Qaqqaq, NDP corner Liberals on mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples

Call for criminal investigation could lead to progress on reconciliation

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq holds a photo last month of French Oblate priest Joannis Rivoire, who is accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children who attended residential schools in Nunavut communities in the 1960s. The NDP has called on the government to investigate Rivoire and other alleged perpetrators within the residential school system. (Screen grab courtesy of CPAC)

By Corey Larocque

With one deft move, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq advanced the fight for justice over Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples and, at the same time, painted the federal Liberal government into a corner on one of the country’s most pressing issues.

Qaqqaq and NDP counterpart Charlie Angus, an Ontario MP, called on Liberal Justice Minister David Lametti on Thursday to appoint what they called a “special prosecutor” to conduct a government-funded investigation into crimes committed against Indigenous Peoples, particularly at residential schools but also at other government-run institutions, such as sanatoriums for treating tuberculosis.

The government dismissed the NDP’s call, saying the justice minister doesn’t direct police investigations. Investigating crimes is the exclusive jurisdiction of the police. That’s an appropriate response from Lametti’s office. Law enforcement and the justice system do need to operate independently from politics to eliminate the prospect of politicians using their office to prosecute their opponents.

But what Canada is learning about the scope of the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples suggests it’s much bigger than any police department can handle as part of its routine policing. Most residential schools are in sparsely populated, remote communities where the local police detachment might be just a few officers.

Qaqqaq is right that these circumstances require a unique mechanism to look into who did what to residential school children, whether their treatment was criminal and whether it’s possible to prosecute any offenders.

It makes sense to create an independent body to investigate crimes committed against Indigenous Peoples. It would be messy for the RCMP or provincial police forces to probe governments, politicians and churches. Certainly, police have effectively investigated these entities in the past, but never on the scale that might be required to get to the bottom of this situation.

Canada doesn’t have much experience in the kind of investigation the NDP described — an independent body with the power to investigate the government and to lay charges.

Whether it’s a special prosecutor, a public inquiry or a Royal commission, what’s needed is a commitment to get to the bottom of who did what, and whether they can be held criminally responsible.

The abuse of children at residential schools has been well known for a long, long time. But now, after many Canadians learned there are hundreds — maybe thousands — of unmarked graves near the school sites there is more than reasonable grounds to suspect that some of those dead children were victims of very serious crimes.

The same day Qaqqaq and Angus called for the criminal investigation, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said during a news conference that, for most Canadians, there was no cemetery attached to the schools they attended.

The fact that there are gravesites at residential schools is a sign, Singh said, that administrators knew that children would die.

While there’s no doubting that Qaqqaq is motivated by genuine anger over the mistreatment of residential school children specifically, and Indigenous Peoples generally, her call for a special probe was also a shrewd political move. In a bizarre twist of fate, Qaqqaq has done some of her strongest work as an MP since announcing last month she won’t be running for re-election.

With a federal election on the horizon, the NDP has created an issue with which they can beat the Liberals up on a key file that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds close to his heart.

Whenever Liberal candidates talk about Crown-Indigenous relations, their New Democrat opponents will repeat their party’s demand that the government create a special probe to look into crimes against Indigenous Peoples. New Democrats will point to Liberal inaction as proof the party doesn’t care. And if the Liberals do come around to creating a special inquiry, the NDP will take credit for making them do it. Politically, it’s a win-win for the NDP.

The sooner the Liberals act on Qaqqaq’s and the NDP’s recommendation, the better for them.

It would also be better for Indigenous Peoples – and help honour the memories of the children lying in unmarked graves outside residential schools.

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Need a real MP not an ego driven drama student. on

    Can’t wait fir the election so we can get an MP that actually does the work. Instead of being the NDP’s token Inuk sock puppet.

    • Posted by Raven on

      No kidding. The people around her are affirming her by telling her how many followers she gains after her speeches. She’s drinking the koolaide, tang.

      She is listening to people who did not elect her.

  2. Posted by Journalism or pre_election propaganda? on

    Is this news or an opinion piece from Iqaluit’s NDP central committee?

    • Posted by iWonder on

      I’m curious what motivated this piece too. I suspect there are a few things, such as reader engagement (cynics might say clicks). Articles on Mumilaaq are always very active, and active articles bring in site visits which are marketed to potential advertisers. With that in mind the temptation to prod / exploit (some might say ‘troll’) the reactivity of the many who routinely share their distastes for our MP’s politics must be hard to ignore.

      Also, perhaps Nunatsiaq wants to appear a little more balanced than the comments section typically indicates. This is the only forum I have come across that is so routinely critical of Mumilaaq, some of that being articulate and effective, but not all of it. As for the ‘not all of it’ part, some criticism has become stale, reflexive, and a bit too rote. The first two comments above are good examples.

      Does the author really think the NDP has a chance to win the election? It’s really hard to imagine any serious thinking person coming to that conclusion, honestly. Which is to say I suspect this piece was driven by forces other than simple reason.

      I guess we will see what happens.

  3. Posted by Old Timer on

    Again what going on ??

    • Posted by Concorn on

      Ms Trump in Nunavut! I00% agree. Here she goes again

  4. Posted by Rick on

    I can’t wait for the new election too, why did I voted for her at the first place? She doesn’t know Politician.

  5. Posted by Blind leading the blind on

    Ah so she does know how to politick for her party. She was never fit for the job that has the privilege to get paid for at this point. I wish I could take 6 months and get paid 184k/year.

  6. Posted by No Moniker on

    Corey, I think you are overestimating the salience of this as an election issue and its potential to tilt the vote into win territory for the NDP. If the Liberals do act on these recommendations, which they might, expect them to do so on a timeline and on terms suited to them. While that might still be an ethical win for the NDP, don’t expect it to translate into an electoral win. Even Tommy Douglas was unable to bring the NDP to power with the prestige and momentum of his Universal Health Care program.

    As for Mumilaaq now doing her best work, it’s hard to deny that the present moment plays into her oeuvre, a combination of outrage porn, grievance and identity politics unfortunately played with little method, skill or discipline.

    Granted, the present situation has changed the national mood. This has been a boon for Mumilaaq as the media has embraced and amplified her anger and aesthetic, while she has been handed a much less ambiguous injustice to rail against than the DNA composition of the NunatuKavut.

    Still, none of this has changed the quality of our representation or the prospects of anything better or different from her in our future.

  7. Posted by A Commenter on

    Lay charges against whom, though? Aren’t most of the government officials who oversaw this dead, or had only tangential presence during their time of operation? I can fully understand the necessity for some kind of accountability, but to place the entirety of the Canadian government under arrest or have a Nuremberg judgment is the height of absurdity. Civil damages from the feds and provinces, certainly from religious bodies like the corrupt RCC, that’s a different matter entirely. But other than that, the most they’re going to be able to do is put a Macdonald statue behind bars.

    The last of these centres closed in 1997 when Justin Trudeau was at uni. Nobody is going to put him, Chrétien or Mulroney in prison, let alone the Pope. Typical NDP emotional posturing with minimal specifics as to actual concrete details. This is in really poor taste to be fundraising off historical exploitation of little kids and framing it as a “political win” or “cornering” the governing party. But what else is to be expected from the Tik Tok tankie party in fourth place that has no agenda whatsoever besides “owning teh Libs.”

    • Posted by Confused on

      You seem a little mixed up on the ‘OwN tHe LiBs’ thing, which is a meme describing conservatives, not one I would associate with the NDP, being very left leaning / progressive social democratic with many similar elements to modern liberalism .

  8. Posted by Close the Catholic churches on

    Her intentions are on the right track.
    It will take politicians and a special force to work on the file for years to come.
    I haven’t heard any other politician speaking about pursuing this horrendous case, except for the prime minister on Canada day.

    Closing all the Catholic Churches in Canada would give some of us a sense of satisfaction and little bit of healing.

  9. Posted by Get Used to It on

    Indigenous is trending on social media (except local FB) Becoming radical is the new thing for young people. They are claiming their power.
    Qaqqaq has aligned herself with these social justice warriors. And that’s not a bad thing to be, a SJW, we need social justice. However, she throws around dramatic cliches, which only incite in a negative way, generalizing and stereotyping.
    Mumilaaq has a role to play in highlighting our issues, just not in the role of MP.

    • Posted by Social Media is Not the Real World – Get Used to It on

      The problem is, she represents all Nunavummiut, not only the majority. She has done a good job making Nunavut born and bred non-Inuit feel like unwanted second-class citizens.

      We need a unifier, not a divider.

      • Posted by Welcome to the club dude on

        Perhaps you will get a better understanding of how the Indigenous population has felt for so many damn years. At least you are allowed to speak your language as we weren’t even allowed to do in these damn jails which were called schools. We finally have an Inuit expressing some of the frustration we have felt and not speaking from party talking points. I have voter CONservative and liberal in prior elections but, NDP all the way forever for this voter!

  10. Posted by Manapik on

    You can’t bargain with the truth
    ‘Cause for those who were deceived
    There’ll be no reprieve
    There’ll be no time to believe – in the end
    every little thing you do
    You better know it’s coming back to you.

  11. Posted by Sawatis on

    I find it interesting how much like the left-leaning CBC, the message boards here are so heavily dominated by what appear to be Conservative Party supporters. Liberals would also be opposed to Mumilaaq, but the Conservative rudeness is pretty easy to spot. Of course now that I’ve said this, I’m sure you’ll all claim to be Liberal supporters now, but I’m not gonna buy into that if you do.

    The latest polls of Nunavut show party support at 41% for the NDP, 32% for the Liberals, 22% for the Conservatives and 5% for the Greens.

    Apparently some parties have more keyboard warriors than they’d like to admit, lol.

    • Posted by Pork Pie on

      I’d love to know the source of your polling numbers, I tried to find them but was unable to. Don’t you think those might be a little misleading at this point, given that no candidates have been announced?

      Here is the most recent data I could find Federally, which suggests the Liberals are most likely headed for a majority:

      I’m also fairly certain you can be rude no matter where you land on the political spectrum. Do you expect people to believe that Liberals are less rude or nasty? Or are they just more sophisticated at it?

      The point is larger than that though, isn’t it? The point is conservatives are rude, and even worse, they are conservative—and worse still, these ones are party hacks! Clearly these people need not be listened to or engaged with.

      Instead of trying to stigmatize them, why not present better points?


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