Yuan Yi Zhu is a research fellow at the University of Oxford.
Last month, Canada’s House of Commons voted 258 to 0 to endorse a report describing China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority a genocide, the second time it has done so. And for the second time, the Liberal Cabinet abstained from such a vote, except for one minister who voted aye by accident, or so her office said.
Since becoming prime minister, Justin Trudeau has portrayed himself as a champion of human rights, at home and abroad, one of the remaining liberal internationalist crusaders in an age which has frankly very little use for such people. His abstentionist policy thus required some explanation. He told a journalist:
“The word genocide, acts of genocide are things to be taken incredibly seriously as a world. We have objective, historical, expert processes to put in place those words or designations… Designations of genocide need to be made by proper international authorities”.
What he did not say, and the interviewer was too polite to mention, was that the prime minister would have found it awkward to condemn China. After all, the country he currently leads, according to Trudeau himself, is committing genocide right now.
And contrary to his newfound caution, he did not need to wait for the determination of “proper international authorities” before branding the country which he governs a genocidal state – and by extension millions of Canadians as genocidaires, or at the very least accomplices to it.
The state of affairs has its origins in the gruesome fact that Canada’s aboriginal women and girls are far more likely to be the victims of homicide than any other of the country’s demographic groups.
But there was some surprise when, in 2019, the commission of inquiry appointed to investigate this phenomenon concluded that this amounted to an ongoing genocide by the Canadian state. (This followed from an earlier government commission which argued Canada had been committing ‘cultural genocide’, though it stopped short of accusing Canada of genocide tout court.)
To be sure, there was extensive and undisputed evidence that various instrumentalities of the Canadian state had long neglected the well-being of the country’s aboriginal peoples in shameful ways. But the commission concluded – to some surprise – that Canada’s longstanding neglect amounted to genocide under international law, with all the attendant implications.
The legal logic the commission used to reach this particular conclusion was, to put it mildly, controversial, so much so that it released a supplementary legal annexure to bolster its case, full of cherry-picked legal opinions.
But Trudeau, after equivocating for a day or two and coming from some media pressure, decided to accept “their findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide”.
Genocide is the gravest crime that can be conceived of, so admitting to being a genocidal state is no small thing. Taken at face value, the report meant that every Canadian prime minister has led a genocidal state, every institution of the Canadian government is tainted by the most appalling crime imaginable, and that millions of Canadians, by being associated with that state in one way or other, are accomplices to genocide.
Yet, in typical post-modern Canadian manner, the government’s acceptance that it was committing an ongoing genocide was followed by… nothing. The prime minister and members of his cabinet did not turn themselves in at The Hague for trial, even though they are self-confessedly responsible for running a genocidal state.
There were no calls to international action in the United Nations Security Council; one can only imagine how Canada’s allies took the news they were in cahoots with a genocidal state.
Even the country’s main international airports, several of which are named after prime ministers-cum-genocidaires, one of whom was Trudeau’s father, are keeping their names.
Meanwhile, conditions on the country’s Indian reserves remain as squalid as ever, despite the prime minister promising to fix them at three consecutive elections. Aboriginal women are still disproportionately likely to be murdered.
But Canadian media, after talking about genocide for a few days, mostly let the subject drop. Many Canadians are probably not aware that they are living in a genocidal state at all.
And the list of charges against Canada is only lengthening. Days after it labelled China’s actions in Xinjiang a genocide, the same House of Commons unanimously voted to recognize Canada’s system of residential schools, which uprooted Aboriginal children from their families to forcibly integrate them into non-Aboriginal Canadian society and existed until the late 1990s, genocidal.
Moments after making this stunning admission, the House voted on a bill to provide subsidies those seeking dental care and to renters. Canada may be a genocidal state, but the show must go on.