Maybe we should bestow on Trudeau the sobriquet Mr. Fork-Tongue. And on Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Doctor Do-Little!

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as accessory to Aboriginal suicides

By —— Bio and Archives--October 16, 2016

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It may seem over the top to denounce Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett as accessories to death. But let’s wake them up! The PM lives by the $500 gourmet dinner on the prime-ministerial airplane, daily photo-ops and acceptance of the ritual headdress from the Tsuut’ina First Nation near Calgary. But like President Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, what’s Trudeau been doing for Aboriginals to justify the honour?

Young people are dying while Trudeau and Bennett shilly-shally. I name them, therefore, as accessories responsible, by implication even criminally, for the recent death by suicide of three girls, aged between 12 and 14, of the Lac La Ronge First Nation in northeast Saskatchewan.

First off, there’s the principle of command responsibility, normally applicable for war crimes but also for anyone holding a senior position of personal or corporate trust. Inherent in the Canadian government’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples there’s still a paternal responsibility. Trudeau more than any previous Prime Minister has gone out of his way to affirm the government’s duty of care, and he’s in command.


In his Mandate letter for the appointment of Bennett, Trudeau acknowledged an upgraded personal duty: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

He promised real change, a newfound compassion and a commitment to real action—action to give Aboriginal youth real hope for the future, and a reason to live. Report card? For one example, NDP researchers found that Trudeau’s government is delivering just 300 units of Indian housing this year although the immediately identified requirement is for 20,000 units. In Attawapiskat, a third of the houses are condemned as unfit for human habitation, and just that one community could use all 300 units to bring occupancy levels and quality standards up to minimum urban standards.

Drilling deeper, I cite the common law felony of malfeasance in public office as defined in 1783 by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield in Bembridge. That case defines a public officer’s duty of action. But to paraphrase Lord Mansfield’s definition of criminality, Trudeau and Bennett are sitting still while young Aboriginals are dying. 

Drilling further to define Trudeau’s and Bennett’s responsibility, I cite Section 215 of the Criminal Code:

Every one is under a legal duty ... as a ... guardian ... to provide necessaries of life for a child under the age of sixteen years ...


“Necessaries of life” are necessaries that “tend to preserve life and not necessaries in their ordinary legal sense ...

Where the duty is found, the crown must prove: ...[that] it was objectively foreseeable that the failure to provide necessaries would lead to a risk of danger to the life or permanent endangerment to the health of the person to whom the duty is owed.

Almost every Aboriginal child and youth suicide is objectively foreseeable

Almost every Aboriginal child and youth suicide is objectively foreseeable. For preventative avoidance, there’s a foundational obligation to provide all Canadian youth with the grounding and hope for a healthy and productive life. I grant that there’s also parental responsibility, but many Aboriginal parents inherited challenges largely inflicted by years of negligent and malignant government policy. Almost half a century ago, Farley Mowat wrote in People of the Deer:

[Aboriginals] have been broken away from the support of their land (which is theirs no longer) and live clustered in modern slums—many of which are hardly better than ghettoes. ... Here they exist for the most part on welfare payments of one kind or another ... Effectively, they live in unguarded concentration camps, provided with the basic requirement for mere physical survival, but deprived of the freedom to shape their own lives We have salved our national conscience by ensuring that they do not die any more of outright starvation ... Genocide can be practiced in a variety of ways.

Many remote settlements resemble the apartheid—era Bantustans of South Africa. Trudeau must have read Mowat, and he had one wake-up call in January 2016, when a distressed and bullied student killed two teachers and two fellow students: “The country’s heart is breaking for the people of La Loche, Saskatchewan today,” he said at the time.

In April, 2016 Trudeau’s next wake-up call was the emergency debate in the House of Commons on the suicide crisis in Kashechewan, Ontario. He didn’t attend, despite the urgency and an otherwise full house.

The La Ronge communities applied to Trudeau months ago for money for a mental health facility. The response? Send us a business plan! OK, so how many people does it take in his office or Bennett’s to help put together the paperwork—assuming it was even necessary?

You might never know that Trudeau also appointed himself Youth Minister. So what’s he been doing for Aboriginal youth? Answer: Bugger all!

According to the incantation of our times, the Aboriginal suicide crisis is a mental health problem. But that’s like doctors looking to cure typhoid instead of fixing the polluted water. Now that the fur trade’s extinct, foundational causation for suicide is the lack of support systems that work, including effective education and skills training, sports and recreation, and job opportunities.

The recently published Thunder Bay coroner’s report on untimely Indian youth deaths recommended what should be obvious, especially to Trudeau as boxer and athlete:

Canada should fund and develop a program that will ensure that all First Nations children and youth have access to a robust offering of high-quality extracurricular activities including traditional, cultural, recreational, academic, artistic, and athletic activities. The extra-curricular offerings should focus on developing important values such as self-esteem, cultural pride, resiliency, and leadership. [Emphasis in the original]


Compassion without action, with raised hopes unfulfilled, intensifies the despair that leads to suicide

Forty years ago, the community of Inuvik, NWT, demonstrated the effectiveness of organized activities with its cross-country ski program. Catholic priest Father Jean-Marie Mouchet got almost the entire high school community out on skis every day in winter regardless of conditions. The program provided the core of Canada’s cross-country ski team for four consecutive Winter Olympics. As long as the program lasted, children went to school after a real breakfast, and many went on to university. The bar emptied early and alcoholism and violent crime fell sharply as parents embraced their children’s enthusiasm for life. And there are no known suicides.

How much then would it cost to employ at least one sports and recreation facilitator in every remote Aboriginal settlement? Answer: pennies compared with the cost of the backward-looking Missing and Murdered Women Inquiry. And that’s not counting the human suffering to be saved by cutting back on suicides.

Sickeningly, however, Youth Minister Trudeau’s response to the recent La Ronge suicides has been to blather that the issue of youth suicides on reserves has gone on for far too long. “We are working together with the government of Saskatchewan and others to ensure that we can put an end to the tragedy of young people taking their lives,” Trudeau said. “It’s something that has to stop.”

Blah, blah, blah ...

Speaking to the Assembly of First Nations in July 2015 Trudeau said, “Words will never be enough so long as the government lacks the political will to be a true and honest partner. ... I believe that the quality of life gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples can be closed.” Additions to the 2016 budget for Aboriginals might seem to include money to start closing the gap. However, most of it kicks in only years down the road. Reality is that it merely slows the widening of the gap.

So, I say to Trudeau: How about stepping up to the plate for Aboriginals? Even AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde, ostensibly Trudeau’s friend, has started grumbling that he hasn’t delivered much action relative to his promises. I add that compassion without action, with raised hopes unfulfilled, intensifies the despair that leads to suicide. It’s worse than if no promises were made in the first place.

Maybe we should bestow on Trudeau the sobriquet Mr. Fork-Tongue. And on Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Doctor Do-Little!


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Colin Alexander -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Colin Alexander was publisher of the Yellowknife <em>News of the North and the advisor on education for the Ontario Royal Commission on the Northern Environment. He lives in Ottawa and has family living in Nunavut. <em>

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