'It was historic': Motion to call residential schools genocide backed unanimously

OTTAWA — A New Democrat member of Parliament says she will be holding the government accountable after her motion calling on the federal government to recognize Canada's residential schools as genocide passed with unanimous consent.

“It was historic,” said Leah Gazan, who represents Winnipeg Centre. “We moved the pendulum in quite an extreme way.”

Her motion, introduced Thursday after question period, referred to the United Nations convention on genocide adopted in 1948. It defines genocide as killing members of a group, causing them serious physical or mental harm, placing them under conditions to destroy them, imposing measures to prevent births or forcibly transferring children to another group.

She introduced a similar motion last year, not long after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Nation announced possible unmarked graves were located at the site of the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. At that time, it did not receive unanimous consent.

Gazan said she believes Pope Francis made a significant difference.

Francis apologized multiple times throughout his six-day visit to Canada in July for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools and other assimilation policies. He acknowledged it was genocide when asked by a reporter on the flight back to Rome.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools over a century. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has detailed mistreatment at the schools, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.

The commission’s final report in 2015 labelled what happened as “cultural genocide." But in the subsequent years many Indigenous leaders and experts have said it should just be called genocide.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he accepts the conclusion from the 2019 inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that "what happened amounts to genocide."

Gazan said she has briefly spoken with people in the Liberal government about next steps. She said there must be consultation with Indigenous people on how best to proceed.

“I think these things need to be done thoughtfully and carefully so that survivors can get the justice that they wait for and still deserve,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon

The Canadian Press