Canada’s myopic view on ‘genocide’

By Sugeeswara Senadhira

Genocide is the intentional destruction of a particular group through killing, serious physical or mental harm, preventing births and/or forcibly transferring children to another group and this term has been applied to the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada, particularly in the final reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry.

Using the liberal use of the term ‘genocide’ to hoodwink the gullible Canadian public, Sri Lankan asylum seeker-turned Scarborough-Rouge Park Member of Parliament Vijay Thanigasalam influenced the Ontario Legislative Assembly to adopt a resolution that Sri Lanka subjected the Tamil community to genocide during the armed conflict. The Legislative Assembly voted in favour of Bill 104 (aka the Tamil Genocide Education Week Act), moved by Thanigasalam, at the Third Reading in the Legislature. The first reading took place on April 30, 2019, and the second on May 16, 2019.

Onetime open supporter of the LTTE, Vijay Thanigasalam was compelled to apologize for his infamous Facebook post: “Happy 57th birthday to our national Leader V. Prabhakaran.” He identified himself with the banned terrorist organization even after the end of war in 2009. As the protests mounted from Canadian democrats, he said, “In the past I shared material related to the Tigers. I apologize and I no longer hold those views.”

Infuriated over the ‘genocide’ Bill passed by Ontario Legislative assembly, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena summoned Canadian High Commissioner David McKinnon and expressed Sri Lanka’s deep concern over the adoption of Private Member Bill 104 on ‘Tamil Genocide Education Week’. The Minister pointed out that the position taken by the Ontario Legislative Assembly contradicted the Canadian Government’s stand. Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage pointed out to the Canadian High Commissioner the potential harm Bill 104 could cause to the reconciliation process, peace building and the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Gunawardena sought immediate intervention of the Canadian Government to stop Royal Assent by Lt. Governor of Ontario to the controversial Bill.

It is strange that Canada, a country with a black history of genocide of indigenous people, accused Sri Lanka of genocide when millions of Tamils live in harmony with Sinhala, Muslim and Christian people in every part of the island-nation.

Many scholars have accused Canada of cultural genocide too. Due to the objections of various nations, the 1948 UN Genocide Convention does not use the term cultural genocide, nor does the 1994 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Within Canada, however, indigenous people and some scholars have argued that programmes and policies of colonization, such as residential schools were intent on destroying indigenous peoples in Canada as a distinct group and were therefore acts of cultural genocide.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission labelled the residential school system as a case of cultural genocide. The final report defined cultural genocide as the “destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group.” It stated that residential schools “were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”

According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, the forced sterilization of indigenous women in Canada has also been viewed as an act of genocide. Sterilization legislation in Alberta (1928–72) and British Columbia (1933–73) attempted to limit the reproduction of “unfit” persons, and increasingly targeted indigenous women. Coerced sterilization of indigenous women took place both within and outside existing legislation, and in federally operated indigenous hospitals. The practice has continued into the 21st century. Approximately 100 indigenous women have alleged that they were pressured to consent to sterilization between the 1970s and 2018, often while in the vulnerable state of pregnancy or childbirth. Professor Karen Stote has argued that, in these ways, the coerced sterilization of indigenous women can be viewed as an attempt to undermine the ability of a group to exist.

S A landmark report on missing and murdered women in Canada has concluded that Canadians can no longer turn a blind eye to the “genocide” of indigenous people in the country. Indigenous communities across the country have for decades attempted to convey the depth and scope of a tragedy that has haunted thousands of families. As many as 4,000 indigenous women and girls are believed to have been killed or gone missing in Canada over the past 30 years – although the true number of victims is unlikely ever to be known. The findings of a three-year inquiry were released at a solemn ceremony in Quebec, attended by victims’ families, survivors, indigenous leaders and senior government officials. This was acknowledged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau too. “This is an uncomfortable day for Canada,” said the Prime Minister, “We have failed you.”

While LTTE activists such as Vijay Thanigasalam carry out disinformation campaigns to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka, so-called ‘Khalisthan’ supporters in Canada continue their mud-slinging against India. Anita Lal, director of the Canada-based World Sikh Organization, and co-founder of Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF) and Canadian Parliamentarian Jagmeet Singh have gone to the extent of hiring publicity firms to promote their ‘separate Khalistan’. It was revealed that the toolkit that was tweeted and then deleted by environmental activist Greta Thunberg, 18, to garner support for the ongoing farmers’ protest in India was allegedly “fed to her” as part of a “larger conspiracy to createisharmony” in India.

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