Transcript: We need to talk about genocide | Oct 14, 2021

You're listening
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(Funky instrumental playing)
Hi, Karina.
Hi, Pippa.
So, today we're talking
about a word that hits hard
and it's one that we feel
is especially urgent
for Canadians to
understand, well, right now.
The word is "genocide".
I think the first thing to
understand about this word
is that, when a state
officially recognizes
a historical crime
as genocide,
there's a lot of weight
behind the word, right?
So, when you hear it or when you
see it in the news,
it should catch your attention.
Yeah. So, the term was first
recognized and defined
as a crime under international
law in 1948,
which is, of course, right after
the end of World War II.
I think the Holocaust is the
most infamous example
that comes to mind of genocide
that most of us are familiar
in the Western world, at least.
I was actually quite
surprised in my research
to learn that the word
was coined in the 1940s.
I think I assumed it would have
been, like, a much older word.
Yeah, me, too. Yeah.
A Jewish lawyer named Raphael
Lemkin is credited
with coining the word in his
Axis Rule in Occupied Europe,
and he called it a modern word
for an old crime,
which I really like.
He combined the Greek "génos",
meaning a race or a people,
and the Latin word "caedere",
becoming the suffix "cide",
meaning "to kill" -
same suffix that gives us
"homicide", "insecticide."
After World War II,
Lemkin was instrumental
in pushing the UN
to recognize genocide,
and he was successful.
In 1948, the Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment
of the Crime of Genocide
was adopted officially.
So, we should probably go
through what elements
make a genocide a genocide.
Yeah, I think
that's a good idea. Okay.
So, there's a list of five
physical elements
of the act of genocide,
and those five elements can
in either armed conflict or
peace time,
and it includes killing
or deliberately inflicting
which would kill members of a
group -
be it national, ethnic, racial,
religious -
causing serious bodily or mental
imposing measures that prevent
births in that group,
and forcibly transferring
the children of that group
to another group.
So, you can see
that that definition
encompasses acts that aren't
just strictly killing, right?
Which is called "physical
genocide" is the killing part.
But it also includes things like
forcible sterilization
and taking away children and
other tactics
that are referred to as
biological genocide
or reproductive genocide.
So, that's the physical element
and the biological element,
but there's also a mental
that has to be present to call
it a genocide
and that's the intent to destroy
that group of people,
and this element of intent,
which is like a deliberate
organized targeting,
that element is obviously the
hardest to prove.
So, this really specific
sets genocide apart from a lot
of other terms.
So, in popular usage, you might
hear genocide
used interchangeably with words
or phrases like "pogrom"
or "ethnic cleansing"
or "a crime against humanity" or
but they are actually all
different things.
That's interesting.
The line between,
like, ethnic cleansing
and genocide specifically
seems really hard to parse.
Yeah, I thought so, too,
before I started researching
and it's that mental element of
intent that sets the two apart.
So, ethnic cleansing is like
a disorganized genocide.
There's no provable intent
to target and destroy a group of
people, right?
And it also doesn't have the
legal implications
that genocide does.
Or, like, this one surprised me
- take crimes against humanity;
I think most people think
is a crime against humanity,
like it's an umbrella term.
But legally, actually,
it's not a crime against
Yeah, so, like, a crime against
is systematic mass killing of
many individuals.
And genocide is not just
about killing individuals.
It's not concerned necessarily
with, like,
how many people are killed,
but more about the destruction
of the group,
the thing that binds them
So, killing one individual is
Dropping a bomb on a city,
killing lots of individuals is a
crime against humanity.
The Holocaust during World War
II is a genocide.
Side note -
"holocaust" is actually an
interesting word in itself.
It's derived from a Greek word
that is a translation of a
Hebrew word,
and it means "a burnt sacrifice
offered whole to God",
which is-- I mean, like,
it became used to refer
to the Holocaust,
like, you know, the Holocaust
because of the burnt part,
and it was sort of a reference
to the crematoria
used in Nazi extermination
That's chilling.
This is--
(Clearing throat)
This is a very dark
conversation we're having.
I know, it is.
My Google search history from
this episode
is a little worrying, but...
Okay. So, considering all of
these quite specific,
narrow legal definitions,
you can imagine the amount of
from heads of state on how they
label things, right,
that have happened in their
And genocide denial, on a
cultural scale,
not just heads of state, is
completely a thing, right?
Like, we've all heard of
Holocaust deniers.
Right? And another example
is there's a documented movement
in Bosnia
to deny that the Bosnian
in the '90s ever happened or
happened to quite the scale
that, like, international courts
found that it did.
Wow. That feels
so recent to deny, hey?
I know, right?
Another more ongoing example
is the situation
with the Uyghurs,
which is a mostly Muslim ethnic
minority in China,
and human rights groups right
now are accusing China
of crimes against
humanity and of genocide,
namely detaining Uyghurs,
carrying out forced
sterilization programs,
forced labour and quote-unquote
"re-education camps", right?
And Canada's House of Commons
voted overwhelmingly
to declare this a genocide,
along with several other
countries, including the US.
But China obviously denies
that this is going on.
So, today we are focusing on the
Canadian context of this word.
And I mean, this word has been
a hot button issue
in Canada for years now.
First, there was, in 2015,
the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission's report.
They use the term, quote,
"cultural genocide",
and there are a few reasons
why they might've chosen this
which we'll get into later.
But first and foremost, like,
this was not their mandate.
They were, in fact, not allowed
to make reference
to the criminal liability of any
person or organization.
And then, in 2019,
the Missing and Murdered
Indigenous Women and Girls
final report came out,
and it used the word "genocide"
with no caveats.
Which is a big deal.
And this year, as remains have
been recovered
from the grounds of residential
schools across the country,
this conversation has really
started up again,
with some people saying, yes,
what happened in Canada is a
and other people obviously
KARINA: Right.
So, by cultural genocide,
that means suppressing a
but not necessarily attempting
to, like,
physically kill
or wipe out a people.
So, that might include things
like destroying artefacts,
or banning languages, or
suppressing cultural activities
or religious persecution.
Another way of saying it might
be forcible assimilation
of one culture into another.
And when the UN was drafting the
Genocide Convention in the '40s,
they apparently considered
including cultural genocide,
but didn't ultimately do it.
So, this idea of cultural
is not actually included in the
UN definition.
Yeah. And a reference to
cultural genocide
only ever appeared in a draft
the UN Declaration on the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples
in the 90s - just in a draft;
it didn't make it
into the final document.
And many scholars today argue
that this is too
narrow of a definition.
Like, if the definition of
is eradication of a group,
then every method of eradicating
a group should be considered,
including cultural.
So, does what happened in
you know, meet the criteria of
genocide period?
Is it cultural genocide?
Does the difference
even really matter?
Basically, it's a complicated
and we wanted to talk to a
lawyer for this episode,
and I genuinely can't think of a
better guest
than who I ended up speaking
I had the total pleasure of
speaking with Michelle Good.
Michelle is a Cree writer,
activist and advocate,
and a member of the Red Pheasant
Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
Her career is truly fascinating,
if you'll allow me to do a quick
She worked for years in
Indigenous organizations,
then she spent about 15 years
practicing law,
primarily defending residential
school survivors.
And then, in 2020,
she published her debut novel -
Five Little Indians.
It has since won just about
every major literary award
that it could have, including
the Governor General's Award for
English language fiction.
This book has... been
(Both laughing)
So, I had prepared myself
for a pretty heavy conversation
with Michelle, right,
considering the topic,
but then we had
a surprisingly lively chat.
So, I just want to
play a chunk of it now,
and then we're going to come
back and talk about it.
(Funky instrumental music
The first thing we normally do
for the show
is ask our guests to define the
term in their own--
in their own words.
So, how do you define the term
Well, you know, as a lawyer and
a studier of history,
I define genocide according to
the Genocide Conventions.
And I mean, I suppose, if you
wanted to sort of look at it
outside of its legalistic
the way that I would describe it
is the intentional
destruction of a people.
This is something that I have
been talking about
for as long as I can really
remember, as an adult anyway.
And you know-- and there is a
real reluctance
on the part of Canada
to consider the actions of
colonial governments
as genocidal in nature,
and they try to soften the blow
Like, finally,
Beverley McLachlin -
the previous Chief Justice of
the Supreme Court of Canada -
articulated and described
what happened at residential
and other things as cultural
Well, there's no such thing as
cultural genocide.
Genocide is genocide, period,
the end.
There are five definitions of
in the Genocide Conventions,
and the fifth one is the
wholesale removal
of children from one group to
There's no-- no modifier.
It doesn't say cultural or
political genocide
or purple genocide.
It's just genocide.
When you attach a modifier,
like, "cultural",
it makes it sound like, "Oh,
okay, you know,
"so we took away your language,
"And we-- you know, we made your
ceremonial practices unlawful
"and, you know, we did all of
those things.
"And so, you know, now we're
gonna apologize
"and try to make amends."
But what it doesn't do is it
doesn't bring home,
for example, with the
residential schools,
that they were a life and death
Duncan Campbell Scott, who was
the superintendent of Indian
and a key person in the
and maintenance of the
residential school system,
posited in an essay that he
believed that, in many schools,
upwards of 50% of the kids died.
How could that not be genocide
without the "cultural" modifier?
So, I really, took issue when
McLachlin made the statement
that it was cultural genocide
because it sort of perpetuates
this notion
that it's something slightly
different from genocide
and I reject that.
I feel like people have started
taking away the word "cultural"
and just using the word
What do you think
is the value of that?
Like, what does that actually
concretely do
for the people who are harmed?
It acknowledges what happened.
It acknowledges that there was
an intentional effort
to destroy a people, our people,
Every little kid that was hauled
away to residential school,
that they were a victim of
and that kind of acknowledgement
is so important
because we didn't just
residential schools as
we experienced them
collectively, as a people.
So, it's really, really
important that people understand
that not just residential
but the entire colonial toolkit
was basically a toolkit of
genocidal instruments,
if you will,
one of which
was the residential schools.
When the UN defines genocide,
like, it matches so perfectly
with what we're talking about in
How as a nation, have we-- have
we not used to this word?
How have we skirted around this
Well, you know, it's part of the
entire agenda and, you know,
Winston Churchill once said,
"Gentlemen, history will be kind
to us
"because I intend to write
...and that's the reality of
Canadian history
is that we absorb Canadian
history through a colonial lens;
it's told through a colonial
So, a colonizer is not going to
"Yes, our practices were
genocidal", right?
I mean, it's just... yeah.
Are there any legal
ramifications or consequences
of a country admitting that
they've perpetrated a genocide?
Can you talk about what the
difference is
from a legal standpoint?
Well, there is no such thing as
cultural genocide.
There is no legal basis to say,
"Oh, here is how we define
cultural genocide."
The only thing there is, is
the Convention and, you know,
it's punishable and,
you know, it should be before
the International Criminal Court
in my mind.
What do you think would be the
resulting benefit?
Like, would it be helpful to
if there was a legal action?
You know, these kids, they were
There were kids that had needles
stuck through their tongues
as punishment for speaking their
You know, they had their head
shaved as punishment.
They were sexually assaulted.
All of these things happened to
these kids
and they got to see justice not
done, okay?
Nobody has brought these people
to account for the crimes
they committed against these
I think it would be a huge thing
for the healing and, you know,
the sense that what happened to
these kids mattered
and that somebody is prepared to
stand up
and say how wrong it was.
And it's really important to
note that this isn't new to us.
We've known about these burial
sites forever,
but nobody would listen and
nobody would do anything.
And when, when the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission
gave their calls to action to
the feds,
there are six calls to action
included in there,
from 71 through 76,
under the heading
"Missing Children and Burial
It was basically a roadmap for
how to address the situation
of missing children and the
absence of burial information.
And Harper was the prime
minister at the time
and he just-- they asked for a
million and a half dollars
to start that work.
It's peanuts,
it's pocket change,
and they said no,
they just said no.
What do you think of, um--
this is a bit of a baiting
question I feel,
but what do you think when
people talk about
this genocidal practice as
dark chapter kind of talk?
It's not history, you know?
These kids that are in these
unmarked graves,
they have living relations.
And not only that, but the
impacts of these schools
are impacts that we're feeling
and have been feeling
since the first one opened
and will still experience for
many generations to come
because of the absolute absence
of support, you know,
in terms of being able to work
to resolve the kinds of impacts.
When people do kind of make that
argument that, like,
it's in the past, you know,
are there practices today that
you point to,
to sort of line up
with that genocide criterion
that the UN set out?
Child welfare.
You know, do you know why the
residential schools wound down?
It certainly wasn't because the
government decided,
"Oh, this is an awful thing
and all these kids are dying,"
it wasn't that.
It was because the staff that
were working in the schools
wanted to be treated like
federal employees;
they wanted all the benefits,
the pensions,
healthcare benefits,
all that stuff that other
federal employees had
and the government said,
"Ehh, too expensive,
"so, we're going to start
winding down the schools."
That happened in 1969,
that's when they started winding
down the schools.
And so, that's why you have the
Sixties Scoop
and now we've got the child
welfare system.
I mean, are you familiar with
birth alerts?
So, you know, that was just a
matter of course,
whenever an Indigenous woman had
a child,
social services was called.
I mean, I have a story about a
professor in Manitoba
going in and having her baby and
social services comes in
and starts grilling her about
her capacity to be a mother.
So, yes, these genocidal
practices continue now
through the child welfare
where kids are being apprehended
at a rate
that is just... mind-boggling.
There's this whole reality that
exists just below the surface
that the average Canadian,
the average non-Indigenous
Canadian is just not aware of.
And I mean, I think over the
years, you know,
that's starting to change
because we're becoming--
through our own efforts, we're
making sure that it's known.
What do you think of the fact
that we're still debating this
The fact that this word still
feels like a current
topical controversial thing
Well, it doesn't feel
controversial to me, you know.
I mean, I probably shouldn't say
this, but I'm going to.
My father had a saying and my
father, one of his sayings was,
"Sometimes you have to call a
spade a goddamn shovel."
You know, it's just a false
narrative to be saying,
"Oh, genocide? What?
Maybe it was genocide."
It is so well-documented,
I mean, not only in government
which still exists,
and still we're going,
"Oh, were we trying to wipe out
a people?
"Hmm, I don't think we were
trying to wipe out of people."
It's nonsense.
Of course!
Of course they were trying to
wipe us out.
You know, the reason that this
term has been defined
in the first place is to ensure
that there is an outcome,
that there is recourse,
that there is punishment.
And if you look at the Genocide
conspiracy to commit genocide,
attempt to commit genocide,
complicity in genocide, they're
all punishable.
I'd love to see them punished.
You know, there needs to
be some kind of reckoning,
and that's what I feel about
these burial sites,
is that they are a reckoning.
To me, reckoning means bringing
out the truth,
bringing forward the truth.
And so, hopefully that will be
the truth
that will trigger
But what I think is one of the
barriers to reconciliation,
aside from the refusal to
acknowledge the truth,
is that non-Indigenous Canadians
think that reconciliation can
without there being any kind of
fundamental change
to their life or their
relationship to Canada,
and that's not the case.
It means that we must have
control of resources
sufficient to sustain us.
And so, that means that
something has got to give.
Um, okay,
thank you for being game for
this gigantic, heavy--
I love genocide.
Why-- why do you like--
'Cause it's the truth.
It's the truth.
And it's-- to me it's a major
stumbling block
in terms of non-Indigenous
being able to understand why
we're so pissed off, right?
Why we are so enraged by what's
been done to us
because it is genocide and
you know,
nobody in the world would think
for a minute,
they would never dream of saying
something like, you know,
"Oh, just forget about
the Holocaust,"
or you know, "Just forget about
9/11 for God's sake."
Right? "It's over,
it's in the past."
I mean, come on.
And so, talking about genocide,
I think,
will maybe inspire people to
what they think they know,
because they don't know.
I know it sounds so weird,
but I kind of get what Michelle
is saying when she's like,
"I love genocide."
It's like-- it's so dark, right?
But it's like-- it was this
weirdly obsessive
research hole to
be sucked down for me.
I was enthusiastically talking
about genocide
to my partner over breakfast the
other day.
(Karina chuckling)
For some reason,
I don't know why,
but it's one of those pieces of
that it feels empowering to know
more about.
I know. It's, like,
incredibly powerful content.
I feel very charged up about
So, we've mentioned birth alerts
in the interview,
and I just want to clarify
for people who
haven't heard of this,
as I actually hadn't until just
a few years ago.
So, birth alerts are a practice
where social services
basically flag an expectant
parent as a risk
to their unborn child before
the child is born,
which often initiates an
from child welfare agencies.
Their information is shared
between the hospital
and social services,
and this is usually done without
their knowledge,
without their consent, and is
often tied to their history,
including if they have a history
with child and family services,
even in cases where they were in
foster care
themselves growing up.
So, that child in foster care
grows up, has a kid,
and that birth is flagged.
Yeah. And this practice has been
used historically, you know,
towards Indigenous parents.
In fact, in BC, 58% of their
birth alerts in 2018
were on Indigenous parents.
Wow. Yeah.
That's huge.
Recently, many provinces have
actually stopped this practice,
but it is still used in
some parts of the country.
And this, I guess, is one piece
of the larger trend
that's been labelled the
Millennial Scoop
or sometimes the
Millennium Scoop.
In your interview,
Michelle mentioned
the Sixties Scoop -
the name for the removal of
Indigenous kids
from their homes and
and they were adopted out
into mostly non-Indigenous
families in the 1960s.
So, the Millennial
Scoop was coined
to point out that this practice
never really stopped.
Like, Indigenous children are
hugely overrepresented in the
care system.
And I was doing some reading for
this episode
and I read an article in The
by a Canadian genocide scholar
named Andrew Woolford,
and he was making
and expanding on basically that
same point, right?
That genocide isn't static or
fixed, it's a process,
and that a state carrying out
genocide is responsive
and it changes tactics a lot,
and that adhering to, like,
the strict UN definition
misses the point.
And he wrote that genocide
against Indigenous peoples
in Canada has just
mutated not ended.
Oh, that's fascinating.
And I think that point makes the
"will Canada ever be prosecuted
for committing genocide?"
even more complicated, right?
This was one of my big questions
when we got into researching
for this episode -
like, is a head of state
admitting to genocide,
them literally admitting
to the legally defined
international crime of genocide?
Right, because Trudeau has
that what was reported in the
Missing and Murdered
Indigenous Women and Girls
he said it amounts to genocide.
Yes, which comes very close to
"We acknowledge this is a
genocide," right?
It basically is,
but there's still some
Yeah. And I mean,
the fact is that governments
rarely acknowledge
that their own country has
committed mass murder, right?
So, a head of state like Trudeau
admitting to genocide
is significant, but it's not as
simple as admit to genocide
in a press conference,
be prosecuted for genocide.
So, let's talk about what could
happen next.
Since the discovery of
the unmarked graves
at multiple residential schools
in the country,
a group of lawyers has formally
that the International Criminal
investigate Canada for genocide.
So, a court could use Trudeau's
acknowledgement of genocide
as evidence if Canada is ever
but the case would need to be
taken up by the Hague.
And actually prosecuting for
is a gigantic undertaking
and there are many thresholds
that need to be reached
for the process to even begin.
And remember, they would be
literally prosecuting
the individuals responsible, not
just, like, Canada as a country,
and the Hague won't prosecute
low-level officials;
they only prosecute heads
of state
and very high ranking officials.
So, like, just for context, an
example of a genocide
that was actually carried
through to prosecution
and convictions is the Rwanda
and the international tribunal
was formed in 1994
and dissolved in 2015.
So, it was a nearly 20-year
dozens of individual trials and
and it cost over a billion
Wow. Yeah.
Yeah. All this to say this would
be a huge--
a huge undertaking for Canada
to be prosecuted for genocide.
Right. And experts say it's
pretty unlikely
and that Trudeau's public
acknowledgement that, like,
what was in the inquiry amounts
to genocide,
it's more of a symbolic gesture
because there's no official
motion or bill
to vote and declare this all as
a genocide,
violating the UN treaty
as of now, right.
Trudeau just said the word
at a press conference.
One thing we haven't mentioned
is that Canada actually has
our own definition of the word
In Canada's Crimes Against
Humanity and War Crimes act,
it's, quote, "An act or omission
committed with the intent
"to destroy in whole or in part
a group of persons."
The important word there being
The National Inquiry into
Missing and Murdered
Indigenous Women and Girls
released a supplementary report
all about their
analysis of genocide,
and they point out in this
report that the failure to act
can constitute genocidal conduct
in this Canadian framing, right?
So, while people might disagree
whether or not Canada has
or is perpetrating a genocide,
it's really interesting to think
that, as a country,
we have a more expansive
definition of that word
that we are beholden to.
Yeah, it is.
Um, I feel like this is an
that could genuinely
go on for an hour.
(Both laughing)
So, maybe that's a good place to
leave it.
This episode was recorded
on the traditional territories
of many nations,
including the Wendat,
the Anishinaabe,
Haudenosaunee, Métis,
and the Mississaugas
of the Credit First Nation.
Where Karina and I live is about
a 50 minute drive
from one residential school site
- the Mohawk Institute -
which is near Branford, which
closed in 1970.
And about an hour and a half
is the Alnwick Industrial School
near Peterborough,
which closed in 1966.
Yeah. It's important to remember
that this isn't, like,
deep in a history book, like,
a long, long, long time ago.
It's relatively recent.
Yeah, and it didn't happen that
far away.
Yeah. And it's not, like,
wrapped up neatly with a bow, by
any means.
No. So many of these practices
we've talked about
continue to this day.
By the way, I got those
via the interactive residential
school map from the CBC,
which we will link to in the
show notes.
I'll also note that this content
can be really troubling.
We'll be posting the details
of the Residential Schools
Health Support Program's
if you are or know residential
school survivors
of any generation who may need
Thanks to everyone at TVO who
makes this show possible
and thank you for listening.
(Funky instrumental playing)

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