How Does Canada Escape Prosecution for Genocide?

Review of Tamara Starblanket's Suffer the Little Children

Can Canada continue to commit what is an enumerated act of genocide by the UNGC [United Nations Genocide Convention] and excuse itself by continuing to say that it is not intending what the Genocide Treaty recognizes as the result of such an act… ?

— Tamara Starblanket1

Genocide is a heinous crime that fractures and dehumanizes humanity. Science tells us that we are all taxonomically Homo sapiens. Yet most of us tend to divide into Us and Them groupings, sometimes leading to in-group and out-group competition that can turn violent. In the worst cases, the monstrous result is the decimation of the different group.

The carrying out of a genocide doesn’t require annihilatory bombing or the mowing down of a particular targetted group. Neither does genocide require a lightning temporality in execution. Genocide merely requires the intent to bring about the destruction of a targetted group by whatever manner, unbounded by a specific timeframe. Humans steer genocide: a malicious force capable of an evil genius in linguistically guising its execution, as well as being capable of extreme patience in achieving its pernicious aims.

A particular example of an under-the-radar genocide is that carried out by European settler-colonialists who denationalized all the Original Nations of the western hemisphere. There are non-indigenous people who are aware and acknowledge that genocide occurred, but few would realize or acknowledge that the genocide continues. That is much of the importance of Tamara Starblanket’s Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018).

Starblanket is a Nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) from Ahtahkakoop First Nation in Treaty Six Territory — in the region colonially designated as Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. Her Suffer the Little Children is based on her Master of Laws thesis which, she relates, met with obstruction from “Canada’s academic gatekeepers.”2

Suffer the Little Children details the Canadian state’s Indian Residential School (IRS) program — a policy whose intent was the disappearance of Indigenous peoples. As such it constitutes genocide. Moreover, by prefacing the genocide with the descriptor “cultural,” as in cultural genocide, the destruction seemingly points to the abstraction of culture, thereby eliding the lethal effects on humans.

Starblanket cuts through the lexical obfuscation and compellingly makes known that the genocide continues “in somewhat altered form, and the toll continues to mount.” (p 22)

One narrative, however, is largely controlled by the state and dependent media. A stark example is the “apology” read by then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper about the “sad chapter” of the IRS.

How sincere an “apology” was it? Has the Canadian state subsequently set out to meaningfully atone for the genocide? The author asks:

But has the Canadian state put effort into assisting the victims of the residential schools to re-learn traditional parenting skills before the birth of children? Has the state stopped the forcible removals in the child welfare system? All of this aggravates not mitigates the Canadian government’s conduct? (p 265)…

It is hypocritical for the state of Canada and Canadians to pretend to Indigenous Peoples and Nations and to the world at large that they are ‘sorry’ when it’s obvious the Canadian state, at least, is anything but…. Furthermore, there is no ‘apology’ that would undo or make the atrocious crimes it has engaged in ‘forgiveable’. It is a smokescreen designed by the colonizer to absolve itself of the crimes it knowingly engages in against the innocent.” (p 273-274)

The “apology” was followed by a government-created Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to document the history and make known what happened in IRS. Starblanket, however, argues that “the TRC adheres to the federal script in every significant respect,” (p 27) evades addressing genocide, (p 28) and is “very far from the truth.” (p 28)

The Canadian government apparently attempted to burnish its image based on the goodwill and generosity demonstrated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. In South Africa, the TRC was establised by the people who survived the apartheid regime — not by the oppressors. Unlike in South Africa, the Canadian TRC was set up by the colonial-settler political estalishment.

Evading a monstrous crime such as genocide is problematic on many levels, including legally and morally; nonetheless the evasion continues in Canada. One legal obstacle is demostrating the intent of the genocidaire. Starblanket writes that “the specific intent requirement actually serves the denial of genocide due to its difficulty to prove.” (p 32)

Starblanket cites the International Criminal Tribunal findings in Karadzic and Akayesu as indicating: “If the destruction is massive, widespread and systematic this will satisfy the specific intent requirement.” (p 74)

However, Canada and the colonial powers displayed bad faith in the drafting of the UNGC. “In effect, as a result of the colonial powers’ dominance over the drafting process, international laws fail to protect against the imposition of a colonial framework of destruction over Indigenous Peoples.” (p 77) “The necessary point to draw … is that colonialism is regarded as a genocidal process by the very fact that it came up in the drafting process of the genocide convention.” (p 81)

Starblanket argues that Canada was aware of legal loopholes in the Genocide Convention that would allow it to evade culpability. (p 213) Furthermore, “If Canada intended to have entire segments of the convention excluded from its domestic laws, it was under an obligation to make a formal reservation.” (p 229)

That the forced transfer of children has taken place suggests an implied reservation by Canada. (p 229) Yet the International Court of Justice determined that parties to the Genocide Convention could not make sovereign reservations to the convention. (p 232) Building her case further, Starblanket points to Article 18 of the Vienna Convention which prohibits states involved in criminal conduct from entering into treaty on such a conduct, in this case genocide. (p 235)

Starblanket describes the IRS as a total institution, an institution whose purpose is dehumanization. (p 97, 342) Among the outcomes wrought by the IRS total institution are:

  1. linguicide3 — as the state realized the importance of transmitting culture from one generation to the next and sought to stultify such transference; colonial language attempts to finalize domination and dehumanization (p 162); “… children do not learn that we have names in our original languages that identify our lands and territories.” (p 189); “Spiritual laws are encoded into Indigenous languages.” (p 202)
  2. deculturation
  3. religious indoctrination
  4. slave labor
  5. torture
  6. starvation
  7. trauma — such as compelling Indigenous students to witness the public execution of eight Cree men (p 118)
  8. beatings, rapes, killings — all this disguised euphemistically to thwart legal efforts proving state culpability. (p 156)

The genocide continues unabated. The author writes that the IRS negated adult survivors’ ability to parent. IRS children lived the example of violence used to coerce their obedience. Post-IRS enter the child welfare system and children continue to be “removed” and isolated from biological parents, family, community, and their First Nation. This was not, as the language implies, a Sixties Scoop. Starblanket finds that such naming masks the ongoing genocide within Canada’s child welfare system. (p 221) The ongoing genocide is revealed by 2011 statistics: whereas Indigenous children represent 7% of all children in Canada, they account for 48% of children placed in foster care. (p 133-134)

Starblanket points to cognitive conditioning whereby:

… ‘laws of occupation’ … serve as the cornerstone of legalized persecution and oppression of Indigenous Nations in the colonizer’s quest for land. Colonial domination justified by the dehumanizing Western doctrine of racial superiority is vital to the process of genocide. (p 190)

Starblanket states her purpose explicitly: “The application of the law to show beyond a reasonable doubt, to say nothing of a preponderance of evidence, that the Canadian government is culpable for crimes of genocide.” (p 244) After reading Suffer the Little Children, it is difficult to rationally or morally reach a different conclusion.

The book is bold and well-argued, and it should be read widely; however, a few points vexed me.

1) Starblanket cites the ruling from Akayesu and the purported genocide of Tutsis committed by Hutus. (p 263) Granted, Starblanket is interested in the legal determinations concerning the genocide, and, of course, the ruling of the court has salience. However, when the validity of the court is dubious and the question is raised of whether a genocide could be insidiously twisted such that the perpetrators escape justice and even benefit from the horrific crime then such matters demand addressing.4,5

2) Starblanket cites academics David MacDonald and Graham Hudson who state that there have been few occasions for Canadian courts to consider the Genocide Convention in criminal proceedings. (p 211; See David MacDonald and Graham Hudson, “The Genocide Question and Indian Residential Schools in Canada,” 2012. PDF: p 14.) Suffer the Little Children has not cited Bruce Clark, PhD in comparative law,6 who has doggedly (some may say overzealously; but how can one be overzealous in fighting against genocide?) attempted to pursue the matter of genocide in Canadian courts where he and his clients have been stymied by the legal system’s Catch-22. This is missing from MacDonald and Hudson’s paper and Starblanket’s thesis. It seems pertinent.

Starblanket replied that she was not encouraged to include Clark’s work since she was building her own case and it was considered unnecessary to prove her legal arguments to her committee.7 Maybe so. But it seems crucial to points she raised in her book.8

3) Granted, Starblanket is focused on IRS and Article 2(e) of the Genocide Convention: “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Yet no mention was made of biological warfare against Original Peoples.9

A Quick Historical Overview, Solution, and Duty

The Original Peoples had lived on Turtle Island for millennia when the Europeans first reached the continent’s shores. The Europeans brought with them their supremacist notions and dehumanized the Original Peoples as savages and heathens. Preposterously, the colonial-settlers considered that this gave them the right to dispossess the First Nations and wreak a genocide. First Nations’ children were kidnapped and indoctrinated into the White man’s ways. Today, the dispossessed remain dispossessed and the genocide continues within the child welfare system.

The solution (the only solution according to the author) to the injustices lies in Indigenous peoples ridding themselves of the yoke of colonial dispossession and seizing what is their sovereign right to self-determination.

Starblanket speaks to non-indigenous Canadians:

It is up to you finally to be the generation of settlers that stands up against the crimes that are committed against Original Peoples and Nations of this Western hemisphere and the world. (p 278)

I concur. For those not already aware (and those who wish to deepen their knowedge), read the book and stand in solidarity against the crimes that are committed against Original Peoples and their nations.

  1. In Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018): p 208. []
  2. Academic gatekeeping regarding Original Peoples is no surprise to this writer. See “Canadian Government and Academia: ‘Othering’ Original Peoples,” Dissident Voice, 2014. []
  3. In 1890, 100% of First Nations people spoke the Indigenous tongue compared to 5.1% in 2010. “Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages 2010.” []
  4. See Keith Harmon Snow, “The Rwanda Genocide Fabrications,” Dissident Voice, 13 April 2009 and “Real Rwandan Genocide and Brainwashing of the Western Mind,” Dissident Voice, 11 April 2014. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson in Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014) write that the victims and the perpetrators of genocide have been inverted, abetted by the US, UK, and Canada. Moreover, “a larger–apparently substanially larger–death toll was suffered by Hutu [compared to Tutsi]…” []
  5. Keith Harmon Snow, who has been working on the politics of genocide for years, sees the merit and power of Starblanket’s book. But he wonders, “How so many people cite wrong cases of genocide, or fail to cite true cases, and all the other kinds of political, intentional, accidental, ethical errors and commissions and propaganda.” Snow considers, “Akayesu, and many of the other cases were a complete sham.” Snow particularly dissents from Starblanket’s promulgation of the establishment narrative on page 74: “‘(Tutsi peoples)’ as victims but this lacks all appropriate situating of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity in Rwanda, and so it contributes to the perpetuation of genocide (ongoing) against the Hutu peoples in service to the establishment interests.” Herein Snow identifies a problem: “On the one hand she [Starblanket] wants to challenge the establishment; on the other she uses the tools of the empire (establishment agents) to try to do so.” Personal communication, 1 August 2018. []
  6. Clark is the author of Indian Title in Canada (1986) and Native Liberty, Crown Sovereignty: The Existing Aboriginal Right of Self-Government in Canada (1990), Justice in Paradise (2004), and the upcoming (2018) Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights. []
  7. Dana Kaminstein, professor and capstone advisor at the University of Pennsylvania states, “The literature review for a master’s thesis or capstone… needs to be a substantive part of the paper. The focus should be on making sure that the literature that is covered is directly related to the research question(s) in the thesis, as well as being clear about what areas have been left out, and the reasons for excluding them. (p 3) []
  8. E.g., at footnote 88 (p 352) Starblanket writes, “The point being there is no Canadian Court that has applied the term genocide or acknowledged the application of genocide in international law to government culpability into genocide.” That is precisely what Clark has been struggling against at great personal cost. []
  9. See Tom Swanky, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific plus The Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations Resistance (Burnaby, BC: Dragon Heart Enterprises, 2012). Review. []
Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.