Trudeau says deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls amount to 'genocide'

Trudeau says deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls amount to 'genocide'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government accepts that the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls across Canada in recent decades amount to an act of "genocide."

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women. The inquiry report described the deaths and disappearances as "genocide."

Trudeau didn't use the term during his speech at the inquiry's closing ceremony on Monday — but took a step further today.

"We accept their findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide," he told a crowd in Vancouver Tuesday.

"There are many debates ongoing around words and use of words. Our focus as a country, as leaders, as citizens must be on the steps we take to put an end to this situation."

The 1,200 page report, delivered to the federal government in a nearly four-hour ceremony in Gatineau, Que. on Monday, included 231 recommendations for government, lawyers and police to address the levels of violence endured by Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

Using research from Statistics Canada, the report said Indigenous women and girls made up almost 25 per cent of all female homicide victims in this country between 2001 and 2015.

"This report is about deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide," said Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, during Monday's ceremony.

Trudeau's comments are a departure from his response the night before, when he attributed the "genocide" description to the report's authors.

"The national inquiry formally presented their final report, in which they found that the tragic violence that Indigenous women and girls have experienced amounts to genocide," he said Monday.

'Is that an act of genocide? Is it?'

The use of "genocide" to describe the violence facing Indigenous women and girls has been debated heatedly since news of the report broke late last week.

Retired Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire, who oversaw the 1994 UN mission in Rwanda that failed to prevent that country's genocide, questioned the use of the word.

"Is that an act of genocide? Is it?" Dallaire said, adding he has "a problem" with how the inquiry used the word. 

"My definition of genocide, I read it very deliberately at the start of the Rwandan genocide, and it was a deliberate act of a government to exterminate deliberately, and by force and directly, an ethnicity or a group or an entity of human beings."

The former senator did say he feels that Canadians, especially politicians, have responded ineptly to the needs of Indigenous women and girls.

"That is scandalous and that is unacceptable in a country that has a Charter and believes that all humans are human," Dallaire said.

Human rights lawyer and former attorney general Irwin Cotler also suggested the inquiry's use of the word genocide was inappropriate.

"Perhaps they had to use a term like genocide in order to sound the alarm and people will take notice and finally action will result," Cotler said Monday.

"But I think we have to guard against using that term in too many ways, because then it will cease to have the singular importance and horror that it warrants."

Trudeau's comments followed a commitment today to spend $1.4 billion starting in 2023 to advance the health and rights of women around the world.

He was speaking at the Women Deliver 2019 conference in Vancouver, where he told the audience the money would make Canada a global leader in funding sexual and reproductive health rights.