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?
(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.