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MPs back motion calling on government to recognize residential schools program as genocide

NDP member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre Leah Gazan rises during question period in the House of Commons in June 2021. The House gave unanimous consent Thursday in favour of Gazan's motion calling on the federal government to recognize Canada's residential schools as genocide.  (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)
NDP member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre Leah Gazan rises during question period in the House of Commons in June 2021. The House gave unanimous consent Thursday in favour of Gazan's motion calling on the federal government to recognize Canada's residential schools as genocide. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)

Members of Parliament gave unanimous consent Thursday in favour of a motion calling on the federal government to recognize Canada's residential schools as genocide.

Leah Gazan, the NDP member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, introduced the motion following Question Period Thursday afternoon. Gazan brought forward a similar motion in June last year, but it did not receive unanimous consent.

"Today I lift up survivors, families, and communities who have sacrificed so much in order for people across Canada to know the truth; that what happened in residential schools was a genocide. I'm grateful to parliamentarians who unanimously passed my motion recognizing the truth of Canada's history," Gazan said in a statement.

"I look forward to working with the government to ensure the will of Parliament is honoured by formally recognizing residential schools as a genocide. Survivors deserve no less."

Pope described schools as genocidal

The motion comes after Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, described the schools as genocidal following a trip to Canada this summer, though he didn't use the word during the visit.

"Yes, it's a technical word, genocide. I didn't use it because it didn't come to mind. But yes, I described it. Yes, it's a genocide," Francis said in July.

WATCH | Pope Francis says residential schools amounted to genocide: 

The Church ran most of the residential schools in Canada. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend the government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997.

A 2015 report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said the schools constituted "cultural genocide" while detailing physical and sexual abuse, poor living conditions and malnutrition at them.

Gazan had announced her intention to reintroduce the motion following the Pope's comments.

The motion says residential schools meet the United Nations definition of genocide.

Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as an intention to destroy "In whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Genocide, according to the article, can include "Killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group," or "Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."