The Alberta Utilities Commission (the “AUC”) recently announced that it will review its application requirements for consultation with Indigenous communities. The AUC has released an Interim Direction on Indigenous consultation for proponents to follow while this review is undertaken. “[T]o ensure that application requirements for consultation with First Nations and Métis are clear”, it is separating its review of other AUC application requirements. The commission’s goal is to have clear requirements for Indigenous consultation completed by the fall of 2020.
What the AUC Does
The AUC regulates the construction and operation of utility projects such as transmission lines, substations, power plants, hydro projects and gas utility pipelines, all of which may have the potential to impact Aboriginal and Treaty rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
The former AUC approval process did not specifically address Indigenous consultation or the assessment of impacts on Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Instead, Indigenous consultation was included in the general participant involvement program and there was no requirement to assess impacts on rights.
In June 2019, the AUC announced that it was undertaking a review of its stakeholder consultation process. On December 2, 2019, through AUC Bulletin 2019-20, Interim direction on Indigenous consultation the AUC has decided to conduct additional engagement “to ensure that application requirements for consultation with First Nations and Métis are clear” before releasing their updated procedures.
The AUC has released interim requirements for Indigenous consultation for project proponents to follow while it works with Indigenous communities and industry stakeholders to create new application requirements. This interim consultation process will apply to all new applications for transmission lines, substations, power plants, hydro projects, industrial system designations and gas utility pipelines made on or after March 1, 2020.
The AUC has also launched a pilot project to create a statement of intent to participate form specific for Indigenous groups. The AUC is piloting the use of the new form and is seeking feedback on its format and its effectiveness. SOURCE
Last year, it took ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy 20 days to get a blowout at a fracked natural gas well in Belmont County, Ohio under control. (Photo: Ohio State Highway Patrol/screenshot)
The revelation Monday that a blowout last year at an Ohio natural gas well owned by an ExxonMobil subsidiary was one of the country’s largest-ever leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane provoked impassioned calls for a rapid, just transition to 100% renewable energy nationwide.
“The next time some paid liar in the fossil fuel industry insists fracked gas is helping solve the climate crisis, remind them that a single Exxon fracking site ‘leaked more methane in 20 days than all but three European nations emit over an entire year,'” tweeted David Sirota, a speechwriter and adviser for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
Sirota quoted The Washington Post‘s report on the findings of a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team of American and Dutch scientists studied satellite data and found that the Feb. 15, 2018 blowout at a Belmont County well—which was hydraulically fractured or fracked before the incident—resulted in an “extreme” leakage of methane.
— Trevor Charles Gowan (@Trevor_Gowan)
“A little known gas-well accident at an Ohio fracking site was in fact one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the U.S.”
The team of 15 scientists explained that “from these data, we derive a methane emission rate of 120 ± 32 metric tons per hour. This hourly emission rate is twice that of the widely reported Aliso Canyon event in California in 2015.” The incident in California, which lasted four months, is the largest known accidental methane leak in the United States. Methane is 84–87 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
“The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well,” The New York Times reported Monday. “At the time, the Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, said it could not immediately determine how much gas had leaked.”
Critics of continuing fossil fuel production pointed to new findings about the blowout and its consequences as evidence of the dangers of using natural gas as a “bridge” in a national—and global—transition to 100% clean energy.
Author and activist Naomi Klein tweeted a link to the “terrifying” Timesreport and highlighted commentary from a scientist at the U.S.-based nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein)
Terrifying story about a blowout in Ohio that released “as much methane as the entire oil and gas industries of some nations release in a year.” EDF – which has aggressively pushed NatGas as a “bridge fuel” – explains that this could be happening every day https://t.co/ghGT74IjBx
“Right now, you have one-off reports, but we have no estimate globally of how frequently these things happen,” Steven Hamburg, EDF’s chief scientist and a co-author of the new study told the Times. “Is this a once a year kind of event? Once a week? Once a day? Knowing that will make a big difference in trying to fully understand what the aggregate emissions are from oil and gas.”
Bill McKibben, co-founder of the global environmental advocacy group 350.org—who also shared the Times report on Twitter—concluded that “natural gas [is] clearly a bridge fuel, it’s just that the bridge leads to hell.”
— 350.org Europe (@350Europe)
This is terrifying.
And shows clearly what we knew all along – gas is no less bad than oil and coal.
Morgan Harper, a progressive Democrat currently campaigning to represent the Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District—which includes the state capital, Columbus—also tweeted a short response to reporting on the study: “Green. New. Deal.”
ExxonMobil, for its part, did not indicate any intention to reconsider fracking or natural gas production in response to the new findings. Julie L. King, a spokesperson for the fossil fuel giant, told the Post by email that “we deeply regret this incident occurred and are committed to identifying and managing risks associated with our activities to prevent recurrence.”
“We are eager to learn more about their study,” King added. “ExxonMobil is working with government laboratories, universities, NGOs, and other industry participants to identify the most cost-effective and best-performing technology, including satellites, that can be adopted by all producers to detect, repair, and accurately measure methane.” SOURCE
This month, a group of Democratic lawmakers called for an ambitious plan for the United States to reach net-zero carbon pollution. While expertsdebate whether the proposal is technologically or politically feasible, the so-called Green New Deal is about more than shifting to cleaner, more advanced forms of energy sources. It’s also about shifting to more traditional forms of agriculture.
While farming generally takes a back seat to energy in discussions of climate, it accounts for up to a third of carbon pollution, by one account. Tractors and trucks that harvest and transport our food burn gasoline and diesel, generating pollution. Synthetic fertilizers derived from fossil fuels spur the release of heat-trapping gas from the soil, and cows and sheep emit large volumes of planet-warming pollution. Then there is the matter of agricultural giants burning forests to clear land for farming and grazing, thereby releasing carbon stored in trees into the atmosphere and reducing the capacity of the land to store CO2.
And yet, while agriculture is a big part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. Smart growing practices can help soak up pollution and store it in the ground — what’s known as carbon farming.
Plants scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their leaves and branches. When those plants shed their leaves and die, that carbon enriches the soil, where it’s gobbled up by insects, fungi and microbes, and then exhaled back into the atmosphere. If more carbon goes into the soil than comes out, the process helps to eliminate atmospheric carbon dioxide, cooling the planet. Carbon farming also helps guard against climate change, as soil that is rich with microbes and fungi holds more water, which protects it from drought and mitigates the impact of floods.
There are steps farmers can take to make sure the soil retains as much carbon as possible, namely disturb the soil as little as possible. Till the earth only where necessary. Keep the soil covered in a diverse array of deep-rooted crops. Rotate between cash crops, like wheat, and cover crops, like ryegrass, which nurture the soil and can be fed to livestock. Avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Protect areas that are rich in plant-life — and therefore carbon — such as forests, wetlands and peat bogs.
“What we’re learning is that the soil is a living organism. It’s full of life,” said Betsy Taylor, the president of Breakthrough Strategies, a consulting firm focused on carbon farming. Farmers can keep soil healthy by nurturing the growth of fungi and microbes. Healthy soil will store more carbon, which is good for the climate and good for crops. Unfortunately, the widespread use of chemical fertilizers is killing the soil.
“It’s possible to grow crops and plants of all kinds in soil that is biologically dead, in soil that — through the use of chemical fertilizers, through the use of herbicides and pesticides and fungicides, and through compaction and erosion and other loss of living topsoil — has become just a mineral medium,” said Connor Stedman, an agricultural consultant at AppleSeed Permaculture. “That’s what a lot of industrial agriculture practices are based on. They treat farms and crop growing almost like a factory.”
Taylor compared the use of reliance on chemical fertilizers to a bad diet. “I can eat my doughnuts and chocolate and beer and take a vitamin and pretend like I’m going to be okay, but under the surface, things are really getting damaged,” she said. “If we eat a healthy diet and try to eat an organic diet — that’s the latest science — then we’re more likely to be healthy. And it’s the same with the soil.”
Adopting sustainable farming practices will improve soil health. However, Stedman said, “There are costs and risks to transitioning to new practices. So that’s where the private sector, the NGO sector and the public sector all have a really big role to play in helping farmers to diversify and intensify and perenniallize their production.”
Taylor said philanthropists can help by bankrolling programs that educate growers about carbon farming. Policymakers can help by funding conservation efforts and by ending subsidies that incentivize monoculture, meaning the planting of one of just a few crops, like corn and soybeans, robbing the soil of essential nutrients.
“There is a real desire among, I think, all farmers to have healthy soils but they have been in a system that has actually subsidized them to do the opposite,” she said. “You have got to shift the way you farm to build healthy soil, and I would say, right now, that’s becoming a growing consensus across the political spectrum, which is exciting,” she said.
The resolution on a Green New Deal calls for the federal government to work with farmers to cut pollution and invest in sustainable farming, which could “really bring jobs into communities that are losing people to opioids and to collapsing farms,” Taylor said. She suggested that, as part of a Green New Deal, the federal government might also resurrect the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was created as part of the original New Deal. During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted trees and worked to slow soil erosion. A modern-day incarnation could do the same, in addition to promoting carbon farming.
“I think we would be making a huge mistake if we thought of the Green New Deal strictly in terms of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” Taylor said. “That’s essential, but it’s no longer enough.” A recent UN report on climate change finds that to prevent catastrophic warming, countries will need to remove huge sums of carbon pollution from the atmosphere, and currently, planting forests and farming carbon are the cheapest ways to do that.
“The only way to get [carbon dioxide] out of the atmosphere in great quantities and into the soil is by changing our farming and ranching practices. And a large part of that is we have to grow more things,” said Gabe Brown, 58, who deploys carbon farming techniques at his farm in Bismark, North Dakota. “We have to get away from monoculture production.”
Brown believes the government should curtail incentives for industrial farming and educate growers about carbon farming. “The more carbon a farmer or rancher can take out of the atmosphere and put in his or her soil, the greater the potential for profitability of their operation,” he said. “I am way more profitable than the average conventional producer… And I’m doing it without any government subsidies of any kind.”
John Norman, a retired University of Wisconsin soil scientist, studied Brown’s farm, which he said is storing around 80 tons of carbon per acre. He noted that a typical farm stores around 10 to 20 tons of carbon per acre.“We scientists must humbly go to the farming community and seek their guidance for what we can do to help them grow deep, healthy topsoil,” he said. “We need to stop catering to the big-agriculture-big-government money machine and put our hearts into healing our environment, like many — if not most — farmers truly want to do, but can’t because they are indentured to a brutal economic system.”
For Brown, the embrace of sustainable farming represents a return to more traditional practices. “I don’t care what you call it. It’s just farming and ranching in nature’s image. We have to get back to the basics,” Brown said. “We just follow the template nature provided, because it was a wonderful template. It’s only when man tries to impose his or her will on nature that we run into these issues.” SOURCE
Our oceans present an unprecedented opportunity to be a key part of our fight against climate change. Add your name if you agree: we need a Blue New Deal – alongside a Green New Deal – to rebuild our blue economy, protect and restore ocean habitat, and adapt in a climate changed world.
Ocean creatures are moving drastically to escape heating waters.
In September, I attended a CNN town hall on the climate crisis. That night, Bren Smith, an ocean farmer from Connecticut, asked me if I would support a Blue New Deal to restore our oceans, in addition to our efforts to fight climate change on land. I said I would, and I meant it – here’s what I’ll do to rebuild our blue economy, protect and restore ocean habitat, and adapt in a climate changed world.
Our coasts are flooding and eroding, threatening the 40% of Americans who live in coastal counties. Our safety, public health, food security, and infrastructure are at risk. If we do not act now, things will only get worse, as climate change leads to more severe weather.
I am proud to be one of the original co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, which charts a path to transition to a 100% clean energy future, while rebuilding our economy from the bottom up and creating millions of good paying, union jobs. Environmental justice and economic justice go hand-in-hand, and I am committed to making the climate crisis and the inequality crisis top priorities in my administration.
As we pursue climate justice, we must not lose sight of the 71% of our planet covered by the ocean. While the ocean is severely threatened, it can also be a major part of the climate solution – from providing new sources of clean energy to supporting a new future of ocean farming. That is why I believe that a Blue New Deal must be an essential part of any Green New Deal – helping us fight climate change, protecting our health, and creating good, high-wage union jobs in the process.
REBUILDING OUR BLUE ECONOMY
Oceans already support millions of jobs, underpin our food system and contributes $304 billion to our national GDP. They also have the potential to be one of our strongest tools in the fight against climate change. Three billion people around the world depend on wild-caught and farmed seafood as a major source of protein. Yet decades of overfishing, pollution, and climate impacts have pushed our oceans to the brink of collapse. We know that we can have a highly productive ocean. In fact, ocean-related jobs have grown at three times the rate of the national average. It’s time to restore our oceans and harness the potential of the Blue Economy. SOURCE
It’s time to walk the talk on reconciliation and the climate crisis.
Paarth Mittal is a student member of Divest UVic, a campus group that wants endowment and pension funds out of fossil fuel investments. Photo source: Divest UVic Facebook.
Last week a supermajority of faculty members at UVic (77 per cent) voted in favour of fossil fuel divestment. Why? Two of UVic’s major strategic priorities are “Promoting Sustainable Futures” and “Fostering Respect and Reconciliation.” These are values we pursue in our teaching, research and community engagement. For us, they are not buzzwords.
Therefore, we think it is hypocritical for UVic to present itself as a sustainability and reconciliation leader while investing in companies that are primarily responsible for both the climate emergency and Indigenous dispossession.
For example, UVic has $2.5 million invested in Imperial Oil (the Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil). Records show that Imperial Oil’s own scientists confirmed the realities of climate change as early as the 1970s, and yet the company has willfully pursued denial and policy obstructionism as an accumulation strategy. By investing millions of dollars into Imperial Oil, UVic is tacitly supporting its history of climate change denial; indeed, the university is hoping to profit from it. That is sustainability leadership in high-speed reverse.
Many fossil fuel companies also contribute to the destruction of Indigenous lands and waters with their pursuit of new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. For example, UVic’s endowment fund has $700,000 invested in Teck Resources. Teck is currently pursuing one of the largest open-pit oil sands mines ever proposed. The project is in close proximity to many Cree and Dene families. According to Indigenous Climate Action, “This project threatens our Indigenous rights, ways of life, and ability to ensure the preservation of our lands and territories.”
The investment in Teck Resources contradicts UVic’s Strategic Plan and Indigenous Plan, which “commits to building and strengthening respectful relationships with Indigenous communities locally, provincially, nationally and around the world.” How can UVic claim that reconciliation and respectful Indigenous relationships are top priorities while materially investing in the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples as well as destruction of their homelands and waterways?
The moral case for divestment has always been strong but critics sometimes worry about the financial implications. Won’t UVic’s endowment and pension funds lose money if they stop trying to profit from fossil fuel companies? The answer is no. The financial case for divestment is growing stronger by the day. Remember that Imperial Oil investment? It lost UVic over $700,000 last year.
Solar and wind stocks are outperforming oil and gas shares by a widening margin this year. Divested portfolios historically perform as well as, and often times better than, those invested in oil, gas and coal. Moreover, as energy generation shifts away from fossil fuels, investors who do not respond could be left with “stranded assets” — investments that are no longer profitable.
In the last four months alone, the University of California divested their $80-billion dollar portfolio, the European Investment Bank announced that it would stop lending to fossil fuel companies, and the Swedish Central Bank sold off its Alberta bonds because of that province’s high carbon footprint, which does not position the region well for the needed energy transition. More locally, UBC partially divested their endowment and their president has said that he’d like complete divestment soon. UVic has lost its opportunity to lead — but it is time we followed.
When we take on the fossil fuel industry, we take on one of the most politically and economically powerful industries in Canada. UVic researchers recently produced a report with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives showing how oil, gas, and coal companies are the biggest lobbyists in Canada. Indeed, over the last seven years the industry has averaged six lobby visits with the Canadian government per day for a total of over 11,000 visits. Likewise, the same people sitting on oil company boards are also on other boards, such as those that govern universities. The chair of UVic’s endowment fund, which is yet to divest, is also on the board of Horizon North Logistics which builds modular camps for oil sands production.
The votes of the majority of faculty at UVic last week signal that it is time for the university to walk its talk on sustainability and reconciliation and divest from fossil fuel companies. The young people at the heart of UVic’s mission deserve for our institutions to act honourably in solving the crisis that they will inherit. SOURCE
The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that the Dutch government must do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The judgment is final. Photo credit: urgenda / YouTube
Can ordinary citizens use the courts to force their leaders to fight climate change? In the most revolutionary climate ruling to date, the Supreme Court of The Netherlands delivered an emphatic “yes” on December 20, upholding a court order forcing the Dutch government to cut national carbon emissions.
In the wake of the decision, a group of children and young people in the US is hoping to gain traction in a similar legal battle (Juliana v. United States) as they claim the right to live in the same climate as previous generations.
Some 886 Dutch citizens — supported by the environmental group Urgenda — started their court battle against the government with a 2013 court summons for “knowingly contributing” to global warming and endangering their lives. They won their case, Urgenda v. the State of The Netherlands, in 2015. . Between 2015 and 2019, while the Dutch government tried to have a higher court overturn the landmark Urgenda ruling, global emissions of CO2 grew by 20 percent. They were the five hottest years ever recorded.
The 2015 Urgenda decision cited the scientific consensus on global warming and ordered the Dutch government to cut carbon emissions by at least 25 percent (below 1990 levels). It was based on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendation of a 25-40 percent reduction by developed countries to avoid a critical 2°C rise in global temperatures.
In upholding the unprecedented decision, the Dutch Supreme Court said its judgement was based on the universal duty to refrain from doing harm (Tort law), the European Convention on Human Rights — Articles 2 and 8, the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life — and the UN Climate Convention. The ruling that people have a fundamental right to protection from climate change victory could resonate profoundly in lawsuits over carbon emissions in many other countries.
Having exhausted all appeals, the Dutch government is expected to struggle to meet the emissions deadline. It has already closed one of the nation’s five coal-fired power plants and launched new subsidies for renewable energy. It will reduce the speed limit on highways from 130 kph (80 mph) to 100 kph (62 mph).
Time to Panic
Roger Cox, the attorney who represented Urgenda in its initial proceeding against the Dutch government in 2013, told WhoWhatWhy he believes the courts are our last chance because everything else has failed. The Netherlands is one of at least 28 countries where lawsuits seek to hold either governments — or fossil fuel companies — accountable for the effects of climate change.
In the absence of laws and policies to reduce carbon emissions, climate scientists are bluntly saying it’s time to panic.
“I hope this win, from a legal perspective, will create leverage in other cases around the world, not only in cases against countries’ governments but also oil majors,” said Cox, who is now leading a Friends of the Earth’s case against Shell Oil.
Ironically, the fact that a quarter of The Netherlands is below sea level does not seem to have played an important role in the Dutch court’s deliberations.
According to Cox, the decision “is more about the global effects, and sea level rise is only one of them, along with the destruction of whole ecosystems, the melting of glaciers and the danger to food supply from extreme weather events. I think what worries the courts and our judges is the danger of tipping points that will irreversibly create dangers we can do nothing about anymore. The danger is there if we don’t reduce emissions ambitiously enough.”
In the absence of laws and policies to reduce carbon emissions, climate scientists are bluntly warning that it is time to panic. The latest United Nations climate report calls for “radical transformations” because planet-warming emissions, if not cut radically over the next decade (7.6 percent per year, something no country has ever achieved), will cause mass extinctions and make parts of the planet uninhabitable. If a serious effort had begun in 2010, it says, the cuts required to keep global warming below 2°C and 1.5°C, respectively, would only have been 0.7 and 3.3 percent per year.
So far, commitments from states to cut carbon emissions have come in the form of international treaties, leading to decades of broken promises. The international community agreed, in the 2015 Paris climate accord, to hold global warming to “well below” 2°C (3.6°F) compared with pre-industrial levels. But the current rate of warming will raise the earth’s temperature by almost twice as much.
The Dutch Supreme Court shocker comes on the heels of failed negotiations on collective climate action at the latest UN Climate Summit (COP 25) in Madrid.
“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” said UN secretary general António Guterrez. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”
He admitted that, after 25-plus years of negotiations, world leaders still do not have the “political will” to stop climate chaos.
The mass resistance by young people against government-sanctioned climate change that took off last year caught the world by surprise. A global wave of school strikes culminated in the largest youth-led demonstrations in history during the week of September 20-27. Millions of people took to the streets in 150 countries. But it is as if “nothing has happened,” according to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. “The crisis is still being ignored by those in power.”
With Thunberg, practically unknown last year, making the cover of Time magazine — the youngest Time “person of the year” ever — and the emergence of groups like Fridays for Future, the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion Youth, Zero Hour and Youth v Apocalypse, climate change suddenly seems to be about intergenerational conflict.
But young people around the world have been confronting their governments for several years now — in court. Many of them were inspired by the landmark Urgenda case and/or Juliana v. United States, a federal lawsuit filed in 2015 in Eugene, Oregon, by a non-profit specializing in climate litigation, Our Children’s Trust. The 21 young plaintiffs, aged 8 to 19 at the time, are often referred to as the “climate kids.” MORE
The Akademik Lomonosov leaves St. Petersburg. Anton Vaganov/TASS
The power plant, Akademik Lomonosov, docked in the remote town of Pevek in September, Business Insider reports, where it’s now generating electricity for the first time. Operating a nuclear plant atop a barge is a world-first, and Russia expects the twin reactors to power as many as 100,000 homes — a plan that’s making environmentalists uneasy.
While the Russian barge seems to have completed its voyage without incident, it doesn’t take a particularly active imagination to imagine how catastrophic any mishaps along the way could have been for the global environment.
First Of Many
For better or worse, the rest of the world is catching on and copying Russia’s plan for portable nuclear reactors. Earlier this year, China announced plans to construct 20 similar power plants, all intended to float in the East China Sea and power artificial islands.
While the teams behind these power plants presumably considered and accommodated the possibility of large waves and bad weather, the rise of these free-floating nuclear reactors isn’t the most reassuring development as we head into a new year. SOURCE
After leading landmark inquiries on racism in Manitoba, residential schools and police discrimination in Thunder Bay, this jurist turned politician says he’s learned that shocking words are sometimes best: Genocide. Apartheid. War. Now, he has more to say.
ILLUSTRATION BY AGATA NOWICKA
The words are so shocking, so evocative of foreign atrocities, that many Canadians are still unwilling to accept that they apply to their own country – words such as “apartheid,” “genocide” and “war.”
But after decades of research from his inquiries into racial abuses in the justice system and in residential schools, Senator Murray Sinclair never hesitates to use those terms – even when he knows they might spark a backlash.
“Sometimes the shock value is worth it,” he told The Globe and Mail.
“It’s about making people sit up and take notice. It’s about getting people out of their comfortable chair and getting them to think seriously about it.”
A strong case can be made that the 68-year-old independent senator and retired judge has done more than any other Canadian to educate the country about the painful realities that have dogged its history and institutions.
As chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from 2009 to 2015, he documented the existence of cultural genocide in Canada’s residential schools. As a leader of justice and policing investigations in Manitoba and Thunder Bay, he exposed officials who were willfully ignoring racism in their police forces. And in his personal writing and speeches, Mr. Sinclair has hit even harder, describing a web of genocidal policies and apartheid laws that Canadian governments deployed in a “war” against Indigenous people – a war he says never really ended.
Although his formal inquiries have ended, his work is far from over. As he tirelessly follows a busy schedule of speeches across the country this year – including a recent one describing how Indigenous people were excluded from Confederation’s bargains – Mr. Sinclair continues to have an outsized influence in shaping Canada’s understanding of itself.
He sees himself as struggling to dismantle the legacy of a system that can be compared, in many ways, to the apartheid of South African history. Despite frequent hate messages on Twitter and Facebook, he continues to make that point on social media, shrugging off the anonymous attacks.
“There will be people who will always resist those statements,” he said in a two-hour interview in his Winnipeg office, symbolically located on an “urban reserve” under the authority of the Peguis First Nation.
“If you say that there’s been racism by white people against Indigenous people historically, you run the risk of white people standing up and saying, ‘No, we’re not racist.’ But if the evidence is there to support your position, you will also garner a level of support among the non-Indigenous population who will say, ‘Yes, we acknowledge it, so let’s get on with it.’”
His inquiries, beginning with the pioneering Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba in the late 1980s, were prompted by tragedies and injustices: the deaths of young Indigenous people in Manitoba and Thunder Bay and in residential schools, neglected by the police and the courts and never properly investigated.
But from those tragedies, Mr. Sinclair found lessons that have shifted Canada’s public debates.
When he was appointed associate chief judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba in 1988, he became the province’s first Indigenous judge and only the second in Canada. Within weeks, he was immersed in a hugely complex inquiry into the discrimination faced by Indigenous people in the province’s justice system. His relentless work to expose the barriers that hold back Indigenous people – and to find solutions – has scarcely paused in the three decades since then.
In interviews, he chooses his words carefully, speaking in calm and measured tones, even when his anger at historical abuses is clear. In speeches, he uses gentle humour and warm stories of his own family to make his points.
His goal is to reach Canadians who are open to learning about the country’s history – to give them “the sense that now they can talk about it, too.
“It’s not simply about confronting, it’s also about assisting. The intent from that is always, ‘So what are you going to do about it? So what should we do about it?’ Statements like ‘there’s racists in society’ that are not accompanied by ‘now what should we do about it?’ are not very helpful.” MORE