Murray Sinclair has tried for years to shock Canada into confronting colonialism. He’s not done yet

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.’”

At top left, Mr. Sinclair is ceremonially welcomed as TRC chair in 2009. The commission’s task was to learn what happened at the schools, such as Wabasca Residential School, whose unmarked graveyard is shown at top right. In 2015, commissioners unveiled the final report, shown at bottom right. Since then, Canadians have honoured residential-school survivors on annual Orange Shirt Days on Sept. 30, like the one shown at bottom left in Thunder Bay this year.  THE GLOBE AND MAIL, THE CANADIAN PRESS, REUTERS

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

House passes motion calling on Ottawa to pay First Nations child welfare compensation ordered by tribunal

Indigenous services minister says government has no plans to drop court challenge of compensation order

NDP MP Charlie Angus asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The House of Commons passed a non-binding NDP motion Wednesday calling on the federal government to pay compensation to children and families affected by the on-reserve child welfare system, as ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in September.

The federal government is seeking a judicial review before the Federal Court aimed at quashing the human rights tribunal compensation order.

“All parties have called on them to comply with the ruling,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who tabled the motion.

“You can’t comply with the ruling if you are trying to quash the ruling.”

The tribunal told Ottawa to pay $40,000 each to First Nations children — along with some of their parents and grandparents — who were apprehended from their families and communities through the on-reserve child welfare system and in Yukon.

If the federal government proceeds with the judicial review, Angus said, it will be in defiance of Parliament — which could trigger committee hearings that would see Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and his officials hauled before MPs to answer questions.

“This is going to be a lose-lose for them if they think they can defy Parliament on this,” said Angus.

The compensation order also included children who were denied health services, or who had to leave their communities to obtain those services.

The motion called on the federal government to “fully comply with all orders made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal as well as ensuring children and their families don’t have to testify their trauma in court.”

The motion also called for “a legislated funding plan for future years that will end the systemic shortfalls in First Nations child welfare.”

No plans to drop challenge

Miller said that while the government has no plans to drop the court challenge, it is still committed to finding a way to compensate First Nations children affected by the on-reserve child welfare system. MORE

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‘It’s a constant battle’: Nearly 40% of Canadians experience racism in the workplace, survey reveals

Subtle slights or insults include being treated as less smart than white people

Karlyn Percil says she was laughed at by former colleagues for her accent, while also praised for being able to ‘speak well.’ She left a position in Toronto as a senior project manager in international banking and now is a motivational speaker. (Samantha Clarke)

After years of working on Toronto’s Bay Street, Karlyn Percil was burnt out — not from the demanding workload, but from the subtle racial slights from colleagues that had finally taken their emotional toll.

Percil, originally from St. Lucia, said these microaggressions came in the form of derogatory comments about her accent, or expressions of surprise that she was smart and articulate, and presented herself well.

“I had panic attacks at work. I was crying myself to sleep,” said Percil, who eventually left her investment banking job in 2017. “It takes a toll on you.”

And it’s something that many Canadians of colour have experienced. Indeed, a new study, Race Relations In Canada in 2019, conducted by Environics Institute For Survey Research, has found that one in five Canadians experiences discrimination regularly or from time to time.

While Canadians surveyed said a significant number of these incidents occur “on the street,” an equal number, nearly 40 per cent, said they experience racial discrimination in the workplace.

Subtle slights or insults

Some of that, according to the study, takes the form of day-to day experiences involving subtle slights or insults, such as being treated as being not as smart or mistaken for someone who serves others.

Percil, who was a senior project manager in international banking, said there were times when it was assumed she was at a meeting to take the minutes.

Meanwhile, other colleagues, she said, wanted to get rid of their accents and take classes to try “to learn to speak like everybody else.”

She was also self-conscious about being considered too loud, and would be reluctant to share ideas with passion “for fear of being called ‘the angry black woman.’

“It’s exhausting … the anxiety sets in. The fear of saying the wrong thing. You find yourself speaking less, you find yourself holding back,” Percil said.

‘It’s a constant battle’

Even today, as a motivational speaker and the founder of SisterTalk Group, a network aimed at mentoring women of colour, Percil said she experiences similar prejudices. For example, when she walks into a room to speak at an event, organizers rarely assume she’s the keynote speaker.

“It is a constant battle that we have to go through. It’s not just once.”

The Environics survey was conducted online between April 17 and May 6 with a sample of 3,111 Canadians 18 and over. (CBC)

Shakil Choudhury, a Toronto-based consultant who provides diversity and unconscious-bias training to police and teachers, said the more obvious egregious slurs are lessening in the workplace.

“The overt racist and the overt bigot is really, really hard to find. I don’t even think very many exist in the context of a lot of organizations,” he said.

“I think the stuff that happens in the workplace is actually way more subtle.”

It’s not unusual for  women and people of colour to experience being cut off and not being heard when they’re at meetings, Choudhury said. As well, ideas expressed by them and by Indigenous people only get validated when they are mentioned by white people, he said.

“The micro is one of those things that if you’re not in a body that’s experiencing it, you’re not going to notice it.” MORE

In 2019, What Should We Do with Sir John A. Macdonald Statue?


SINCLAIR SPEAKS Author, educator and columnist Dr. Niigaan Sinclair spoke at St. Mary Magdalene Church Tuesday evening about all sides of the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

In a Letter to the Editor  (Nov 22, Picton Gazette) Paul Allen wrote:

“Good morning, Councillors

On Tuesday evening I attended a presentation by Dr. Niigan Sinclair on Sir John A Macdonald’s mistreatment of Indigenous children, women, and men in Canada.

I understand that Dr. Sinclair’s presentation was the first in a series of talks that is being scheduled in the County – and that is sponsored, at least in part, by the municipality.

The launch of this series is meant to coincide with the re-installation of “Holding Court” – a sculpture depicting the start of Sir John A Macdonald’s legal career in Picton – in front of the public library on Main Street.

I admit that I’ve not been particularly conscientious in my own response to Dr. Sinclair’s father’s call for truth and reconciliation. I learned many profoundly troubling things about the abuse of Indigenous peoples in Canada on Tuesday evening.

I’d heard of various controversies surrounding public monuments to Sir John A Macdonald and other figures who played major roles in this shameful part of our nation’s history, though I hadn’t paid any of them especially close attention.

On Tuesday evening, I learned much more about how different communities across Canada have been struggling with these difficult issues.

Which brings me to write to you this morning.

I would like to make a deputation to Council on November 26, 2019; meanwhile, I respectfully submit that Council should defer the re-installation of “Holding Court” until there’s been further opportunity for residents in the County to learn of this pending change in our common space and to share their perspectives with Council.

I worry that no amount of interest in people’s opinions after the fact will make up for an apparent lack of interest beforehand.

Thank you.
Paul Allen, Picton

The presentation that Mr. Allen that Mr Allen refers to was given by Dr. Nigaan Sinclair, the son of Dr. Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.

In his presentation describing Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy, Nigaan Sinclair said,

“I’m aware of his vision of the railway, of a united Canada which we have all inherited. I’m aware he was driven, unwavering, forceful and the prototypical dream of every Canadian. I know that he is the vision that Canadian’s want to imagine themselves as and that even in his death, as Wilfred Laurier said, he is the history of Canada itself. But here is where we get honest. I’m a bit tired of having to defend the merits of Macdonald, because the conversatoin goes as follows: he is a man of his time. He needs to be viewed in the context of the way people viewed the world at that time. We need to forgive him for his complicatedness.”

“Violence is violence is violence,” echoed Sinclair. “What I mean by that is Macdonald’s career, while remarkable and important and impactful, is defined by incredible brutal and draconian violence, particularly against Indigenous Peoples.

“Violence is violence is violence.”—  Dr. Niigan Sinclair

“He is the primary perpetrator of genocide against Indigenous People, something that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged, recognized and accepted responsibility for. If the Prime Minister of of a country acknowledges genocide has occurred and the perpetrator is the man we’re speaking about tonight, it’s worth having a conversation and using the word itself.”

So what does the statue actually say to our children? At the very least, just re-positioning the statue must include a plaque that describes Macdonld’s full legacy: father of Confederation and perpetrator of the ongoing Indigenous genocide.

Here is where we need to be honest. Violence is violence is violence.

 

 

 

A burning case for a radical future: Naomi Klein says UBC needs to get with the program


Naomi Klein wrapped up the final leg of her book tour on October 26 Chan Centre

Naomi Klein wrapped up the final leg of her book tour on October 26, presenting at UBC’s Chan Centre for a sold out venue as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival.

Klein opened the event with a discussion on her new book and was joined by Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous land defender from the Secwepemc territories as well as event moderator, UBC School of Journalism Professor Kathryn Gretsinger.

Klein’s seventh book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, focuses on the interconnectedness of what she refers to as simultaneous planetary and political “fires.” These fires are both literal in reference to rising temperatures and climate crisis, as well as in a metaphorical sense; With references to global political crises and the rise of fascism under figures like Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India and Kashmir, and Duterte in the Philippines, to name a few she touched on.

“A clear formula is emerging between many of these fascist figures who are trading tactics,” she said.

In her opening address Klein emphasized themes from her book, particularly that climate destruction systematically intensifies pre-existing societal inequalities and vulnerabilities. She cited the historic 2017 wildfires in BC as an example, sharing that while smoke hung over the entire Lower Mainland for weeks on end, it was Indigenous communities whose wellbeing was disproportionately affected, along with undocumented migrant workers working in BC’s interior.

Klein brought hope to the on-stage conversation by addressing that while political and planetary fires are raging, metaphorical ‘personal’ fires are also on the rise, and continue to spark global social movements, from Haiti to Chile to Lebanon and beyond.

From racism to colonialism, imperialism, neoliberalism, extractivism, eco-fascism, climate destruction, poverty and despair, in Klein’s words, these struggles can be tackled all at the same time rather than as single-voter issues.

“The fight for Indigenous rights and title is absolutely inseparable from the fight for a habitable planet. They are one and the same,” Klein stated emphatically in the two hour event.

Klein’s book is dedicated to the late Secwepemc leader and activist Arthur Manuel. His daughter, Kanahus Manuel — founder of the Tiny House Warriors movement in BC — joined her on stage for the event. Manuel reiterated the interconnectedness of Indigenous land rights as central to movements for climate justice, particularly as the Canadian government has repeatedly stated it’s intent to go on with Trans Mountain Pipeline construction despite a lack of Indigenous peoples’ consent.

Image result for kanahus manuelBearing a broken wrist and a defiantly raised fist, in a voice that was calm and contained, Manuel recounted a chilling incident of police violence from the week before.

“As I stand here today, I have this cast as proof of what Canada does to Indigenous people when they stand up for Indigenous land rights. There are mothers and children on the front lines.

“I don’t want anyone here to ever have to feel how this feels — for the RCMP to come and break your wrist at your home and take you away for three days without medical attention.”

Manuel was referring to her arrest the week before, when she and other Secwepemc land defenders had been resisting as federal pipeline developers encroached onto unceded Secwepemc territories.

“We expected them to deal with the matter in a diplomatic way; this is supposed to be a first world country,” said Manuel.

As Manuel handed the microphone back to Klein, she received a standing ovation from the packed Chan Centre audience, members of the audience joining her in standing with fists raised in unison with her own stance. MORE

Forged in Fire: California’s Lessons for a Green New Deal

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo, flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif. A federal hazard tree-removal program will remove destroyed trees from last year's deadly Camp Fire that remain on private property and could fall on public roads and facilities. But the Chico Enterprise-Record reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency program will not take down trees that could fall on homes. Some arborists have estimated there are half a million to a million burned trees remaining from the fire that wiped out 14,000 homes and killed 85 last November. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018. Photo: Noah Berger/AP

WE WERE JUST TAKING PICTURES. Of the ash, stray bricks, and weeds. Of twisted metal and charred patio furniture. Of the pine trees still standing on the edge of the lots, their towering trunks now charcoal black. Of the lonely white brick fireplace in the middle of it all, the only surviving structure, metal pokers hanging expectantly by the grate.

“Get the hell off my property!”

The words came bellowing from a burly man who had just pulled up to the pile of ash that once was his home in Paradise, California. As he shouted a litany of complaints, it became clear that his rage wasn’t only reserved for us trespassers — and there have been plenty who have gone to Paradise to gaze at the eerie emptiness where a thriving community once stood, before it was decimated by California’s deadliest fire one year ago.

The target was myriad forces that had conspired to twist the knife, again and again, on his already wrenching property loss — from the insurance company that wouldn’t pay up, to the county that wouldn’t let him clean up, to the state that wanted his (now contaminated) well to be sealed up. His rage was also directed at the absence of decent temporary housing for fire victims like him, not to mention the electric utility that had started the blaze and was still evading responsibility.

When the complaints petered out, I approached the man to introduce myself and apologize for our intrusion. But as I got closer, I felt his volatility: I have been in many disaster-struck communities and know how quickly the gale-force of emotion these events churn up can direct itself at the closest available target. We wished him luck and left.

The encounter was a reminder of the kind of stress that is in the air in the parts of California recently scorched by fire, as well as in the communities that have welcomed thousands of newly homeless neighbors to towns now bursting at the seams. The intersecting hardships experienced by so many in the region also explain why, days before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Camp Fire that burned down Paradise and killed 86 people, local politicians in neighboring Chico unveiled a plan calling for the small city to adopt its own Green New Deal.

Like its national inspiration, the Chico Green New Deal framework marries rapid decarbonization targets with calls for more affordable housing; a safe and sustainable food system; investments in “clean, 21st century” public transit; green jobs creation, including projects earmarked for the poorest residents; and much more.

Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy.

“Your city council has heard the call of its community that has resounded locally and across the nation,” said Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown when the plan was announced. “We are choosing to walk the walk of this movement and to take the leadership being demanded of us.” In an interview, Brown told me that the Camp Fire’s impact on both Paradise and Chico was a glimpse of the future unless action is taken to both radically lower emissions and build “communities that are more resilient to these shifts.” Brown is well aware that a small city like hers isn’t going to make much of a dent in global emissions. But, she said, “We can demonstrate what a Green New Deal looks like at the local level.

The Chico plan is one of many similar local initiatives that have sprung up in the year since the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with young demonstrators demanding that the Democratic Party embrace a sweeping Green New Deal to meet the twin crises of climate disruption and deepening inequality. Since then, as the Green New Deal proposal has picked up momentum in the Democratic primaries, several states and big cities have unveiled their own frameworks, including Maine and Seattle, where city council recently passed a resolution that included the city’s most ambitious climate justice targets to date. It also pledged to create an oversight board to hold the city to its commitments, a body that will be made up of representatives from communities directly impacted by racial, economic, and environmental injustice, as well as climate experts and representatives from trade unions and green groups.

And yet the contribution now coming from humble Chico — a scrappy northern California college town with a population of approximately 100,000 — may be the most politically significant. Because the Chico Green New Deal is based directly on this region’s hard-won experience of living through the 2018 inferno; it was forged, quite literally, in fire.

Ever since the Green New Deal landed on the political map, liberals have attacked it for its supposedly impractical scope and ambition. Fighting poverty, racism, and homelessness are worthy goals, we have been told — but what do they have to do with lowering greenhouse gas emissions? Surely a carbon-centric approach — like a simple tax or cap-and-trade and some narrow regulations on polluters — would be more likely to succeed. And besides, connecting greenhouse-gas reductions with building a fairer society just confirms Republican beliefs that climate change is a vast left-wing plot: Better to focus exclusively on pollution and worry about the rest down the road. Conservative Chico city council members have gone on the offensive against the Green New Deal with precisely this kind of attack.

PARADISE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire October 21, 2019 in Paradise, California. It has been one year since the the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise, California charring over 150,000 acres, killed 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 homes and businesses. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An aerial view of a destroyed neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2019, one year after the Camp Fire. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Yet Chico’s lived experience over the past year is a devastating rebuke to this line of criticism. As the community that housed the vast majority of people displaced by the Camp Fire, Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy, one that is willing to make major nonmarket investments in housing, transit, health (including mental health), water, electricity, and more. MORE

Ontario First Nation newsroom set on fire in ‘targeted’ attack: publisher

Damage to the The Turtle Island News newsroom building in Ohsweken, Ont. on Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation.

The office of an Ontario First Nation weekly newspaper was set on fire during a “targeted attack” earlier this week, the outlet’s publisher said Thursday.

Lynda Powless, who is also the owner of Turtle Island News in Six Nations of the Grand River near Hamilton, said the incident happened around 5 a.m. on Monday, when an unknown assailant drove a truck into the building.

“Police told me we were targeted,” she said in an interview. “This was an attack on free speech and a free press in First Nation communities.”

Six Nations police and the fire department did not respond to a request for comment.

Powless said security video shows a black pickup truck driving into the north end of the one-storey building. After the collision, the cameras melted in the fire and no images of the perpetrator were captured, she said.

Police told her that gasoline was used to set the building ablaze.

“It scared the hell out of me because this is a wooden building,” Powless said. “Thank God no one was hurt.” SOURCE