Interview: Sen. Murray Sinclair speaks with Lisa LaFlamme about racism in Canada
TORONTO -- Sen. Murray Sinclair is the first Indigenous judge appointed in Manitoba and the second in Canada. He has served the province’s justice system for more than a quarter century, and was the Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented the history and impact of Canada’s residential school system on Indigenous students and their families. The report concluded that the system amounted to “cultural genocide.”
After the emergence this week of images and video of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in brownface and blackface, CTV’s Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme spoke to Sinclair about his thoughts on fighting racism in Canada.
The following is an excerpt from that interview. You can watch the full interview in the video attached to this article.
Lisa LaFlamme: This is probably not the campaign anyone expected but is it the campaign that Canada needed to force a national conversation about racism.
Sen. Murray Sinclair: I think it's inevitable that at this given time in history that we will be dealing with issues around racism, and in particular around the history of Canada when it comes to racism and the future of Canada when it comes to racism, because this is a pretty critical point in our lifetime as a nation.
The prime minister said today he now realizes his own life of privilege comes with a massive blind spot. You have guided us through Canada’s racist past. So for the future, where do you believe this open conversation needs to take us?
Sinclair: Well, one of the things we have to realize and get Canadians to realize is that most of our racism is unconscious. It's because of the way we've been educated, the way we've been raised, the way that we have been entertained through the media, the messaging that has come to us from our leaders in the past -- both political as well as social leaders. And as a result of that, the language that we use, the behaviour that we carry on is a reflection of what it is that we have been told and how it is we have been told to think. And I think that's going to be the major hurdle for us in the future. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ended, I said that getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation's going to be harder. And that's because getting to understand the impact that our history, when it came to Indigenous people, had had upon us is going to be a difficult thing for us to come to terms with and I think we're beginning to see that.
So as an educator then, how do we confront it? What do we do when confronted with the nastiness out there and still on October 22, the day after the election, emerge in one piece?
Sinclair: Well, there are probably three prongs to that. One is in the long term, I think education has to be the key to overcoming our racist past and that is we need to teach our children the full part of the history and give them explanations as to why things happened and make them see that it's not necessarily how things need to be in the future and that they have a role to play in terms of overcoming that. So education is the key to reconciliation. I've said that. I will continue to say that and I need people to understand that. But it's not just education of children. It's also education of newcomers. It's education of our population of people who have grown up in a certain environment that has limited their knowledge base. And we need to also come to terms with that. So the way that we communicate and the way that our leaders speak is very important to that process as well. And we also need to look at structural racism. We need to look at the way our institutions function. The policies and practices that we have in place that are limiting the ability of those with good hearts to try to change the way things are done is also a limiting factor and so we need to look at all of those kinds of things.
Campaigns are always done this way: people pitted against each other. So I wonder what advice you have for the remainder of this campaign, for those leaders and candidates who seek to represent all Canadians in public life?
Sinclair: Well, one of the things that I've spoken about -- at public events that I've spoken about the importance of this and other elections in the future, is for people to understand that when we look to those who are going to lead us, we don't look just to the policies that they're promising to bring into place, but we also look to their character. We look to the character of the people who are advising them, the people who are working with them and the people who are working for them. So that we need to ensure that as an electorate, that the people who represent us truly represent the best of what it is that we want to be.