Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the legacy of residential schools, is resigning from the Red Chamber effective at the end of January, shortly after his 70th birthday.
In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail on Friday, Mr. Sinclair said a letter was sent to the Governor-General this week to tender his resignation from the Senate. He was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April, 2016.
One of the reasons he is leaving now, he said, is because he always intended it would be a five-year commitment.
Mr. Sinclair also wants to focus on his memoirs – something he thought would be relatively easy but is taking a lot of time.
“It wasn’t intended to be that way,” he said, adding he often finds himself working into the wee hours of the morning on the book tentatively titled Who We Are.
The book, which is to be published by McClelland & Stewart in October, 2022, will draw on Mr. Sinclair’s experiences and perspectives, including on Indigenous identity, human rights and justice in Canada.
It is also intended to shed light on his life, including how his experiences shaped him as an Anishinaabe man, father and grandfather. He was the first Indigenous judge in Manitoba and the second Indigenous judge in Canadian history.
In the immediate future, Mr. Sinclair also intends to work with young lawyers at an Indigenous law firm in Winnipeg, Cochrane Saxberg LLP.
“I have to tell you that the more time I spend with them, the more interesting they make my life,” he said.
As he reflects on his time in the Senate, he points to legislation on specific issues, including the revitalization and protection of Indigenous languages and Indigenous child welfare reforms, as examples of where change has been effected.
In his letter to Governor-General Julie Payette, Mr. Sinclair said his time in the Senate had been a remarkable opportunity to serve the people of Manitoba, adding he has tried to do so with pride and humility.
Mr. Sinclair also said he has witnessed a shift in how the country understands and speaks about residential schools and Indigenous issues since the TRC released its final report in 2015, including 94 calls to action.
The commission spent six years examining the legacy of the schools and reported the system was created for the purpose of separating aboriginal children from their families, to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages and to indoctrinate children into a new culture.
While he was in Ottawa, Mr. Sinclair said cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister would always reflect on the fact they were working on addressing calls to action when they would speak with him or see him.
“I think my presence there was a reminder, a constant reminder to them that there’s a lot of work here that needs to be done,” he said.
The future of reconciliation is not just about Indigenous people but the entire country, Mr. Sinclair said.
“We need to recognize that this history, about the way that Canada has treated Indigenous people, is also about how Canada treated non-Indigenous people,” he said, adding that non-Indigenous people were educated to see Indigenous people as inferior and white, European society as superior.
“Until we get past that, we will always have a problem.”
He also hopes his departure from the Senate will allow him to spend time closer to home, including with his five grandchildren, once the pandemic reaches the point where they can safely visit each other.
As chair of the TRC, he participated in hundreds of hearings across Canada, culminating with the final report in 2015.
“When I left the TRC back in 2015, people forget that I said at that time that I really wanted to dedicate my life, that remains to me, to my family because they had given up so much while I was doing all the public work that I had been doing to that point in time,” Mr. Sinclair said.
“Then the Prime Minister called and I ended up in the Senate. So, that kind interfered with my commitment to my family and I’d like to go back to that.”
Mr. Sinclair insists, however, that he is “not going to disappear” from the public realm.
Recently, he has lent his voice to concerns around the conduct of the RCMP in response to violence against Mi’kmaq fishermen in Nova Scotia. Mr. Sinclair also said the RCMP Commissioner’s response, which was to defend officers on the ground, flew in the face of evidence including how the force responded to the assault of a First Nations chief.
“I am going to continue to exercise influence where I can,” he said. “I will continue to respond to the public dialogue going on.”
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