The MMIWG's stance is certainly bold. It won't work


National Post, 7 June 2019

Its view that Canada is an immoral conspiracy driven by genocidal hatred simply does not comport with this country's record

“Today, the commissioners and I hold up a mirror to Canada,” Chief Commissioner Marion Buller said when presenting the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

It is doubtful that Canadians will recognize the reflection as presented by the inquiry’s report. This is what the commissioners saw:

“Canada is a settler colonial country,” they began. “European nations, followed by the new government of ‘Canada,’ imposed its own laws, institutions, and cultures on Indigenous Peoples while occupying their lands. Racist colonial attitudes justified Canada’s policies of assimilation, which sought to eliminate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples as distinct Peoples and communities. Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA* people, has become embedded in everyday life — whether this is through interpersonal forms of violence, through institutions like the health-care system and the justice system, or in the laws, policies and structures of Canadian society. The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue. The National Inquiry finds that this amounts to genocide.”

* (2SLGBTQQIA, employed to include “gender-diverse and non-binary people,” stands for “Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual.”)

It is a conclusion clearly intended to shock: Canada has been, from the beginning, a criminal enterprise. And crimes against humanity at that. The shock is not only in the choice of language, it is presumably intended as a shock to the conscience of the nation.

The MMIWG report has employed a different approach than we have seen in civil rights struggles across the world.

The previous approach stressed that the governing power had not lived up to its promises, to its own self-understanding. Perhaps the best example of that is Martin Luther King’s speech at the March on Washington, when he proclaimed, “I have a dream … that is deeply rooted in the American dream.”

King used the image of a “promissory note,” that the American founding and the Emancipation Proclamation made promises that were not kept. If America was to be true to herself, then she had to honour that note.

“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt,” King said. “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this cheque, a cheque that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

In other times and other places — India, Poland, South Africa, Ukraine — a similar argument has been made. If the governing power is to be true to itself, to its own best traditions and its self-understanding, then justice for the suffering and the afflicted must follow. Abraham Lincoln was after something of that in his first inaugural when he spoke to a nation on the brink of war about not breaking “our bonds of affection” and calling all “to the better angels of our nature.”

That has been the argument generally put by civil rights advocates. Even those living under communist tyranny would point out that the official constitutions called for religious liberty, or that the Soviet empire had itself signed on to the Helsinki protocols for human rights.

The MMIWG report rejects that approach. Canada is not a noble project that has failed to include, or even betrayed, those who by right are a part of it. Rather, Canada was ill-founded on unjust principles, and the murder and mayhem suffered by Aboriginal women today is not a bug, but a feature of an illegitimate regime.

The report is not shy about hiding its frustration — exasperated anger actually — that the previous promises of reform have failed. It is understandable that the commissioners may have concluded that a different, more condemnatory, approach is required.

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