The House of Commons unanimously agrees to classify internees as genocide

A motion by a new Democrat MP calling on the federal government to recognize what happened inside residential schools as genocide received unanimous consent from MPs in the House of Commons on Thursday.

This movement was started by Leah Gazan, who represents the Winnipeg Center. Gazan had introduced this proposal in the House last year, but she was unable to obtain unanimous consent at the time.

Gazan’s motion referred to the United Nations Convention on Genocide adopted in 1948which defines genocide as killing members of a group, causing them serious physical or mental harm, putting them in a position to destroy them, imposing measures to prevent births, or forcibly transferring children to another group.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forced to attend these institutions, which were federally funded and operated by different churches for more than a century. The Catholic Church ran most of the residential schools in Canada.

Thousands of indigenous adults who were sent there as children have reported rampant physical, sexual and emotional abuse, along with neglect and malnutrition.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation maintains a memorial registry of students who have died in residential schools and that number is now 4,120 children.

“Today I lift the spirits of the survivors, families and communities who have sacrificed so much so that people across Canada know the truth; that what happened in the boarding schools was genocide. I am grateful to the parliamentarians who unanimously approved my motion recognizing the truth of Canada’s history,” Gazan said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with the government to ensure that the will of Parliament is carried out in formally recognizing residential schools as genocide. The survivors deserve no less.”

Speaking about her motion in the House of Commons on Thursday, Gazan said she was “shocked” when her motion did not gain unanimous consent initially, saying it confirmed “the denial of residential schools remains a reality.”

During his six-day visit to Canada in August, Pope Francis apologized multiple times for the “badness” of what happened inside residential schools. But it wasn’t until the Pope was questioned by reporters on the flight back to Rome that he said he considered it genocide.

The pope said he did not think of using the word genocide during his trip, calling it a technical term.

“I apologized for what has been done, which was genocide, and I did condemn this,” he said in August through a translator.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission referred to residential schools as a form of cultural genocide when it published its final report in 2015. But various indigenous groups have since amended this to say it was genocide.

“We must honor the experience of residential school survivors, their communities and families,” Gazan said.

“We all have a responsibility as elected officials to tell the truth. Only then will we achieve justice and show that we are truly committed to reconciliation.”

With archives from The Canadian Press


If you are a former survivor of a struggling residential school, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian residential school crisis line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional resources and mental health support for indigenous peoples are available here.

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