A mass grave, Justin Trudeau, and Gaza

Hypocrisy oozes from the Canadian prime minister’s statements on the Indigenous children mass grave.

Trudeau visits the makeshift memorial erected in honour of the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found at a 'residential school' in British Columbia, on Parliament Hill June 1, 2021 in Ottawa [Dave Chan/AFP]

Justin Trudeau is a lie.

Canada’s prime minister has proven that he is a calculating chameleon devoid of convictions, who, when the circumstances oblige, is conditioned to star in self-aggrandising photo-ops and spout banal platitudes – all with the sincerity of a mannequin.

Fresh evidence of Trudeau’s flimsy, fraudulent essence came courtesy of his predictably hackneyed and fatuous reaction to the grotesque discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in a mass, unmarked grave at an abandoned “residential school” in British Columbia.

These abducted children are a fraction of the more than 150,000 Indigenous children who were, for more than a century, systematically stolen from their parents, homes and nations, then dressed like dolls and stuffed into internment camps run with military discipline by Catholic zealots where they suffered disfiguring indignities to mind, body and spirit.

More than 6,000 Indigenous children perished in these internment camps – the casualties of religious indoctrination, loneliness, disease, neglect, brutality, starvation, and sexual abuse that, taken together, constituted state-sanctioned genocide.

When word emerged in late May that the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation had unearthed the mass grave with scores of children – some as young as three – buried in it, Trudeau’s first impulse was to rush to an ephemeral social media platform to share a vapid message when the halting moment and decency demanded a serious and solemn response.

“The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter on May 28, careful to keep, no doubt, within the online platform’s 280-character limit.

It is necessary to deconstruct Trudeau’s astonishingly trite tweet to reveal not only its signature glibness but also this prime minister’s rank, disingenuous nature and historical illiteracy.

That, years later, the remains of hundreds of children were found on the grounds of the internment camp where they were persecuted and died alone is not “distressing news”.

It is, more accurately, further proof of the genocide that was and is still being committed against Indigenous peoples by white settlers who largely recoil or reject outright the considered conclusion that Canada’s First Nations were and remain victims of precisely that: genocide.

This stubborn, pervasive denial may account for Trudeau’s perfunctory, cliché-ridden suggestion that the disposal of the bodies of Indigenous children into a grimy, sodden pit “breaks my heart” and represents a “painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history”.

The genocide perpetrated on Canada’s Indigenous peoples is not, as Trudeau claims, simply a “chapter” in the country’s “dark” history with a neat, discernible beginning and end.

Rather, it is, as one astute parliamentarian has noted, the “entire plot” of how evangelical settlers went deliberately and brazenly about – starting before Canada’s Confederation in 1867 – colonising and, if need be, erasing Indigenous peoples and their ancient beliefs, customs and traditions as part of an expressed policy to “kill the Indian in the child”.

Trudeau’s pat insistence that the systemic, often obliterating cruelty towards Canada’s First Nations is “shameful” implies that most Canadians have acknowledged, let alone accepted any measure of guilt for the horrors inflicted on Indigenous children, women and men in the name of God and country – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

They have not.

Indeed, it was only in 2019 that, after some dithering, Trudeau was grudgingly compelled to “accept” that the country he leads committed genocide but only with respect to missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women in recent decades.

And this past week, I suspect that many Canadians were too seized with a playoff game between two bitter hockey rivals – the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens – to have given more than passing consideration to “news” of their nation’s culpability in the disappearance of 215 small bodies into a mass grave among so many other as-yet-undiscovered small bodies in so many other as-yet-undiscovered mass graves.

As such, whatever “pain” Canadians may have experienced after learning of the homemade depravity may be fleeting.

The long, contemptible record, on this score, is plain: Trudeau and his duplicitous predecessors have reneged again and again and again on supposedly sacrosanct promises to achieve “reconciliation” with and to redress the grinding racism and inhumane outrages visited on Indigenous peoples.

They have promised to address the persistent lack of access of Indigenous peoples to clean drinking water and housing. They have promised to address the violent abuse and neglect of Indigenous peoples in hospitals. They have promised to address the imprisonment and suicides of Indigenous peoples in staggering numbers. They have promised to address the disappearance and murders of Indigenous children and women in equally staggering numbers. Finally, they have promised to address the continuing trespass and plunder of Indigenous lands.

All the while, in a blatant and appalling act of hypocrisy, Trudeau and company spent millions battling internment camp survivors in court over compensation for the indelible harm they have endured.

Given the litany of lies and deceit, Trudeau’s parting, typically insipid greeting-card-like salutation that “We are here for you” did little to persuade anyone other than partisans or the gullible that the prime minister or his delinquent government is ready to offer Canada’s grievously injured Indigenous peoples anything more than vacuous grandiloquent comfort.

Still, Trudeau is adept at conveying tissue-thin gravitas through contrived, performative displays of empathy.

Recall when this jejune prime minister dropped to one knee amid a convenient crush of media in alleged solidarity with the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement in the humiliating aftermath of the broadcast of a slew of pictures and video featuring an adult Trudeau repeatedly donning racist blackface.

So, when Trudeau’s initial response to the mass grave’s discovery was faulted as inadequate and unbecoming of the profundity of the monstrous finding, on cue, he belatedly ordered Canadian flags on the Peace Tower in Ottawa and other federal buildings to be lowered to half-mast.

The symbolic directive was aimed at not only mollifying his critics but also demonstrating that Trudeau and the country were unified in grief and remembrance.

It was another tired, unconvincing performance.

A day later, on May 31, Trudeau ratcheted up his rhetoric, presumably to impress the First Nations “communities” that he, in effect, feels their pain.

“These were children who deserved to be happy. Most of all, they deserved to be safe. As a dad, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have my kids taken away from me. And as prime minister, I am appalled by the shameful policy that stole Indigenous children from their communities,” he said.

Ironically, Trudeau’s remarks – designed to advertise his caring paternal credentials – confirmed much about his mendacious character and nauseating double standards about the sanctity of life.

Remember that not once during Israel’s relentless 11-day bombardment of Gaza in May that killed 66 children and maimed, traumatised and orphaned so many others – all of whom also deserved to be happy and safe – did Trudeau ever say that he was “appalled” by the terror that Canada’s dear friend and ally had unleashed, once more, on besieged Palestinians.

Remember, as well, that not once did Trudeau commiserate as a “dad” with grieving Palestinian mothers and fathers who, once more, had to brave (not imagine) their sons and daughters being “taken away” suddenly and violently by a ruthless, occupying army intent on prosecuting a “shameful policy” of apartheid.

Though they are separated by time and distance, this is the inescapable truth that binds children killed by Israel in the prison known as occupied Palestine with Indigenous children killed by Canada in the prisons once known as “residential schools”: their killers considered the children disposable.

Trudeau will never, of course, admit this truth because he prefers, instead, to spin agreeable, picture-postcard-pretty myths about who and what he is.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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