Listen Up! If there is such a thing as a dirty word, genocide tops the list

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

How Dare you!

In the five years or so that I have been writing my weekly column Listen Up!, I have tried to deal with topics of interest, locally, nationally and internationally. I have expressed opinions on which I felt strongly, and I have not hesitated to be controversial when I thought it was called for and I always encourage vigorous and constructive debate. But I do not believe I have ever written in anger. Today I am angry.

Recently, The Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, tabled its Final Report. The Chair of that Commission, in her report, said this.

“Canada has and continues to practice genocide as a continuous policy, with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention to destroy indigenous people, physically, biologically and as social units.”

Now, this is a statement with which I profoundly disagree, particularly when it deals with the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. But this is not what angers me. The Commission is entitled to its opinion, even if it is not based on legally substantiated evidence.

No, what really gets under my skin, is the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, responding to the Commission report in part, by saying this.

“We accept the findings of the Commission, that it was genocide.”

How dare he! If there is such a thing as a dirty word, genocide tops the list. It congers up visions of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, the “ethnic cleansing that is currently taking place in Rwanda and the mass killings of Muslims in Bosnia. On this issue, the issue of Canada being guilty of genocide. Prime Minister Trudeau is not speaking for me nor I believe, he is speaking for the vast majority of Canadians. Furthermore, he is completely wrong.

Even the Toronto Star, with whom I seldom agree, is in lockstep on this one. The headline on their editorial on Friday, screamed this. “No, it’s not ‘genocide:” They went on to say: “Does Prime Minister Trudeau realize the consequences of endorsing the inquiry’s use of “genocide” to describe Canada’s conduct?”

Consequences indeed! Trudeau’s admission of Genocide, and make no mistake, that is what he did, has already prompted calls for an investigation by the Organization of American States. No doubt the United Nations will follow. Our reputation, world- wide, will be sullied as millions apply their interpretation of the word “genocide” to the assertion of Canada’s Prime Minister. And the legal suits against the Government, will come next, hundreds of them. It is a sad comment indeed, that Justin Trudeau voted against a motion in the House of Commons, which acknowledged that ISIS had committed genocide, yet so quickly embraced genocide as our treatment of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Furthermore, can you imagine what the Saudi’s will say to Canada next time we stand up for their ill treatment of women, or what China will say when we criticize them, for their lack of human rights? Vladimir Putin and the likes of him will also have a field day with it.

Words matter and they have meaning. Prime Minister Trudeau needs to think twice, or at least once, before he continually apologizes for the actions of Canadians and adapts words that are completely inappropriate. Personally, I am sick of it, especially when he is wrong.

None of this of course takes away from the serious nature of the extraordinary number of indigenous women who have gone missing or have been murdered in this country. Indeed, Canada has a less than perfect record when it comes to its indigenous citizens, but it is not a record of a “steady and continuing intention of destroying indigenous people physically, biologically and as social units”. It is not about genocide.

In my view, a much more meaningful observation of the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, would have been to recommend the establishment of a Special Police Force, with the specific mandate to hunt down the perpetrators, the murderers and the rapists and to bring them to justice. This is not genocide. This is murder. There is never an excuse for it. These women and girls were Canadian citizens. They deserve no less than Canadian justice.

Now that I think of it, I actually believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should apologize one more time and this time, to Canadians. He has tainted us with an acknowledgement of genocide. He is out of line on all fronts, under any circumstances. Perhaps it made for good television and social media. Perhaps it plays to a certain portion of his core support. But it has the potential of causing tremendous problems for our country and for our reputation.

That is just plain wrong.

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26 Comments

  1. To move, I hope, only slightly away from Hugh’s topic, it was a topic of interest on the CBC that the United Nations has sent an envoy to Grassy Narrows to review the water situation on that Reserve. Over fifty years has passed since their water supply was contaminated with mercury and is still contaminated with mercury. Well, in the very small dictionary of my mind this too defines the word Genocide. Perhaps not but then I get to write my dictionary.

    • Marcia Frost on

      Thank you, it’s only one example but it’s completely true…sorry but maybe the writer of this article needs to reread the definition of genocide and then go spend some time with First Nations people or visit a few reserves!

  2. Beth Grixti on

    The definition of genocide is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. This is a slow mass murder, by limiting resources, funding, by psychologically and physically torturing the indigenous people. Based on race, they are dying in great numbers. This fits the definition perfectly. It doesn’t have to look like the holocaust. The culture and history of a massive group has been all but erased.

    This can not be dismissed as simple murder. It is MUCH more than that.

    • Susan Godfrey on

      Hugh, I think you meant to write conjure (verb) rather than conger (noun) but aside from that, I feel like you would rather be indignant with our Prime Minister over a word rather than the situation as a whole. Seriously, as a white, privileged, educated man, how can you be “angry” when you have no capacity to understand the definition of the problem.

      • Nancy Bartok on

        Exactly! I would think the authors of the report and the Indigenous people native to our country would be the ones that would be authentically ‘angry’ at the rest of us for not understanding their reality in a country where we take our way of life for granted!

  3. Ralph Cliff on

    This could not possibly be Canada.
    Canada is a goody two shoes country. Look at the immigrants we import
    every year, Does being Canadian really mean anything?
    Are our native peoples a good example?
    If they were rich or upper class like Trudeau things would be different?
    Without Prejudice.

  4. While l will disagree that the Canadian Government has committed genocide in killing indigenous people as the Nazis did to the Jewish people in the second world war. I do agree that our Government has historically attempted a systematic cultural genocide of the indigenous people of Canada. Residential schools and the sixties scoop’s sole purpose was to kill the “Indian” in those children. We need to resolve our long standing injustices with the indigenous of people Canada. I don’t pretend to know how that is ultimately possible but dialogue and awareness of our history in this matter is paramount .l reject your indignation and your offence to the use of the word genocide, our historic treatment our indigenous people as well as the murdered and missing women is well known throughout the world so l wouldn’t worry to much about our reputation. Besides its all about the context in the use of the word. Your opinion comes from a position of white privilege and entitlement. We are the conquers we got to write the history, we have to right the wrongs.

    • Anna-Lise Kear on

      I understand your anger, Hugh. However, I was worried this would happen. Debate about the use of the word “genocide” and get distracted from the heart of the issue. I am in agreement in large part with the Gord Danks posting.

  5. Nancy Bartok on

    “How dare you”?…How dare us! It is a dirty word and it is a shame that you have a hard time understanding the word ‘genocide’. Canada, our home and native land, is indeed at fault. Here we have forced our Native people onto reservations, scooped children away from their families to live in shameful conditions at residential schools while forcing them to speak English instead of their native languages, performed sterilizations without consent, do little to solve murders and reported missing of Indigenous girls and women and treat their families with little respect. That to me is indeed a genocide. A slow death to the cultures and languages of a people and a slow death to the people is genocide. Many reservations still have a ‘boil water advisory’ after many years of asking for help. The housing is deplorable. The children are getting sick from led poisoning. It is about time our Prime Minister is finally seeing things for what they really are! We need more than an apology to our original people! We need to change our attitudes and accept the truth! We need to make things better for life in Canada for ALL our Canadians! Sorry, not sorry, Mr. McKenzie, I disagree with you!

    • Well said, Nancy. Methinks Hugh needs to look at the bigger picture, rather than just the issue of the missing and murdered women, which was the trigger point for the investigation. Successive governments, both red and blue, have participated over the years with undesirable actions and undesirable inaction.
      Until one admits that there is a problem, there will never be a cure. Maybe a new group needs founding….”Aboriginals Anonymous”….
      “Hi, I’m Joe…I have a problem……” You get the picture.

    • Marcia Frost on

      The definition of genocide fits! Cant believ u cant see or admit it but tells me u havnt educated urslf about the true history of this country hugh…wht u wrote is shameful and completely ignorant!

      Im not a liberal or First Nations but it has nothng to do with any one party and too many of us were blinded by our ‘canada the great’ sentiments.
      And i dont giv a damn what othr countries think but i hope its “finally canada admits to its atrocities so they can create change”…anythng othr that, i got no time for.
      Canada hasnt always been great to ALL its peopl and pretending otherwise isnt gonna help us get ther! Now maybe we can grow and change for the bettr.

  6. Kate Quinlan on

    I am so grateful to read the comments on this commentary! Thank you for voicing your disagreement with Hugh’s message.

    What I hear is that the Canadian Government has finally admitted to their mistakes which is the first step in healing ANY trauma (personal or cultural) I applaud our Prime Minister he is an example of a brave man! What vulnerability he has shown!

    What I also hear Hugh is that his vulnerability makes you nervous when dealing with other countries. Fair enough- vulnerability is scary.
    But to your point about what other countries will think about how we handle our missing and murdered indigenous populations; my hope is that they see the benefit of owning our mistakes and working together towards solutions; which isn’t going to happen over night. We’ve been messing up for years it’s going to take some time to fix.
    The report by the commission was a great step and the prime minister is definitely leading us in the right direction! 💜

  7. Lynn Crowder on

    You are right words do matter. And for anyone, or any nation to heal part of that process is to label and identify truths. Once those truths are clear, then we can more forward with healing. The commission labelled this horror correctly. It strikes me oddly that you would be more concerned with how this looks to the rest of the world, than the horror that our politics and cultural atrocities have brought.

  8. Karen Wehrstein on

    I hope that you will obtain a countering viewpoint from someone in the First Nations community so that we readers can read and understand their position. You are saying the report’s conclusion has no legal basis and is wrong, but not substantiating, i.e. not providing the evidence the report gives as support to the genocide claim and then rebutting it. I’d like to hear from those who feel that genocide is being practiced against them, because we rarely hear from them. Their voices are for the most part silenced. I know someone who has been involved in this inquiry who might be willing to write about it for Doppler, if you can’t find anyone.

  9. Anne Finlay-Stewart on

    It took the writer more than half the article before he even mentioned the women. Did he also object to the use of the word genocide in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report? A “less than perfect record” with our indigenous “citizens” – most of whom had no right to a lawyer, or to go to law school, until the 70s?
    Thousands of whom have had generations without drinkable water? Their children removed from their families and more children in government care now than went to residential schools? Language and religion beaten out of them? Forced sterilization? “Less than perfect”? How dare he.

    “Steady and continuing intention of destroying indigenous people physically, biologically and as social units”.
    Yes, when their daughters, mothers, child bearers are not safe – that’s what I would call it.

  10. With respect, Hugh, your Conservative roots are showing. To climb up one side and down the other of PM Trudeau was petty and uncalled for. Trudeau was merely using “genocide” as an abbreviated version of “cultural genocide”.
    .
    Where were you when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission first used this particular term in their findings? More to the point (if, indeed, international stories are also within your purview); where were you when Australia came to the conclusion of “genocide” with respect to their relocation of aboriginal children for their education?

    Philology is a subject for experts; not for you or me; but even superficially, I think that, perhaps, you should have saved your anger for another, more worthwhile topic.

  11. Charles Wilson on

    Very early in my career as a newspaperman — I prefer that term to journalist which sounds elitist or reporter which, since I generally didn’t report anything, is just misleading – very early in my career on the desk of a small western paper I was faced with a conundrum. Did I want to tell my boss, who had just returned from France and written with astonishment at blacks and whites consorting openly in the streets, that he was a racist idiot and that if he published his nonsense not only would everybody know he was a hick from Kansas but think that his paper was pathetic or did I want to edit the piece for typos and send it on to the lino-type room for setting? I was young, white and apparently not all that hungry so I chose to tell him he was an idiot. He repaid the compliment by relieving my of my rewrite job and I moved on to rather larger but far less interesting media.

    I never thought that fifty years later I would come across another bucolic editor anxious to display for the entire world exactly how xenophobic he was. But here you are joining the ranks of the genocide deniers like David Irving who focused on Europe in the mid 20th century and Edward Herman on Rwanda.

    So, since I don’t work for you and have zero vested interests in the Huntsville Doppler I thought it might be best to let it go as part of the flood of fact-bereft rhetoric that spews out of various sub-normal house organs in this country.

    And I tried that for a few days. It didn’t work. So then I thought, well, I will write a rebuttal using carefully documented material about what we now know happened since Champlain arrived in this country, how a perfectly functioning, harmonious civilization has been systematically wiped out by the European settlers of which I am one. So I wrote it. Five thousand words documenting everything from the post ice-age settlements to current day and even acknowledging than the European settlers were not the first to commit genocide on this continent and that the Inuit might well have been.

    Than I went back and read your piece again, and discovered it started with a simple declaration that it was not written by a reasonable man but by an angry man. A man made angry by an apology his Prime Minister had made, apparently without first seeking his permission, that racism led to genocide and genocide was the killing of a people either directly or indirectly by another group of people. A reluctant condemnation of tribal politics at its most virulent.

    And having read it I decided that I could produce all the facts that I liked but in the mind of an angry scribe seeking to support genocide denial I would get exactly nowhere. Not only would you not accept the tendered counter-argument but you would use it to create debate to further spread your populist cant.

    So that got spiked.

    Today much of what I do, when I am not sparring with people posing as rustic japers with a tribal agenda, has to do with China and the Chinese. The Chinese are unabashedly racist. Theirs is the Middle Kingdom seeking to be restored after being toppled temporarily by the barbarians because of a technical glitch in the late 19th century. They had even have a date to have it done, 2049. And in case you are wondering where this is going we, the high-fiving white guys, are the Indians in their scenario.

    So I am thinking perhaps I could dissuade you from doing the Charleston — the riot not the dance – on the basis of self-preservation. The same sort of argument attempted to persuade somebody not a million miles from you that seeking to dismantle constitutional protection to achieve a short term rebuttal to a specific program was about as sensible as trying to nail yourself up on a cross of your own choosing to persuade people to follow you. But no, I thought angry men actually don’t care much about self preservation either, they are entirely targeting on dismantling the opposition and will do so even if it means their own certain demise. Was that not true wars could not happen.

    So if logic will not provide a buckler, facts will die like June bugs on a car windshield and self- preservation has no role then what? Can I appeal to human decency? Can I say, Hugh, if your family has been the subject of a race-based attack how would you like it and expect a non-defensive, reasoned answer? Experience tells me not. You would seek to distinguish on the facts where the accepted ethos goes against you. Lawyers do it all the time. If the facts are against you argue the law and if the law is against you rely on facts.

    And that Hugh is it. You win. Genocide never happened and if it did we should never apologize for it in case someone sues us.

    • Karen Wehrstein on

      Charles, I hope you didn’t delete that 5K word recounting, but kept it for publication elsewhere.

      I for one would like to read it.

      • Charles Wilson on

        Kind of you to ask.
        I got interested in the people governed by the Indian Act when I applied for a land grant under the Homestead Act in Peace River country. Under the provincial legislation the Crown in right of the Province was to grant to me and my family in perpetuity two quarter sections of land on the Blueberry.
        It was fairly good land, wooded but flat for the most part and well drained. All I needed to do under my contract with Her Majesty was to clears the trees, erect a home, put up some fencing and, well it wasn’t part of the deal but it turned out to be crucial to learn how to shoot straight. The local coyote having decided my carefully nurtured Sussex-bred sheep were a tasty snack some thoughtful idiot had set out before them.
        After a year during which I learned why for several thousand years nobody had tried to farm on the Blueberry tributary we had a visitor. A tall man with the sort of eyes that saw humour and you rather thought it might be you that was amusing him. He arrived, came over and accepted my invitation to sit— visitors being a fairly rare commodity some 18 miles from town. I offered tea, some scones and a glass of scotch from one of the few reaming bottles. He accepted all three and we sat on the stoop, fending off the mosquitoes and looking at the battle of the Somme wasteland I liked to call farming. He said nothing. We finished the impromptu meal and he got up.
        “How long are you staying?” he asked. I replied that under contact with the government I needed to stay five years and I expected to make it through a second winter. John looked at me and offered help. He told me he has two sons and one of them would come and blow out the stumps. This involved inserting explosives under the roots of felled trees and hoping it lifted the entire thing out of the ground so it could be burned. I accepted. John left.

        About a week later I was in town fetching supplies and a neighbor down the road approached me. “Hear you had a visitor”. he said looking down at his feet.
        “Yes, John, he was most helpful. He offered his son and a lot of blasting powder”.
        “ I know,” said my neighbor, “he made me the same offer last year”.
        Did you take it? I asked
        “Yep, I took it and wished I hadn’t. His son knows next to nothing about lifting tree roots and damned nearly killed me. You know who he is of course?”
        “No he just arrived”.
        “Well not exactly”, said my friend, “You just arrived. John and his family have been here for a very long time. Those trees you are blasting were likely planted by his grandfather or his great-grandfather and they will have had had a reason for doing that”.

        That was the end of the conversation outside the Marshal Wells store in that high street sixty or more years ago, and as things turned out I never did get to blast trees as the entirety of my homestead was taken back by the government for a huge dam site. John’s family trees are under several hundred metres of water together with the bones of my coyote-snack sheep and the remnants of my house. I took my $422 compensation for a year’s rather hard work and went back to writing for newspapers, this time in Afghanistan. John’s family got nothing.

        But I did wonder what John made of crazy white guys who work so hard on land for so little when all we really needed to do was sit back and observe what the land, tended properly would produce for us as his family had done for a millennium for more.

      • Charles Wilson on

        “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” is a line from the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It is spoken by Queen Gertrude in response to the overacting of a character in the play within a play created by Prince Hamlet to prove his uncle’s guilt in the murder of his father, the King of Denmark.
        The phrase is used by you, as it usually is, to indicate doubt concerning sincerity.
        You make the common misquotation placing methinks first, as in “methinks the lady doth protest too much”.
        The original comment is on a play within a play, the first time Mr. Shakespeare had tried it in a play he attributed to an obscure Danish Prince’s life. Hamlet was probably writing to reflect events much nearer home but because he depended upon Royal license in England and needed the Tudor then Stuart patronage he tended to wrote either historically inaccurate flattery as in Richard III or to use oblique third party references when critical.
        You and I live in a society where censorship is limited. This means not only is there an implied license to offer criticism of those in authority or who seek it but a responsibility to offer substance to that criticism. You may have failed to do that with your one liner. May I be permitted to ask, through the courtesy of these pages, what about the comment specifically you consider either insincere or inaccurate?
        The other way of taking your one liner is literally. Meaning, yes, it’s fine to protest but don’t do it too much. Which of course begs the question what exactly is the right amount of protest to those objecting to genocide denial?
        Should it be carefully rationed either by its quality or quantity?
        Should it be phrased more politely and diplomatically as in “Dear Editor: please don’t criticize those who, like the Prime Minister, support the findings of the Commission”?
        Or, as Mr. Irving wrote when attacked for his comments about death camps in Poland, should the commentary “……be limited to rebuttal of supportable facts and not conjecture based on wild surmise made by a conquering Allied Army taking up the cudgels on behalf of a group of people who may indeed have been targeted but were certainly never exterminated”.
        Were the trials at Nuremberg based on “wild surmise” as Mr. Irving suggested?
        Have subsequent events in Eastern Europe and Africa and now Syria and the Yemen and in today’s headlines in Kashgar where millions of Chinese citizens are detailed in modern concentration camps vindicated the Nazi’s genocide? And exactly what is the right amount of criticism for this sort of national bad boy behavior? Should we, as a nation appease for the release of our citizens? Should we condemn or seek to encourage others to condemn? What exactly is the correct ration of protest? And does out own acknowledgment of our own treatment of minorities, indigenous or otherwise, invalidate or validate our position? Or is even posing these questions “too much protest” in your mind?

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