Showing posts with label genocide. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genocide. Show all posts

Tuesday 8 February 2022

What if China Isn't Using Forced Labour?

Poor Saddam Hussein!

I can't bring myself to sympathize with Saddam Hussein, but still, I think about the lead-up to the second Iraq war (which, by the way, cost 151,000 to 1,033,000 lives--depending on whose statistics you believe). Over and over again, in anticipation of the 2003 invasion, we were told that all Saddam had to do was turn over his "weapons of mass destruction."  Imagine Saddam's frustration!  He couldn't halt the invasion by turning over his weapons of mass destruction because he didn't have any.  Just saying he had no WMDs wasn't going to do anything because the US had the witness statements of Iraqi defectors, CIA intelligence reports, recordings and leaked documents, and, of course, the satellite images which Colin Powell presented to the UN.

Here We go again!

I've read the Uyghur Forced Labor Act and its earlier drafts, the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force "Report to Congress," and the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (aka USMC Implementation Act) in an effort to figure out what's really going on. According to the draft Act approved by Congress, the USA knows that China is using forced labour in Xinjiang because they have witness statements, "official media reports, publicly available documents, official statements, and official leaked documents from the Government of the People’s Republic of China" and, wait for it . . . "satellite imagery."  Of the reports, articles, documents and statements I've read, some assert that "China is the new evil empire" but none provide conclusive evidence of "forced labour." Of all the human rights abuses the Chinese regime is being accused of--mass incarceration without trial, repression of free speech and religion, coercive family planning, forced assimilation, invasive surveillance--the least evident and most difficult to prove would be "forced labour."

Satellite Imagery

The Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has taken the lead in providing satellite imagery of Xinjiang. The ASPI describes itself as "an independent, non-partisan think tank" but is equally forthcoming that most of its funding comes from Australia's Department of Defence and other government agencies.  Australia is of course a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and has recently reinforced its allegiance with the USA in opposition to China.  

The ASPI's interactive map, indicating images of hundreds of detention centres, mosques and religious sites, still requires a leap of faith that what we are looking at--buildings with walls, turrets and fences--are in fact prisons, detention centres and re-education facilities whose inmates are used for forced labour.  The same suspension of disbelief that Collin Powell invoked when he showed satellite images of buildings in Iraq and told the UN that they were production and storage facilities for "weapons of mass destruction" is once again being called for.

What's really going on?

Just as "weapons of mass destruction" provided the pretext for the war in Iraq when the protection of western oil interests was widely believed to be the more credible and obvious cause, this time "forced labor" is being used as an excuse to escalate the USA's geopolitical contest with China.  Of all the crimes that the USA might accuse China of, why focus on "forced labor"?  China has a history of moving its workforce from one part of the country to another, separating families for long periods of time.  Arguably, "forced labour" has been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years.  Why has Chinese "forced labor" become a US obsession in 2021-22?  How do you prove "forced labor" from thousands of miles away?

Rebuttable Presumption

The Uyghur Forced Labor Act provides a simple solution in Section 3: "REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION."  "Rebuttable presumption," a concept in law that, in the simplest of terms, means guilty until proven innocent.  Therefore, the US government is instructing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to assume that anything being imported from China is the product of forced labour until proven otherwise.  

What if China isn't using forced labour?

What if China isn't using forced labour?  It really doesn't matter.  What is or isn't accepted into the USA will be determined through negotiations between CBP (and various other US intelligence services) and the American company doing the importing.  Contrary to my claim in the previous post, Walmart will no doubt lobby for an exemption.  As outlined in the New York Times article, "U.S. Effort to Combat Forced Labor Targets Corporate China Ties," Coke Cola, Nike and Apple have already begun lobbying.

The Tariff Act of 1930

Oh my naivety!  You may not have detected it but, in my previous posts, I was struck by how quickly and easily American legislators seemed to accept claims of genocide and human rights abuses without challenging the sources or questioning the substance of the evidence.  I was confounded by the fact that US legislators focused on "forced labor," the most difficult accusation to prove, rather than any other of claimed abuses.  I was unaware of the Tariff Act of 1930 and its recent amendments.  It is perhaps worth noting that until 2016, US law . . .

permitted the importation of goods made by forced labor “if the goods were not produced in such quantities in the United States as to meet the consumptive demands of the United States.”

US legislators honed in on "forced labor" because the recently amended law was already on the books, in international and US law, against "forced labor."  This was the approach that would allow them to block, on a fairly ad hoc basis, any and all imports from China.  A law designed to protect against child labour, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and slave labour is being used to block the advancement of a global competitor. 

Is Canada going to be played again?

Article 3 of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act requires the US government  . . . 

(3) to coordinate with Mexico and Canada to effectively implement Article 23.6 of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to prohibit the importation of goods produced in whole or in part by forced or compulsory labor, including those goods mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region;

Did US negotiators anticipate in the summer of 2020 when the USMC trade agreement was being signed and Canada had accepted "the China clause" barring a Canada-China free-trade deal without notifying the US, and Canada had accepted the US request to arrest Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei CFO, further driving a wedge between Canada and China, that they also had Article 23.6, an ace up the US sleeve, to further prevent trade between Canada and China? Will the Canadian government respond to the Uyghur Forced Labor Act and Article 23.6 of USMC, the same way they did the US-Canada Extradition Treaty in the Meng case? Will we once again find ourselves in a trade war with China to the detriment of Canada for the benefit of the USA? And the answer is . . .

It's a Done deal

According to the Government of Canada website entitled "Public Safety," the ban on "forced labour" imports became law in Canada two years ago.

Canada has imposed an importation ban on goods that were produced by forced labour, as described in An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States, which received Royal Assent on March 13, 2020. As described in paragraph 202(8), Chapter 98 item No. 9897.00.00 of the Customs Tariff, the law has been amended to include a reference prohibiting goods mined, manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour. These amendments made under the Act came into force in Canada on July 1, 2020, as outlined in CBSA Customs Notice 20-23, Import prohibition on goods produced wholly or in part by forced labour.

Friday 26 March 2021

On Reading "The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China's Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention"

 Apologist for China, Me?

In response to numerous posts I had written on Canada's arrest and detention of the Huawei CFO, Meng Wangzou, I was given friendly advice from a couple of sources that, in light of allegations of an Uyghur genocide,  I should not appear to be an apologist for China.  My immediate defense, even if unnecessary and unspoken, was that I had little or nothing to say about China.  My concern was Canada, what was in the best interest of Canada and Canadians.  As I've already said too many times on this blog, Canada's holding Meng for trial isn't moral or legal.  It isn't even strategic or advantageous from any Machiavellic realpolitik perspective.  It's just plain dumb. The only rationale which justifies her continued detention is the underlying, irrational fear that if we release her, the next day American tanks would come rolling across the border and Justin Trudeau would find himself sharing a cell with Manuel Noreiga.  Even in the Age of Trumpery, I had more respect for our southern neighbours than this.

Canada Declares a Genocide in China?

Despite my reluctance to comment, all the less so, to be an apologist for China; somehow China keeps becoming a Canadian story.  In January, the Canadian parliament passed a "non-binding" Conservative Party resolution declaring China's treatment of the Uyghurs a genocide.  Here is the resolution in full:

January 25, 2021 — Mr. O’Toole (Durham) — That,
(a) in the opinion of the House, the People's Republic of China has engaged in actions consistent with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260, commonly known as the "Genocide Convention", including detention camps and measures intended to prevent births as it pertains to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims; and
(b) given that (i) where possible, it has been the policy of the Government of Canada to act in concert with its allies when it comes to the recognition of a genocide, (ii) there is a bipartisan consensus in the United States where it has been the position of two consecutive administrations that Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims are being subjected to a genocide by the Government of the People's Republic of China, the House, therefore, recognize that a genocide is currently being carried out by the People's Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, and call on the government to officially adopt this position.

Because Mike Pompeo Said So . . .

I found the justification that 'this is what they are doing in the United States' less than satisfying.  All the more so because the original American genocide declaration was more officious than official--with Mike Pompeo making the declaration 24 hours before the end of the Trump presidency and his tenure as Secretary of State. However, as various media have reported, the incoming Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, has expressed his agreement with Pompeo's declaration.

An "Independent " Report

The Uyghur Genocide and Reclaiming Power and Place

Who wrote The Uyghur Genocide?

Newlines Institue, Fairfax University and Fethullah Gulen

[ . . . ] a "visa mill" rather than a legitimate educational institution. [ . . .] a sham operation where an institution "offers little by way of educational value," but instead lures international students through its ability to offer access to student and work visas, while exploiting them by charging exorbitant tuition costs.  

The report attempts to construct an appearance of broad expert consensus supporting its conclusions, including a list of 33 “independent expert” signatories. Unsurprisingly, this list consists of individuals pushing for a New Cold War and confrontation with China, and who support separatist efforts to transform the mineral-rich, geopolitically important region of Xinjiang into a NATO-oriented ethno-state [. . .]

Where is the United Nations?

The Uyghur Genocide is a legal brief

The Burden of Proof

The report promises to apply "a clear and convincing standard of proof."  To understand this promise, it is necessary to consult the accompanying footnote, which links to a website entitled Standards of Proof in International Humanitarian and Human Rights Fact-Finding and Inquiry Missions which outlines four levels of "standard of proof."  Level three is: 

Clear and convincing evidence. Very solid support for the finding; significantly more evidence supports the finding and limited information suggests the contrary. (60%.) Classic expression is it is clear that.

Feedback Loop

The Uyghur Genocide claims that:

The repeated explicit Government orders (described below) to “eradicate tumors,” “wipe them out completely … destroy them root and branch,” “round up everyone,” “show absolutely no mercy,” “break their roots,” and eliminate “risks within risks, hidden dangers in hidden dangers,” combined with corresponding State practice, belie the purported security goals by targeting any and all members of the Uyghur population.

I attempted to trace the source of these quotations and confirm that they were, in fact, "repeated explicit Government orders."  It has taken me longer to read the 50-page Uyghur report, with its 317 footnotes/hyperlinks than it took me to read the 1550-page Canadian report on Indigenous women.  Almost invariably, the sources of these quotations (above) were newspaper articles or someone else's report. This approach contradicts the rules of evidence but what struck me more was that it has created a feedback loop.  The report was using the media as its source; then the media was using the report as a source.  The effect of the loop, this circulation within a closed circle, is repetition--rather than investigation--of information and escalation of the rhetoric even without new evidence or sources.

Are the sources biased?

No-one should criticize a journalist for writing passionately about human-rights abuses.  However, quoting a journalist who has written a string of such articles as legal evidence is problematic.  If you do an advanced google search of "eradicate tumours" (to include China and eliminate cancer), you get 215 hits. But what does "eradicate tumours" mean?  How should we interpret this expression out of any context?  It sounds like the government has given "repeated, explicit orders" to eradicate Uyghurs, doesn't it?  The phrase "eradicate tumours" is used seven times in the report: once in the table of contents, once as a heading, twice in a footnote and three times in the text, but never in a complete sentence to give it context.  

In order to understand where "eradicate tumours" comes from it is necessary to click on a link in the footnote which leads to an AFP [Agence France-Presse] article by Ben Dooley in which he reports:

Teams like the one sent to Akeqie Kanle from the Bingtuan Broadcast Television University (BBTU)

 [ . . . .]

"The work team is resolute," BBTU's publicity department boasted on social media in an unusual public accounting of the dark side of a work team's operations. "We can completely take the lid off Akeqie Kanle, look behind the curtain, and eradicate its tumours."

Akeqie Kanle is, according to Dooley, a village of 500, and over 100 of its residents have been removed to detention or re-education camps. In the above cluster of mixed metaphors, it is still difficult to interpret an exact meaning for "eradicate its tumours."  The metaphor is in keeping with a theme in Chinese government discourse describing religious extremism as a disease.  The phrase used by "BBTU's publicity department [. . .] on social media" does not appear to rise to the level of "repeated explicit Government orders." It certainly does not mean "eradicate all Uyghurs," as the phrase "eradicate tumours" seems to suggest when used out of context.

China's 9/11

China’s attempts to justify its policies in XUAR  [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] as a war against extremism, terrorism, or separatism do not absolve the State of responsibility for genocide. These policies primarily target Southern XUAR, where Uyghurs constitute approximately 90 percent of the population [. . . .]

Xinjiang is bordered by eight countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. In my sporadic review of The Xinjiang Victims Database, it appears that various ethnicities are being targeted, especially Kazakhs, and anyone who frequently crosses the border.

Although Newlines' report dismisses the Chinese justification of "a war against extremism, terrorism, or separatism," many of the report's uncontextualized quotations come from a New York Times article in which Chinese officials are being quoted at the height of terrorist attacks in 2014. "Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims" is the most comprehensive and balanced account I have encountered since beginning to research this subject.

From the New York Times

According to the NYT article, "The current crackdown began after a surge of anti-government and anti-Chinese violence, including ethnic riots in 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital."  In April 2014, "Uighur militants stabbed more than 150 people at a train station, killing 31." The same year, "two Uighur militants staged a suicide bombing outside a train station in Urumqi that injured nearly 80 people, one fatally," and "assailants tossed explosives into a vegetable market in Urumqi, wounding 94 people and killing at least 39."  

Based on leaked documents, published alongside the article, the NYT claimed:

Against this backdrop of bloodshed, Mr. Xi delivered a series of secret speeches setting the hard-line course that culminated in the security offensive now underway in Xinjiang. While state media have alluded to these speeches, none were made public. 

Terrorist attacks abroad and the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan heightened the leadership’s fears and helped shape the crackdown. Officials argued that attacks in Britain resulted from policies that put “human rights above security,” and Mr. Xi urged the party to emulate aspects of America’s “war on terror” after the Sept. 11 attacks.

According to the NYT article, President Xi

traced the origins of Islamic extremism in Xinjiang to the Middle East, and warned that turmoil in Syria and Afghanistan would magnify the risks for China. Uighurs had traveled to both countries, he said, and could return to China as seasoned fighters seeking an independent homeland, which they called East Turkestan.  [ . . .] and urged officials to study how Americans responded to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"After the United States pulls troops out of Afghanistan, terrorist organizations positioned on the frontiers of Afghanistan and Pakistan may quickly infiltrate into Central Asia,” Mr. Xi said. “East Turkestan’s terrorists who have received real-war training in Syria and Afghanistan could at any time launch terrorist attacks in Xinjiang."

In several surprising passages, given the crackdown that followed, Mr. Xi also told officials to not discriminate against Uighurs and to respect their right to worship. He warned against overreacting to natural friction between Uighurs and Han Chinese, the nation’s dominant ethnic group, and rejected proposals to try to eliminate Islam entirely in China.

Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, yet with a caveat: the government controls what it calls "normal religious activity," defined in practice as activities that take place within government-sanctioned religious organizations and registered places of worship.

According to the Wikipedia article on Religion in China:

The government formally recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. In the early twenty-first century there has been increasing official recognition of Confucianism and Chinese folk religion as part of China's cultural inheritance.

According to The Uyghur Genocide, the destruction of mosques is significant, physical evidence of the suppression of Islam.

It is estimated that approximately 16,000 mosques in XUAR, or 65 percent of the total, have been destroyed or damaged due to government policies, largely since 2017, with 8,500 mosques completely demolished. 


The report [The Uyghur Genocide] relies most substantially on the “expertise” of Adrian Zenz, the far-right evangelical ideologue, whose “scholarship” on China has been demonstrated to be deeply flawed, riddled with falsehoods and dishonest statistical manipulation. 

"Rape, torture and human experiments. Sayragul Sauytbay offers firsthand testimony from a Xinjiang 'reeducation' camp"

Among the many newspaper articles referenced in The Uyghur Genocide is one published by Haaretz (a newspaper promising all the news on Israel and Jews around the world) with the lengthy title: "A Million People Are Jailed at China's Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here's What Really Goes on Inside."  The article is based on a series of interviews with Sayragul Sauytbay, a Kazakh, and "a teacher who escaped from China and was granted asylum in Sweden."  By her account, Sauytbay was forced to teach Mandarin in one of the camps where she encountered evidence of "rape, torture and human experiments."  She was able to cross the border from China into Kazakhstan illegally.  In Kazakhstan, she requested asylum, but her request was refused by the Kazakh court.  She then escaped to Sweden.

In response to Sayragul's receiving the award, the Global Times claimed that

According to information from the Xinjiang regional government, Sayragul applied for a 10-year-term repayment loan of 200,000 yuan using forged guarantee materials and guarantor's signature from a rural credit cooperative at Chahanwusu town in June 2015, and currently still owes 149,000 yuan from the loan. 

In December 2016, she applied for another 10-year loan of 270,000 yuan using a fabricated purchase contract, of which she still owes 249,000 yuan. She is facing charges of loan fraud, according to China's Criminal Law.

Sayragul illegally crossed the border and went to Kazakhstan from the China-Kazakhstan Horgas International Border Cooperation Center on April 5, 2018. 
"Sayragul claimed that she graduated from medical university and used to be a doctor. But the truth is, she had studied in the nursery class of Xinjiang Ili Health School, and has no working experience as a doctor. She never worked in any vocational education and training center at all," said the spokesperson.

The Chief Witness

Recently, Sayragul published a book entitled The Chief Witness, which is summarized as follows:

Born in China’s north-western province, Sayragul Sauytbay trained as a doctor before being appointed a senior civil servant. But her life was upended when the Chinese authorities incarcerated her. Her crime: being Kazakh, one of China’s ethnic minorities.
The north-western province borders the largest number of foreign nations and is the point in China that is the closest to Europe. In recent years it has become home to over 1,200 penal camps — modern-day gulags that are estimated to house three million members of the Kazakh and Uyghur minorities. Imprisoned solely due to their ethnicity, inmates are subjected to relentless punishment and torture, including being beaten, raped, and used as subjects for medical experiments. The camps represent the greatest systematic incarceration of an entire people since the Third Reich.
In prison, Sauytbay was put to work teaching Chinese language, culture, and politics, in the course of which she gained access to secret information that revealed Beijing’s long-term plans to undermine not only its minorities, but democracies around the world. Upon her escape to Europe she was reunited with her family, but still lives under the constant threat of reprisal. This rare testimony from the biggest surveillance state in the world reveals not only the full, frightening scope of China’s tyrannical ambitions, but also the resilience and courage of its author.

By her account in Haaretz, she was a language teacher in the camp.  She offers no explanation of how she came to witness medical experiments.  In the article, her knowledge of medicine seems very limited and she offers no examples of having used her medical knowledge while in the camp.   There is no evidence to support the hyperbole that "being Kazakh" would be considered a crime in China.  The estimates of  "1,200 penal camps" and "three million" detainees are the highest numbers I have heard so far.  Of course, we must wonder how Sauytay, a closely guarded prisoner according to her description, would manage to gain "access to secret information that revealed Beijing's long-term plans to undermine not only its minorities but democracies around the world." References to "gulags," "concentration camps," "penal camps," and the "Third Reich" are, I suppose, an expected result of the "feedback loop."  Sayragul Sauytbay's being "the chief witness" is belied by multiple witness statements on The Xinjiang Victims Database.

Who Benefits?

Reading The Uyghur Genocide, I asked the same question I asked in my reading of  Reclaiming Power and Place.  Who benefits?  I doubted that the Canadian report and the claim that murdered Indigenous women and girls were victims of acts of genocide were helpful to current and future generations of young Indigenous women.  Will Western proclamations of genocide benefit the Uyghur in China?  

Will declarations of genocide further the goal of an independent Turkic-Muslim state and an eventual civil war which, according to Chinese sources, the current policies are designed to prevent?  Will Western genocide proclamations cause China to change its human-rights policies?  Can Western democracies successfully threaten China into changing politically?

Chaos under Heaven and "the Thucydides Trap"

In Chaos under Heaven, Josh Rogin describes the Trump "China team" as divided into at least three factions:  the super-hawks who viewed China as an enemy and were determined to destroy the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), the hawks who view China as a competitor, and the "Wall-Street clique," Trump's billionaire buddies who saw China as an opportunity.  Claims of genocide seem to align with the ambitions of the super-hawks and the goal of a new Cold War.  I fail to see another Cold War as a desirable objective. In some quarters, ideology makes a Cold War inevitable, but the same ideology rarely considers the historical evidence (the Thucydides Trap) that cold wars usually lead to hot wars.

The trickle-down effect

What was the intention of the O'Toole genocide resolution?  To win points with the Canadian electorate?  To align with American super-hawks?  Excuse my cynicism, but I find it hard to imagine that the Canadian Conservative Party is driven by compassion for the world's Muslims.

Who benefits from the Conservative proclamation?  Certainly not Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, who are currently on trial in China.  What about the 300,000 other Canadians now living in China?  In August 2019, the Ottawa Citizen reported Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada says that “Canada has not considered any special program for Uyghurs.”  Have the Conservatives lobbied for some change here?

These days there are regular reports of anti-Asian hate crimes, but I have yet to read any recognition that these attacks are the trickle-down effect of China-bashing by Western politicians and journalists. 


The Conservative Party, in particular, seems to have trouble deciding where it stands on China and the Chinese.  "On 22 June 2006, newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in the House of Commons" for Canada's historical mistreatment of the Chinese. In 2014,

Harper met with both President Hu and Premier Wen, and signed a number of economic agreements that had been prepared by Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird including a uranium export treaty, and the Canada-China Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments Agreement (CCPRPIA), which was linked by the media to (further) potential Chinese investment in the Athabasca oil sands, and had been negotiated for eighteen years. The negotiations and the text itself were kept secret until November 2016. Chinese officials suggested that the next logical step would be a free trade agreement, which Canadian officials promised to study.

In his blog, August 6, 2005,  Andrew Scheer, who would be Harper's successor as leader of the Conservatives, mocked the choice of Adrienne Clarkson, a Chinese-Canadian, as Canada's Governor-General.  And this year, Erin O'Toole accuses China of genocide while it remains Canada's second-largest trading partner.



Twenty-four hours after I published the remark (above) that I had yet to read of any recognition between China-bashing and anti-Asian hate crimes, The Globe and Mail published Doug Saunder's opinion piece, "Confronting China requires us to be precise," which discusses this connection.

Monday 10 June 2019

On Reading "The National Inquiry Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls"

The National Inquiry Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people

Reactions to Reclaiming Power and Place, the title of the National Inquiry Report, have ranged from angry sarcasm to pious platitudes.  I thought there would be lots of room in the middle ground for a reasoned, dispassionate if sympathetic reading.  I had heard numerous declarations that all Canadians should read and educate themselves from this report.  I, therefore, gave myself the task of reading the 1200-page report, the 300-page Quebec supplement, and the 50-page executive summary.

When I was done, my immediate reaction tended toward angry sarcasm.  I had to remind myself of the experience of working on a large research project (though nothing in the order of magnitude of the National Inquiry) where the end result was a hodgepodge which failed to satisfy anyone's vision of what the project was meant to accomplish.

How are the victims served by this report?

It is a bit of a fib (an "exaggeration" if you will) to say I "read" the entire report.  I looked at every page until I understood its general content, stopping to read further when an entry struck me as directly relevant to the fates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.  With the exception of the testimony of grieving relatives, I was in awe of how infrequently I could see a direct connection between the content of the report and what happened to victimized Indigenous women.  The burning question for me was "How does this report benefit the cohort of Indigenous women who have been and will be victimized?"

Who will read this report?

Despite Prime Minister Trudeau's claim that "this report will not sit on a shelf, gathering dust," my impression was that the report was designed to be ignored.*  Who, other than someone like me (a retired nerd with a PhD who blogs as a hobby), is ever going to read this 1550-page report. On page 199 of Volume 1b, the inquiry calls "on all Canadians to:  [ . . . ] Develop knowledge and read the Final Report."  How seriously can we take the "call to justice" to "read the Final Report" when that "call" appears after we have read 920 pages of the Report we are being called to read?

The purpose of the National Inquiry?

The only part of the Report which attempts to provide comprehensive data on what happened to the victimized women and how the criminal justice system dealt with their cases is Annex 1 of Volume 1b, the "Forensic Document Review Project," which runs from pages 233 to 276--that is, the last 43 pages of the 1550-page report.  In this section of the Report we learn:

Over the course of its review, the FDRP identified the following significant issues: 
1. There is no reliable estimate of the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA persons in Canada.
2. The two Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reports dated 2014 and 2015 on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls identify narrow and incomplete causes of homicides of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
3. The often-cited statistic that Indigenous men are responsible for 70% of murders of Indigenous women and girls is not factually based.
4. Virtually no information was found with respect to either the numbers or causes of missing and murdered Métis and Inuit women and girls and Indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA persons. 
Unfortunately, for me and, I suspect, for most Canadians, the reason for the Inquiry's existence was to find answers to these issues, and obviously these questions remain unanswered.  Instead of a dedicated pursuit of answers to these questions, the Inquiry concluded:

The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story – or, more accurately, thousands of stories – of acts of genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

"Cultural genocide" versus genocide

I think it is reasonable to ask how the inquiry can claim, on one hand, that there is little to no accurate, factual information about what happened to these women and, on the other hand, to conclude that these women were victims of "acts of genocide"?  The obvious answer is that the genocide conclusion has little or nothing to do with the findings of the Inquiry but was simply a foregone conclusion based on the already known 150-year history of the relationship between the government of Canada and its Indigenous peoples.

The 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee concluded that
For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Indigenous policy were to eliminate Indigenous governments; ignore Indigenous rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Indigenous peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.”
Doubtlessly, the National Inquiry was compelled to move beyond this "cultural genocide" accusation in order to avoid the criticism of its harshest critics that its work would be redundant.  There had already been some 40 reports on Canada's Indigenous peoples and certainly the Harper Conservative government had argued that a 41st report would not reach any significantly new conclusions.

Additionally, "cultural genocide" has been debated in and ultimately not recognized by the United Nations. The Inquiry's Chief Commissioner, Marion Buller confirmed, in an interview on Power and Politics, that the claim of genocide was a strategy to compel various levels of government to take emergency measures and supply funding for the Inquiry's recommended projects. So far, the Inquiry's 231 recommendations, most of which require additional government funding, together with the accusation of a Canadian genocide against Indigenous women, seem most likely to engender a populist backlash against government support of First Nations rather than effective leverage.  The sympathy of the Canadian population for missing and murdered Indigenous women has, arguably,  been squandered.

Enfranchisement and assimilation deemed genocide

In his monograph, Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens, Thomas Courchene describes "competing models in play in terms of approaching the relationship of Indigenous peoples to the Canadian state."  According to Courchene, "The first of these models is [. . .]  'enfranchisement,' namely converting Indians to regular Canadians, [ . . .] . At the other end of the spectrum is [. . .] an Indigenous-to-Crown relationship that can be characterized as 'institutionalized parallelism,' e.g., separate parliaments and Indigenous delivery of provincial-type services. Neither of these is acceptable; the first because it is now constitutionally impossible, and the second because, among other reasons, it would be prohibitively expensive."

Seemingly the National Inquiry has decided to label the first model as "genocide" and advocate for the second: greater independence and autonomy for First Nations, together with additional government funding and accommodation from non-native Canadians. The Inquiry's extensive recommendations seem, at first glance, highly impractical--certainly there is no discussion of potential costs.  More striking for me, is that the Report offers little evidence or even theoretical argument that the expenditures they are recommending would specifically and effectively redress the victimization of Indigenous women and girls.

Assumptions of cause and effect

The underlying assumption of Reclaiming Power and Place is that if the problems of poverty, education, health care, culture and identity within native communities, and the lack of understanding of police, health-care providers, social workers and institutions outside native communities were corrected, the fates of the Indigenous victims could have been and can be avoided.  These counterfactual claims may, in fact, be valid, but one would hope that the commissioners would offer something more than an underlying, unquestioned general assumption.  Personally, I remain unconvinced that "culture and identity" (pages 327 to 338 of Vol. 1a)  or the promotion of Indigenous arts and crafts (pages 53 to 74 of Vol. 1b) will address the problems of young women who have been sexually abused and murdered both inside and out of their Indigenous communities.  I remain deeply skeptical that the return of "lost traditions" is a solution for young Indigenous women facing alienation, anomie and abuse in their home communities. (See Be Yourself!  Is This Really Good Advice?)

Gynocentrism:  Pros and cons

I understand the commissioners' perspective that global, large-scale solutions are necessary even though the Inquiry's purpose was understood to be (at least in the popular imagination) the very precise and concrete question of what happened to more than a thousand (if not thousands of) missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.  However, rather than a global approach, the commissioners very deliberately opted for a gynocentric focus, making the inquiry dominantly about women's pursuit of answers to problems being encountered by women, and solutions, including governance, to be found in the empowerment of women.  This approach seems laudatory, except that an obvious source, if not the source, of the problems being faced by Indigenous women is Indigenous men.

Although the Inquiry dismissed the claim "that Indigenous men are responsible for 70% of murders of Indigenous women and girls" as "not factually based," the Report offered no contradictory evidence.  In Annex 1 of Reclaiming Power and Place it is noted that in 100% of the 26 solved homicides of  Indigenous women from 2013-14 "the offender was known to the victim."

The Inquiry's response is:
In our view, the RCMP’s reliance on such a small number of cases creates an unreliable basis upon which to focus policy. A focus on spousal violence, on the basis of flawed statistics, has resulted in an erroneously narrow focus on Indigenous men as the perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and neglects other significant patterns in relation to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
However, the Inquiry has also adopted a very narrow focus.  The Report only gives a little more than a single page to "some men, who are also former perpetrators, [who] came forward to share their story"  (Vol.1b page 37).  The Inquiry decried negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and, clearly, did not want the Report to provide fodder for those stereotypes.  However, truth and transparency cannot be achieved if there is an unwillingness to incisively investigate specific cases.  Much of the Report is about grieving and "healing," compassionate objectives we should all support but, at the same time, we have to acknowledge that the purpose of an inquiry is to inquire rather than console.  Numerous testimonies within the Report are impressionistic accounts of dealings with police and health services.  The failure of police to pursue missing-persons cases, the arresting or threatening of the victims in domestic-abuse complaints, the kidnapping and rape of Indigenous women by police officers are all cases which should be thoroughly and objectively investigated and exposed.  The failure of hospitals to provide death certificates to the families of victims is an egregious failure and should be investigated and reported upon in detail.  However, in these instances, the Inquiry apparently took as its role the support and consoling of the victims and their families, rather than the investigation of the details of each case.  The Inquiry rightly criticized the negative stereotyping of Indigenous peoples but, at the same time, has promulgated negative stereotypes of every police office, teacher, health-care worker,  and social worker who has ever dealt with Indigenous individuals--not to mention branding every Canadian family that has fostered or adopted an Indigenous child as perpetrators of genocide.

Theories of causality

Criminology provides numerous theories and empirical data linking crime, poverty and race.  The Inquiry seems to have taken the general tenor of these theories of causation as a priori fact without much review of the available literature and without specifying a particular theory they were adhering to.  Obviously, there could be no empirical study of causes, if the Inquiry had decided at the outset not to investigate Indigenous perpetrators and, by extension, not to investigate perpetrators period.  It is worth noting that the Inquiry's theory of causation is unique.  Genocide is criminal but, beyond that, it is the underlying theory and conclusion of the Inquiry that genocide caused the crimes without being the crime.  In other words, the Report does not provide a single example of the murderer of an Indigenous woman being motivated by genocide but, nonetheless, concludes that the murders were precipitated by genocide.

Untold stories

Is it heartlessness, a total lack of compassion, to be critical of a Report which was such an outpouring of tragedy and emotion?  I return to my overarching question:  "Will this Report benefit young Indigenous women?"  It is disheartening to read in the Statistics Canada  Report on Homicide that in 2017, when the National Inquiry was at the peak of its activities,  38 Aboriginal women were victims of homicide, an increase of 32% compared to 2016. In 2017, 118 Indigenous males were victims of homicide.  According to the Statistics Canada Report,  18% of Indigenous homicides were considered to be gang related.  Indigenous women were 6 times more likely to be the victims of homicide than non-indigenous women, and Indigenous persons were 12 times more likely to be the accused in a homicide investigation than non-indigenous persons.  In terms of missing-persons reports, according to Statistics Canada, "[t]he proportion of victims reported as being missing prior to the incident being identified as a homicide was similar whether the victim was Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal (9% and 7%, respectively)."  The National Inquiry's concern for the fragility and healing of witnesses, together with the narrow focus and self-fulfilling prophesy of genocide, left many potential avenues of investigation and consideration untouched.

Alternative solutions

Claims of Indigenous perpetrators and criminality in Indigenous communities in no way contradict the indictments of the National Inquiry Report that we must all stand behind and support Indigenous persons and communities as they deal with cycles of violence and incomprehension.   Unfortunately, claims of a Canadian genocide put the question of perpetrators, intentions and motives foremost in Canadian minds. The challenge, which has been recognized since the 1970s  (as opposed to assimilation as the only option in 19th-century thinking), is how to offer Indigenous communities and individuals both independence and support at the same time.  A first step, as Courchene suggests in Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens, is to recognize how the Canadian state systematically undermines the economic development of Indigenous communities.  As Courchene points out, "Canadians tend to lay the blame for the dire straits of most of the reserves at the feet of the Indians"; however, as a matter of "federal policy," Indigenous people do not have property rights over the reservation land where they live.  Consequently, "banks are most reticent in providing loans for capital investment or for mortgages because the Indian Act legally restricts banks from seizing and selling the asset in the event of default."  The possibilities of economic development without venture capital are negligible to nil; hence the endless cycle of government subsidies which always fall short of ending poverty.  Courchene comments:
It is incomprehensible that Canada and Canadians have allowed this federal instrument of mass impoverishment to reign so long over the hundreds of Canada’s First Nations reserves.  (Italics in the original)
Recognizing that smaller reserves have neither the population nor the resources to be financially viable, Courchene proposes a Commonwealth of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, modeled on the existing "Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nation [ . . .] the representative body of the seventy-four First Nations in Saskatchewan."   An Indigenous commonwealth could be provincial or inter-provincial or, ideally, pan-Canadian, and it would give united Indigenous peoples the possibility of economic development.  If poverty and discrimination and lack of independence are the underlying causes of criminality and the deaths of Indigenous women and girls, then here is a large-scale, revolutionary approach worth considering.


*Courchene's comment, in Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens, on the 1991-1996 Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples paralleled my thoughts on no-one reading Reclaiming Power and Place:
Entitled People to People, Nation to Nation, RCAP consisted of five volumes, 440 recommendations (over a thousand if one includes sub-recommendations), 80,000 pages of hearings and 250 commissioned research papers.  Intriguingly, because it was so encyclopedic, not only did it defy summarizing, but it also ensured that no core message could emerge.
Consequently, the prevailing view was that the Chrétien government "more or less ignored the RCAP."

Courchene, Thomas J.. Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens (Queen's Policy Studies Series) (p. 6-7). MQUP. Kindle Edition. 

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