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In a strange about-face, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair, has distanced himself from previous statements about the connection between Canada’s history of residential schooling and genocide. At a press conference for release of the Commission’s interim report on 24 February 2012, Sinclair stated that, “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. 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 recognized in the definition of genocide.”

I am not sure what his comments are meant to signify, and to me it reads as a distinction without a difference, a false distance of sorts. If residential schools fulfill a category that is recognized as part of the definition of genocide, then how has genocide not occurred?

Sinclair’s comments are doubly confounding when considered next to remarks by Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan: “No, I don’t view it [residential schooling] that way [as genocide], but it was certainly very negative to the retention of culture. If it had extended another generation or two, it might have been lethal, yes.” Sinclair, far from speaking the truths needed for reconciliation, now speaks in line with the federal government’s entrenched stance, as if the business of the commission were to reconfirm party lines rather than to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools.

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