UN declaration guides reconciliation

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says signing on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will cause ‘confusion and uncertainty’ for Canada.</p>

A decade of high expectations, broken promises for Indigenous peoples

Idle No More protestors close down Winnipeg’s major intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street in 2012. (John Woods / Free Press files)</p>

Idle No More protestors close down Winnipeg’s major intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street in 2012. (John Woods / Free Press files)

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

Despite government “commitment to reconciliation” Indigenous over incarceration continues to rise.

maccov02_29_16A Maclean’s investigation in 2016 that spanned nine months uncovered a system designed to put Indigenous Canadians in jail—and keep them there

TTAWA, ON– The Indigenous Bar Association (‘IBA’) expresses outrage at the continually rising rate of Indigenous incarceration. Despite calls to justice by the Nation Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings, the Office of the Correctional Investigator and both former and present Chief Justices, Canada’s abhorrent decarceration attempts are unacceptable.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator found the number of Indigenous people incarcerated has become a human rights issue. Indigenous people are more likely to be incarcerated and are subsequently more likely to be placed in segregation units. Statistics Canada recalls in 2006/2007 the proportion of Indigenous people entered into correctional services at provincial and territorial levels was 21% and 19% at federal institutions. In 2016/2017 those numbers drastically increase to 28% in provincial and territorial institutions and 27% in federal institutions. Indigenous women account for 43% of all custodial admissions.

In 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688 recognized the importance of restorative justice measures for addressing the disproportionate number of incarcerated Indigenous people. The Court found when sentencing an aboriginal offender, a judge must consider any unique systemic or background factors and alternate sentencing procedures to incarceration. Despite the clear guidance from Canada’s highest court, the majority of provinces have not implemented a procedure for producing what have come to be called “Gladue Reports” for Indigenous offenders.

Legal reforms are urgently needed to address systemic discrimination and bias within the justice system. The IBA recommends legal reform focused on equipping Indigenous Nations to regulate offenders in traditional ways.

The IBA calls on Indigenous, Federal, Provincial, Territorial and Municipal governments to immediately adopt the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action 31 and 34, which calls upon the justice system to provide alternatives to imprisonment and to undertake reforms to better address the needs of offending persons with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

The IBA calls upon those same governments to immediately adopt and pay specific attention to the National Inquiry into MMIWG’s Calls For Justice 5.14 and 5.21 which calls for specific attention to the over incarceration of Indigenous women and the implementation of recommendations made by the Office of the Correctional Investigator and the Auditor General of Canada.  MORE