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UCP designate April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month

But they refused to include the genocide of the Indigenous people within Canada.

The Alberta government recently announced that it officially recognizes April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month.

The initiative is the result of efforts by Peter Singh, MLA for Calgary–East, who brought forth a private bill—Bill 205, Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month Actto the provincial legislature in October 2020.

The act presented by Singh had 5 purposes:

  1. Prevent acts of genocide by encouraging the government to develop strategies to combat the causes of genocide
  2. Recognize the impact of the atrocities of genocide on individuals who belong to the many different religious and ethnic communities of Alberta
  3. Remember those who were victims of genocide
  4. Promote better understanding of the causes of genocide, and
  5. Increase awareness of genocides that have occurred across the world

Further to the last purpose, the act lists 7 examples of genocide:

  1. The Armenian genocide, 1915–1917, by the Ottoman Empire
  2. The Ukrainian famine and genocide (Holodomor), 1932–33, by the Soviet Union
  3. The Holocaust, 1933–1945, byt Nazi Germany
  4. The Rwandan genocide, 1994, by the Rwandan military and police
  5. The Srebrenica massacre, 1995, by the Bosnian Serb military
  6. The Yazidi genocide, 2014, by ISIS
  7. The Rohingya genocide, 2017, by the by the Myanmar military

After the bill was approved by the legislative assembly for first reading, it went on to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, who met the following week to discuss the bill.

Here are the 11 members of that committee:

  • Ellis, Mike, Calgary-West (UCP), Chair
  • Schow, Joseph, Cardston-Siksika (UCP), Deputy Chair
  • Ganley, Kathleen, Calgary-Mountain View (NDP)
  • Glasgo, Michaela, Brooks-Medicine Hat (UCP)
  • Horner, Nate, Drumheller-Stettler (UCP)
  • Irwin, Janis, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood (NDP)
  • Neudorf, Nathan, Lethbridge-East (UCP)
  • Nielsen, Christian, Edmonton-Decore (NDP)
  • Nixon, Jeremy, Calgary-Klein (UCP)
  • Sigurdson, Lori, Edmonton-Riverview (NDP)
  • Sigurdson, R.J., Highwood (UCP)

Several committee members questioned Singh on the language used in the bill and the process used in drafting the bill.

Irwin, for example, asked him on the consultation process he used:

Did you consult multiple sources in landing upon that choice? Did you consult experts or scholars? If so, whom did you consult?

November 3, 2020, Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Transcript No. 30-2-7, p. PB-231

Singh responded, saying that he consulted no “stakeholders” when he drafted the bill. He felt that there was no need since he was using a list of genocides similar to one used by the House of Commons.

Interestingly, the list used when a Conservative MP introduced Canada’s Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month in 2015 (Harper’s last year in power), only 4 of the 7 genocides listed above were included:

  • The Holocaust
  • The Armenian Genocide
  • The Rwandan Genocide Memorial Day
  • The Holodomor

Jason Kenney, who was the federal multiculturalism minister in 2015, confirmed just these 4 examples in an official statement at the time. A statement this month from Bardish Chagger, the current minister of diversity and inclusion, also used just those 4 examples.

It seems then that Singh used some liberty in including examples of genocide that were in addition to the 4 mentioned by the federal government in 2015 and confirmed since. And if he took the liberty to include some additional examples, certainly he could’ve included others.

Lori Sigurdson questioned Singh on his lack of inclusion of the genocide indicated in the Truth and Reconciliation report.

Through the Truth and Reconciliation hearings and also through, you know, the murdered and missing women and girls work, we know that it’s been identified as atrocities against Indigenous people in our country, and they have been recommended as genocides also. I just wonder if you have considered that, looked at that.

November 3, 2020, Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Transcript No. 30-2-7, p. PB-232

Singh indicated that “cultural genocide . . . is not within the scope of this bill.” He then went on to discuss the residential school system, as if that was the only component of the cultural genocide that the Truth and Reconciliation report outlined.

He further stated that “our government is taking concrete
action to address racism and to remove barriers to prosperity for
Indigenous people” and that they are demonstrating their commitment to meaningful reconciliation through the following two initiatives:

  • The Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation
  • Modernizing the Police Act

Finally, he stated that he felt Indigenous History Month in June would be more appropriate for remembering the cultural genocide of Indigenous people by the Canadian state. Well, maybe not in quite the same way:

We currently observe June as indigenous history month, which includes highlighting the history of residential schools. I think that this independent month of recognition is actually more appropriate to honour the distinct history of Canada’s First Peoples. Further, June 21 is celebrated as National Indigenous Peoples Day. Again, this is an opportunity to learn about the heritage, culture, and achievement of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people.

November 3, 2020, Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Transcript No. 30-2-7, p. PB-232

Just to be clear, when asked whether he had considered including the cultural genocide of the Indigenous people within Canada, Singh said that we already have Indigenous History Month.

When committee member Nielsen specifically asked him “why have you not included [the genocide of Indigenous people] in your bill”, Singh said that he didn’t want to be divisive:

To avoid divisive arguments over any particular genocide, Bill 205 relies on the list recognized by the House of Commons because it represents a broad consensus of the nation. . . . The genocides listed in Bill 205 are meant to be a starting point of these conversations.

November 3, 2020, Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Transcript No. 30-2-7, p. PB-234

Following the questioning, as well as some committee debate, Nielsen made the following motion:

The Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’
Public Bills invite a maximum of six stakeholders with three
stakeholders chosen by each of the government and Official
Opposition caucuses to present to the committee on Bill 205,
Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month
Act, at an upcoming meeting and request that the caucuses submit
their lists of stakeholders to the chair by noon on Wednesday,
November 4, 2020.

November 3, 2020, Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Transcript No. 30-2-7, p. PB-238

The committee voted on the motion, but it was defeated 4–6:

For

  • Ganley (NDP)
  • Irwin (NDP
  • Nielsen (NDP)
  • Sigurdson (NDP)

Against

  • Glasgo (UCP)
  • Horner (UCP)
  • Neudorf (UCP)
  • Nixon (UCP)
  • Schow (UCP)
  • Sigurdson (UCP)

The following motion was then proposed by Irwin:

The Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’
Public Bills recommend that Bill 205, Genocide Remembrance,
Condemnation and Prevention Month Act, be amended to include
and recognize as a genocide the atrocities committed against
Indigenous peoples by colonialism, including the ongoing murder
and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls.

November 3, 2020, Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Transcript No. 30-2-7, p. PB-238

It, too, was rejected, with the same votes for and against.

Irwin then made a second motion, as follows:

The Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’
Public Bills recommend that the Assembly consider expanding
the list of genocides included in Bill 205, Genocide
Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month Act.

November 3, 2020, Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Transcript No. 30-2-7, p. PB-242

There was no indication in the discussion which other genocides (other than the Canadian genocide against Indigenous people) would be included in this proposed expanded list. Regardless, this motion was also defeated 4–6, along the same party lines.

The committee ultimately recommended that the bill proceed as Singh had drafted it. The NDP caucus of the committee included a minority report as an appendix to the recommendation, outlining the recommendations they had proposed but were voted down.

One final note. Here are the requirements for genocide, according to the UN convention that Singh had cited:

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

And as I have outlined elsewhere, it’s pretty clear that the violence committed against Indigenous people at the hands of the state directly or with the support of the state qualifies as genocide, cultural or otherwise.

The new act, which came into force, 1 January 2021—although it didn’t receive royal assent until the end of March—also directs the minister to complete a report within one year (by 1 January 2022), setting out strategies and proposed actions for the provincial government can undertake to fulfill the purposes I mentioned earlier.

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By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 4 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

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