I'm aware that Canada, unlike its southern neighbor in which I live, has just recently, ever so slightly, stood up to certain of the horrors of the Saudi government. I'm aware of the role Canada has played, albeit imperfectly, as refuge for people fleeing U.S. slavery and U.S. wars and general U.S. backwardness. I'm aware of how many times through history the United States has attacked Canada. I'm aware that just several yards in front of me as I sit in my outdoor office (the downtown mall of Charlottesville) a small army is gleefully creating a police state on the anniversary of a Nazi rally at which similar numbers of soldiers, similarly armed, stood by and watched fascist violence last year. I agree with Robin Williams' characterization of Canada as a nice apartment over a meth lab.
But here's the thing. I'm a world citizen not owned by the Pentagon. When we hold World BEYOND War's annual global conference in Toronto next month, Canadians will, if they are like most people on earth, be eager to discuss Canada's shortcomings, not its highpoints. I've been reading about some of those shortcomings, and they are not insignificant. Canada is a standout player when it comes to environmental destruction, and in the colonial brutality that still feeds that destruction.
The theme of our upcoming conference is the rule of law, its uses, its abuses, and its potential as a local and global tool. I've just read Tamara Starblanket's Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations, and the Canadian State. This is a lawyer's view of the Canadian history and present practice of forcibly removing children from families. While the U.S. removal of immigrant children from their families has been in the news of late, it's not been newly invented. Both settler-colonist Canada and Nazi Germany learned from the U.S. practice of removing Indigenous children from their families in order to "educate" them into another culture.
A major focus for Starblanket is the legal and linguistic case for applying the term "genocide" and the crime of genocide to the forcible removal of Indigenous children in Canada and their placement in so-called residential schools. It ought to be no mystery that kidnapping is evil and criminal, just as it ought to be no mystery that murder is evil and criminal. But "genocide" is something different from those crimes -- different not in quantity or grandeur, but in type. Genocide is an act "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." Such an act can involve murder or kidnapping or both or neither. Such an act can "physically" harm no one. It can be any one, or more than one, of these five things:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;- Advertisement -
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The actions in item "e" can transfer children to a materially better condition where they are educated in a culture that views itself as dramatically superior, and yet genocide have been clearly committed. That is a clear matter of international law. It is not a claim that all acts of genocide are equally evil, that all victims are equally tragic, that all types of genocide can best be prevented in the same way, or any other such unstated claim.
But the idea of removing children to a materially better condition is a theoretical one irrelevant to the Canadian context, at least when viewed as a whole. The Indigenous children removed from their families in Canada were forced into "schools" where over 40% and likely over 50% of them quickly died, from disease, starvation, torture, rape, suicide, and physical and mental abuse. Of those forced into Dachau by the Nazis, 36% died, Buchenwald 19%, Mauthausen 58%. The Canadian "schools" employed a list of torture techniques that could make a CIA agent drool with envy.
A survivor, Emily Rice, is quoted by Starblanket:
" I clung to Rose until Father Jackson wrenched her out of my arms. I searched all over the boat for Rose. Finally I climbed up to the wheel house and opened the door and there was Father Jackson, on top of my sister. My sister's dress was pulled up and his pants were down. I was too little to know about sex; but I now know he was raping her. He cursed and came after me, picked up his big black Bible and slapped me across the face and on top of the head. I started crying hysterically and he threw me out onto the deck. When we got to Kuper Island, my sister and I were separated. They wouldn't let me comfort her. Even today, all my sisters are strangers to me."
Numerous top Canadian officials over the years stated clearly that the intention of the child-removal program was to eliminated Indigenous cultures. Placing their words and Heinrich Himmler's words about a similar Nazi program side-by-side finds them virtually interchangeable. In the words of various Canadians, the intent was to utterly remove "the Indian problem." I suspect, though Starblanket doesn't discuss it, that part of why U.S. as well as Canadian genocidists perceived an "Indian problem" was that it was impossible to persuade Indigenous adults to adopt the settler-colonist culture, while numerous settlers happily adopted the Indigenous culture and refused to give it up. In other words, fierce methods were needed to destroy cultures precisely because of their desirability -- making the acts crimes against humanity, and not-incidentally against the rest of the natural environment.
Proving the crime of genocide does not require the statement of intent, but in this case, as in Nazi Germany, as in today's Palestine, and as in most if not all cases, there is no shortage of expressions of genocidal intent.