Residential schools, reserves and Canada’s crime against humanity – by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail – June 6, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

The first thing worth knowing, in understanding the specific nature of the crime Canada stands accused of, is how recent it all really was.

Keep in mind that, until 1960, no First Nations were permitted to vote in a Canadian election. In other words, they had a legal status not of citizens but much more like that of wildlife. They could not, for much of the 20th century, leave the confines of a reserve without permission from a government agent. Indigenous Canadians often could not run businesses, borrow money, own property, or, in the case of Inuit from the 1940s to the 1970s, even have a name.

And at the centre of all this, the practice of seizing aboriginal children permanently and usually unwillingly from their parents, placing them in state custody, and subjecting them to the forced labour and isolation of residential “schools” – the subject of this week’s monumental Truth and Reconciliation Commission report – reached its peak at the very end of the 1950s and continued in significant numbers through the 1970s (the last residential school didn’t close until 1996).

Almost a third of aboriginal Canadians – 150,000 people – were raised, without access to their families, in these institutions (which were by any normal definition not educational but penal).

In other words, this is not about acts of vanished generations: A very significant proportion of still-living indigenous Canadians were personal victims of these abuses; the effects of such deprivation will last many generations, and may have only begun.

This is about modern Canada. And it is about a crime that carries the word “genocide.”

Many people will find both new and hard to accept the notion that Canada, and current Canadians, are accused of a crime as serious as genocide under international law.

The phrase “cultural genocide” has escalated almost overnight from an activist slogan and academic obscurity into official Canadian language, after the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada used it last week to describe the indigenous experience, and then the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created and authorized by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, used it as its central organizing concept in characterizing the experience of the last century.

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