The Montreal-based Foundation for the Compulsory Study of Genocide in Schools is currently fighting for the provincial government to incorporate mandatory genocides studies in Quebec high schools.
Genocide is defined as the purposeful killing of a large group of people, particularly from a specific nation or ethnic group. Heidi Berger, creator of the foundation and an instructor at the Concordia Centre for Continuing Education, argues that too many secondary school students leave school with little to no information about genocides such as the Holocaust or Canada’s residential school system, as Quebec high schools do not integrate these histories enough into their curriculum.
To rectify this, the foundation has collected 1,245 signatures for a petition asking “that the National Assembly and the Minister of Education, Higher Education and Research act to make the study of genocide compulsory in all Quebec high schools as a means to creating a tolerant and peaceful society which is accepting of all cultures and religions.”
The petition also states that “racial and cultural intolerance and discrimination are the preconditions associated with the beginnings to genocide.”
Earlier this month, Liberal Member of the National Assembly David Birnbaum tabled this petition in the Assembly.
In an interview with The Daily, Berger emphasized that “recognition is so important, and not only for high school students. You have all these students in CEGEP and university now who got the education and how important it is, that once they leave the university gates, that they themselves understand the stages that lead to genocide.”
“Recognition is so important, and not only for high school students. You have all these students in CEGEP and university now who got the education and how important it is, that once they leave the university gates, that they themselves understand the stages that lead to genocide.”
Marcy Bruck, communications officer for the foundation, told The Daily, “[Berger] felt what was being taught wasn’t enough. […] She felt that the emphasis on genocide was very sporadic and that some sixth grade students had no idea about these very serious issues.”
The provincial government’s most recent official position on this is that teachers should have control over their curriculum, and that they, not the government, should choose how to incorporate the study of past genocides into their lessons. According to the government, compulsory studies would only serve as an extra layer of government intervention that high school students don’t need.
However, Bruck said, “This is not a difficult change to make. Teachers’ unions have expressed interests in adding genocide studies to their curriculum, and now it just comes to trying to pressure the government to very seriously consider this.”
“This is the time right now, from a social point of view, for these kids to learn about this, and the government should have a part in making that happen,” Berger added.
Berger also argues that Canada’s long history of accepting refugees, including but not limited to Jewish, Rwandan, Congolese, and Armenian people, warrants the province considering the next step and denouncing genocidal practices by opening students’ eyes to the reality of how genocide occurs.
“The only time that we actually expanded on genocide was in our last year of high school in our history class […] when we discussed Rwanda.”
Tiffany Alves-Wallace, a former Dawson College student and current McGill student, told The Daily, “Genocide was not a big part of our curriculum. […] The only time that we actually expanded on genocide was in our last year of high school in our history class […] when we discussed Rwanda.”
“I learned more about the Holocaust in CEGEP during my history classes, [specifically about] Germany due [to] my being in the language program and having mandatory classes for the country,” Alves-Wallace noted.
Alves-Wallace added that “We never really touched upon the impact of European influence on the Indigenous societies in Canada.”
The foundation has said in past interviews that the government has suggested they plead their case to the individual school boards of Quebec, but with seventy school boards in the provinces, that could possibly take years.