The Organization of American States wants Canada to agree to the creation of a panel to probe the allegation of genocide against Indigenous women and girls that was made in the final report of the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the organization, which is based in Washington and represents the 35 independent states of the Americas, wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland saying the report laid out “evidence of genocide” and that since Canada has supported independent probes of atrocities in other countries, it should support the creation of one here too.
READ MORE: Why ‘genocide’ was used in the MMIWG report
“The mere presumption of the crime of genocide against Indigenous women and girls in your country should not and cannot leave any room for indifference from the perspective of the Inter-American community and the international community,” Almagro wrote in the letter, dated June 3 and posted on his Twitter account on Tuesday.
“Given that your country has always sided with scrutiny and international investigation in situations where human rights are violated in different countries, I am expecting to receive a favourable response to this request.”
Canadian officials confirmed to Global News they have received the letter and are evaluating it.
But they are not yet saying whether the proposal to create a panel of experts is one they are considering.
WATCH BELOW: Trudeau say they need to examine MMIWG report before moving forward on calls to action
“Our government is committed to ending the ongoing national tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people,” said Adam Austen, press secretary to Freeland, in an email on Wednesday.
“Canada is a strong supporter of the rules-based international order and the multilateral institutions that underpin it, very much including the OAS, of which we are proud to be an active member. We have received the letter from Secretary General Almagro and will provide a response to this request soon.”
The panel proposed by Almagro would be what he calls an “Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts.”
Such a panel was created last year by the OAS to probe human rights abuses in Nicaragua with the consent of the state.
The group published a report in December 2018, finding that there had been crimes against humanity committed by the Nicaraguan president.
In response, Nicaragua ended the mandate of the investigators and while the OAS continues to monitor the situation, it is not clear what action is being taken.
Canadian officials say they do not consider it likely that expulsion from the group or sanctions would be on the table if such a panel were to share the conclusion of the MMIWG report that there has been a genocide.
In Canada though, the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act acknowledges a broader definition that states genocide can include not only acts commissioned by an actor but also those of “omission” as well.
Because of the different scope of those definitions, there has been debate in recent days over whether it is accurate to describe the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as “genocide.”
“Genocide (like all crimes) is an act. To lose sight of this fact is to jeopardize the usefulness of one of the most important tools of international criminal law,” wrote one columnist in the Globe and Mail newspaper on Tuesday night.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan also questioned the use of the term, saying the killings and disappearances are “a series of criminal acts, criminal acts that may be racially motivated.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially did not use the term “genocide” in his comments about the findings of the report but by Monday evening adjusted his remarks to acknowledge that the report “found that the tragic violence that Indigenous women and girls have experienced amounts to genocide.”
Bernie Farber of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has also said he believes the term fits within the understandings of international law.
“Taking First Nation children and sending them to residential schools is a form of genocide; the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is a form of genocide,” Farber said.
“It’s not Auschwitz, it’s not Rwanda, but it’s certainly a form of genocide as we have defined it internationally.”