That thing you said? It isn’t true.

Right now twitter, tumblr and Facebook are exploding with shocking news…apparently Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has “change[d] [his] tune on residential schools as genocide“.

As you can expect, it is upsetting a lot of people to hear that Justice Sinclair is reversing his earlier statements that Residential Schooling was an act of genocide.

What makes this even worse is that it isn’t true.

APTN, I love you to bits, but you’ve messed up, and it’s playing right into the hands of people who have been smack talking the TRC since day one.  Now, there are plenty of legitimate concerns about the TRC process and whether Canada is actually committed to redressing these wrongs.  I’m fine with discussing those things…but I can’t stand baseless gossip. (Btw, I notice you erased comments made by myself and others, after which you locked that story for further discussion.  Not your finest hour.)

What was said

In the APTN video report, a claim is made that Justice Sinclair expressed a “dramatic turnaround” and an “astonishing about-face”.  Here is what is actually said in the video:

Rob Smith: How do you determine an act of genocide?

Justice Sinclair: The indoctrination of children into another race, for the purpose of eliminating the race that they come from, is acknowledged by the United Nations as an act of genocide and in previous comments I’ve already said that.

But that doesn’t mean that the crime of genocide has occurred it just means that it is a category that is recognised in the definition of genocide.

Rob Smith then goes on to say this is not what Justice Sinclair said to a group of students at the University of Manitoba.  That quote is as follows:

Justice Sinclair: The reality is to take children away into placement in another group in society for the purpose of racial indoctrination was an act of genocide and it occurs all around the world.

Huh.  Maybe I’m missing something here but it sure looks like Justice Sinclair is saying exactly the same thing: Residential Schooling was an act of genocide.

Of course, what APTN is focusing on is the latter part of the first quote:

Justice Sinclair: But that doesn’t mean that the crime of genocide has occurred it just means that it is a category that is recognised in the definition of genocide.

Frankly, it makes no earthly sense how in one breath Justice Sinclair would reaffirm his position of this as an act of genocide, and then in the next say “nope it’s not genocide at all”.  What was he actually responding to?

My immediate assumption was that he was being asked to explain whether Canada would be found guilty of genocide or not.  It is a fairly common position that Residential Schooling indeed fits into the definition contained within the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  It is also fairly well agreed upon that Canada is going to get away with not being found guilty of anything remotely resembling genocide.  Just because Residential School fits the definition, does not mean a guilty verdict is guaranteed or even likely.  APTN’s take on it just didn’t seen right.

So I popped over to twitter, and lo and behold, here is what Justice Sinclair tweeted:

It’s hip to hate the TRC

A lot of rumours go flying about the TRC.  Things like: the Commissioners are corrupt and being paid off.  It is a sham, and intended to shut down discussion about Residential Schools.  It is a way for Canada to avoid legal responsibility for crimes committed in those schools.  Etc.

The TRC is delving into some pretty serious subject matter.  Unpleasant subject matter, and it isn’t any wonder that a lot of people are hostile and suspicious.  I would reiterate the need for the media to present the facts rather than foster rumours, but that much should already be self-evident.  I think I’ve spanked APTN enough for tonight.

What is the TRC doing?

What I would like more people to do is actually find out what the TRC is trying to do.  A lot of people I talk to don’t even really understand its mandate.  Here are the TRC’s goals:

(a) Acknowledge Residential School experiences, impacts and consequences;

(b) Provide a holistic, culturally appropriate and safe setting for former students, their families and communities as they come forward to the Commission;

(c) Witness1, support, promote and facilitate truth and reconciliation events at both the national and community levels;

(d) Promote awareness and public education of Canadians about the IRS system and its impacts;

(e) Identify sources and create as complete an historical record as possible of the IRS system and legacy. The record shall be preserved and made accessible to the public for future study and use;

(f) Produce and submit to the Parties of the Agreement2 a report including recommendations3 to the Government of Canada concerning the IRS system and experience including: the history, purpose, operation and supervision of the IRS system, the effect and consequences of IRS (including systemic harms, intergenerational consequences and the impact on human dignity) and the ongoing legacy of the residential schools;

(g) Support commemoration of former Indian Residential School students and their families in accordance with the Commemoration Policy Directive.

Please notice that “SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS” isn’t on that list.  In the main, the TRC is here to create an official record of the system, the abuses, and its impact.  What comes after that is not going to be the job of the TRC…it’s going to be the job of every single person in this country and the work is going to take generations.

The TRC recently released its interim report (PDF) which is only 39 pages long.  I would urge those who are critical of this process to take the time to at least skim it. A lot of the criticisms I have heard are acknowledged in this report and form the basis of some of the recommendations being made at this point.

Stop wasting time gossiping, and let’s push for cooperation!

What should really be disturbing people is the lack of cooperation from Ottawa and some of the churches who actually ran these schools.

Justice Sinclair notes, “It is unlikely that the document collection process will be completed without a significant shift in attitude on the part of Canada and those parties who have been reluctant to co-operate.”

Without significant funding from the federal government and more extensive access to records, this country is not going to get to the truth of what happened.  The money and the mandate are quickly running out.

More importantly, this country has a bad track record when it comes to implementing the recommendations of its Royal Commissions, its Inquests, and all its other formal and informal ‘investigations’ into indigenous issues in Canada.  Once the TRC releases its final report, it’s going to take a lot of pushing to get any movement on those recommendations.  I say we’d better start lifting weights now, because it’s going to be one hell of a fight.

Edit: On February 28th, APTN anchor Mike Hutchinson commented on Justice Sinclair’s objections to the spin put on his comments, and extended an open invitation to the Chair of the TRC to discuss this.

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13 Responses to That thing you said? It isn’t true.


  1. Lynette Bondarchuk says:

    Great article – very rational commentary – thanks for posting!

  2. Kchi Miigwech for doing the right thing and INFORMING the truth and not some spin from the ultimate spin doctors the MEDIA!

  3. Shawn Yellowbird says:

    OMG!… it wasnt that the Crime of “MURDER” that occured… “Just the Definition of “MURDER”!”… As an Exercise, replace ANY Crime you want, in the place of “MURDER”… let’s see how applicable it stands!?!?…

  4. Steffen says:

    Once again, you fill in the blanks of the media coverage I stumble across. And you do so brilliantly.

    APTN obviously stumbled here, and it’s a function of the diminishment of the profession since the advent of the intertubes – journalism ain’t the profession it used to be (but I digress – that’s a different topic on a different blog).

    Yes, this Commission had an important mandate that was underfunded. It’s what governments do when they don’t want to face something directly. Its recommendations will be news for a week (if we’re lucky), and then ignored, like pretty much every other Commission’s.

    But this process helps, I figure. People who needed to share their stories will have had to opportunity (well, some of them), and that does matter. And they’re on the record, which is also important.

    Call me cynical, but the record this Commission accumulates will matter more to future governments than it will to this one.

    And no, genocide won’t be word that will be mentioned much by those future governments, the UN, or even the AFN or their successors. That just wouldn’t do.

  5. Colleen H says:

    Thank you, I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to find out information to support what the APTN had put on thier website.

  6. Perry Bulwer says:

    Excellent analysis, âpihtawikosisân.

    Whether relying on legal definitions or simply the facts on their face, an honest person could come to no other conclusion but that the residential school system was genocidal. The main problem has always been, and continues to be the cover-ups and denials by government and churches, co-conspirators of genocide.

    Yes, it is disheartening to consider Canada’s dismal track record when it comes to implementing the findings of commissions and inquiries on indigenous issues, and it will take a lot of work over many years to make that happen. I personally take some encouragement from the movement to end the prohibition of some drugs. For the past 40 years or so, drug policy activists calling for an end to prohibition have had the facts, findings and recommendations of several official inquiries on their side, while governments have simply ignored those facts and recommendations. The fight will continue for a few years yet, but the barbaric ‘war’ that puts some people in cages for using some drugs is closer than ever to coming to an end.

    Though the fight for aboriginal rights and justice for will take much longer, I think the centuries old genocidal ‘war’ against the First People, culminating in barbaric residential schools, is finally beginning to end. The stories being told to the TRC are vital to that process.

  7. Miles says:

    How is that Our network is working for the oppressor. I looked on the APTN website and all the senior producers are non native. Is this why? I had a friend who worked for the network and he said non native people run the show.

    • The approach taken in this case shows a shocking lack of understanding in terms of what the reaction would be among survivors and their supporters. It’s an approach I would expect from other news outlets, but I was very dismayed to see it coming from APTN. I am hoping they will at least pull the headline soon, and retract the slant they put on this.

      • Andrea says:

        I watched both the live broadcast, and was in on the teleconference call, and did not see or hear APTN representatives at either one, something I was surprised at. Perhaps they were present in the morning, and had the interview afterwards, but both documents (“They Came For The Children” – which I would urge EVERYONE to read, along with the interim report) – were uploaded RIGHT after the conference. The government is especially bad at cooperating with getting these documents to them, they said the churches in general have been quite cooperative although sometimes individual archivists will try to put conditions on the archives they pass over, or they won’t have the staff to go through boxes that have been piled in a basement. LASTLY: the TRC STRONGLY URGES ALL CANADIANS, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, along with fed gov’t reps but like that will happen – TO ATTEND TRC EVENTS AND BEGIN the EDUCATION and RECONCILIATION process NOW, by learning the truth about this. They cite the RCAP (Royal Commisson on Aboriginal Peoples) in one of their documents as a valuable precedent which has NOT been acted on; furthermore they have high hopes that the feds WILL take this commission and the mandate seriously, but I personally think it is up to the rest of us to own this and lobby for education, awareness, and reconciliation. I agree with Wilson that it would be “disingenuous” of the feds not to follow through, but otoh it wouldn’t surprise me that much. Thanks for your work, my cousin. Hiy hiy.

        • nokamis says:

          Speaking of running the show – I agree wholeheartedly with Andrea “I personally think it is up to the rest of us to own this and lobby for education, awareness, and reconciliation.” This is key.

      • nokamis says:

        I would also add “shows a shocking lack of” empathy, which speaks volumes about whose running the ‘show’.

  8. Emo says:

    You’ve got to give credit where it’s due: love him or hate him, Kevin Annett was way ahead of you on the critique of the TRC, and he went through its formal definition of its own mandate, and pointed out its shortcomings (such as refusing to name the names, etc.).

    I’d also like to say that if you listen to Kevin Annett’s interview with Alex Jones… you’re left with the clear impression that Kevin Annett is the sane and coherent side of the conversation (while Jones seems incoherent and half-crazy by contrast).

    Annett gets badmouthed a lot, and, if you leaf through his writings, it isn’t hard to see why; but he put the work in on the TRC back when it wasn’t hip to hate it (yet), and he brough a lot of important facts to light that aren’t in this blog-post.

    (And hey, don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect you to do everything, let alone cover everything in a single blog, etc. etc.).

  9. Susanne D. says:

    I would actually go further – I think APTN is getting a bit too cosy with the Harper overlords. I mean, the news has had the Canadian Taxpayer Federation on before. Does APTN know where the CTF stands re: Aboriginal rights and title? When the news director was Rita Deverell the news was more balanced and certainly had an Aboriginal perspective. In Focus is good but there are not enough programs. Is the problem simply with the News department or is it more systemic?

    Look at Blackstone. Look at lots of their primetime fiction-based programming. Stereotypes and negative messaging abound and lateral violence is bouncing off the walls and reinforced. And there is no place for analysis or critique. If you do, you are silenced or told to get over it. Was it just an accident or poor journalism that they misquoted Judge Sinclair or are they just planting more memes to undermine the truth?

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