Montreal

Montreal group fights to make genocide studies compulsory in Quebec

A Montreal-based group is pushing for the education ministry to make genocide studies compulsory in Quebec high schools.

Foundation says not many high school students are aware of history of residential schools, genocides

Kyle Matthews and Heidi Berger say high school students in Quebec are taught almost nothing about genocides or Canada's history of aboriginal residential schools. (CBC)

A Montreal-based group is pushing for the education ministry to make genocide studies compulsory in Quebec high schools.

"I would basically like to see genocide, all genocides, as a compulsory unit in Grade 11 ... as compulsory for teachers to teach it," said Heidi Berger, creator of The Foundation for the Compulsory Study of Genocide in Schools.

Berger says most students who graduate from high school in Quebec know very little about genocides, such as the Holocaust, or about the history of residential schools, which were federally-run religious boarding schools aimed at assimilating aboriginal people in Canada.

Up to teachers, government says

The foundation has met with the Quebec Education Ministry. Berger said ministry officials told the group that it's up to teachers to determine how genocide studies are incorporated into the classroom.

Kyle Matthews, senior deputy director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights at Concordia University, said that's not good enough.

"Quebec has accepted so many communities that have fled these crimes and genocides — the Jewish, Armenians, Congolese, Rwandans. It's part of our Quebec DNA to offer a safe haven. Now we need to go the next step," Matthews said.

A ministry spokesman told CBC in an email that the Quebec and Canadian history curriculum is currently under review.

"The new version of the program will address the issue of residential schools. The time spent on the studies of this historical knowledge will depend on the planning of each teacher," the email said.

“If no one knows the truth...it's difficult for reconciliation to happen,” said residential school survivor Kakaionstha Deer. (CBC)
Kakaionstha Deer, a residential school survivor, says the government's response is disappointing.

"If no one knows the truth, if it's not taught, it's difficult for reconciliation to happen," said Deer, who was sent to a residential school in Ontario when she was six years old and returned home after her mother fought for three years to get her back in Quebec.

The foundation said the provincial government suggested they plead their case to the individual school boards, but Berger said that could take years.

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