Former AFN chief wants the UN to recognize Canada’s treatment of First Nations as genocide

Andy Radia
October 14, 2013

On Tuesday, James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, will conclude his nine-day visit to Canada, with a press conference in Ottawa.

Anaya's address will likely foreshadow his public report about Canada's treatment of its First Nations people which is due out in September 2014.

It might not be pretty.

On Saturday, for example, Anaya visited Pukatawagan, a remote Cree reserve with more than 2,500 people.

Here's how CTV News described the northern Manitoba community:

In some cases, families of 15 are living in three-bedroom homes. Some of the houses on the reserve are infested with bed bugs and have mould issues.

In one home, an elderly diabetic woman who lost a leg and relies on her family to help care for her lives with no running water.

And, on Monday, the Rapporteur was to meet with former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine who was going to tell Anaya that the UN should recognize Canada’s history with the First Nations as genocide.

[ Related: UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples to visit Canada amid tense verbal standoff ]

Fontaine — with former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress Bernie Farber — penned a column in the Globe and Mail explaining his position.

Our conviction is that Canadian policy over more than 100 years can be defined as a genocide of First Nations under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

We hold that until Canada as represented by its government engages in a national conversation about our historical treatment of the First Nations; until we come to grips with the fact that we used racism, bigotry and discrimination as a tool to not only assimilate First Nations into the Canadian polity, but engaged in a deliberate policy of genocide both cultural and physical; we will never heal.

The fact that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples have not been wiped out, and are indeed growing in numbers, is not proof that genocide never occurred, as some would have us believe.

In the column, Fontaine and Farber cite several 'genocidal' policies such as the Sir John A. MacDonald’s policy of starving First Nations to death, the residential school system and the forced relocation of aboriginal children in the 1960s.

[ Related: New museum slammed for not using the term ‘genocide’ to describe aboriginal relations exhibit ]

Fontaine and Farber aren't the only ones to dub Canada's treatment of First Nations as genocide. There actually seems to be a growing push for that label — especially within First Nation circles.

In a recent interview with Yahoo Canada News, Pam Palmater, a Mi'kmaq lawyer and Chair of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, said that what happened to First Nations in Canada fits the internationally accepted definition of genocide — a definition she says Canada has signed on to.

"Most people misunderstand genocide to be the mass murder of millions of people all at once, and while this is the most extreme case, it is not the only criteria," she said while including the following definition in an email.

UN Convention Against Genocide says:

Article 1

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article 2

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

•(a) Killing members of the group;

•(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

•(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

•(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

•(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article 3

The following acts shall be punishable:

•(a) Genocide;

•(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

•(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

•(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

•(e) Complicity in genocide.

Anaya's press conference will be held from 2 to 3 pm, on Tuesday, at the National Press Building in Ottawa.

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