The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), delivered a powerful, moving speech on Saturday at Carleton University’s fall Convocation after he was presented with a Doctor of Laws honoris causa for his exceptional judiciary career and his role in leading the TRC’s report on Canada’s Indian Residential School system.
The honorary degree recognizes his dedication, care and service to Indigenous people and all Canadians. Renowned tenor Ben Heppner also received an honorary degree.
Sinclair, the son of residential school survivors, was appointed as chair of the TRC in June 2009. The commission published its interim report last spring after more than six years of investigation and testimonies from those who attended the schools.
“Despite all of the pain of the past and the complexities of the problems we face, I want to be your friend, and I want you to be mine,” he told graduating students and their families. “I want to respect you and I want you to respect me, even if we never get to meet.”
The TRC made 94 recommendations for the government to adopt in order to move towards reconciliation. The new federal Liberal government has promised to implement each one, including an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. It is a comprehensive approach Sinclair has said should be followed by all future Canadian governments.
“Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples is nothing for this country to be proud of – to this point in time. But we are on the cusp of something special, as this country begins to come to terms with this history,’’ said Sinclair.
“We will be looking to you to continue the conversation of reconciliation which we have begun. We will be looking to you to move this great country of ours into a new and truthful sense of itself, to shed the cloak of pain and shame and walk with Canada’s Indigenous people into the future where our children will be able to talk to and about each other in a more respectful way.”
Before serving as chair of the TRC, Sinclair worked as a lawyer in Manitoba where he was known for representing Aboriginal people and for his knowledge of Aboriginal legal issues. He became the first Aboriginal judge in the province and only the second in Canada. He was appointed associate chief judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba in March 1988 and to Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench in January 2001.
He was co-commissioner of Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which spent three years studying the province’s administration of justice and its impact on Aboriginal people. In 2000, Sinclair completed the report of the Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Inquest into the deaths of 12 children at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre in 1994.
Sinclair and his family maintain strong connections to their tribal traditions. He has received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in addition to many other community service awards and nine honorary degrees for his work in the field of Aboriginal justice.
Ben Heppner received a Doctor of Music honoris causa on Saturday in recognition of his contribution to the pure enjoyment and appreciation of classical music through his consummate artistry, creative genius, arts advocacy and ability to communicate his impressive knowledge.
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