of genocide has changed over the years but always meant more than systematic, official, mass murder, such as the Holocaust of Jews in the Second World War. Genocide always meant, according to another writer, “a co-ordinated plan aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups so that these groups wither and die like plants that have suffered a blight.”
Earlier drafts of the Convention Against Genocide also included provisions for the creation of an international court and sanctions against “forcible citizenship,” opposed by both Canada and the United States, and eventually removed from the UN’s Convention at their insistence.
Article Two, which defines genocide as: “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
I could argue all five, but the fifth one is a slam dunk,” says Chrisjohn. “There is absolutely no way Canada can deny that they legislated the transference of children from their parents to the church authorities.”
He could also argue, and does, that Canadians are complicit in a crime of genocide if they know about violations to the UN’s Convention but do nothing to end or prevent it.
Today, consider that Canada is once again part of an exclusive group of nation states that voted against another of the UN’s conventions — this time voting against the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples along with the U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand.
Thus my skepticism given Canada’s record in deciding things affecting the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and of the motivations of politicians wanting to do things over the objections of those affected.