The Sanderson murders are receiving a lot of media attention, as they should. Much has been written about the government policy of pretending that truly dangerous people, like these brothers, are victims, and returning them to Indigenous communities, where they inevitably victimize residents.
Claiming this cruel policy – killing with kindness – somehow helps Indigenous people is disingenuous.
The truth is that Gladue sentencing (where judges consider the unique circumstances (experiences) of Indigenous peoples) and releasing dangerous Indigenous offenders) where non-Indigenous offenders would remain incarcerated, helps no one, and simply produces more Indigenous victims.
But the case also brings out in stark relief the complete failure of Justin Trudeau’s Indigenous policy, announced with such fanfare in 2015.
It was to be the exact opposite of his father’s policy. Pierre’s plan was to begin the tortuous process of dismantling the antiquated Indian Act and deeply corrupt and inefficient reserve system and make Indigenous people equals.
Under Justin’s plan, Indigenous people would continue to be treated differently than all other Canadians, but the utopian dream of “nation to nation” would be promoted and massively financed. Merit in hiring and university recruitment would be virtually abandoned in favour of race, and Indigenous people would be regarded as the victims of a systemically racist society. In short, the toxic status quo would continue, but with much more money dumped into it.
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In addition, Justin Trudeau has championed every Indigenous claim, no matter how problematic. The preposterous claim that residential schools are the main cause of Indigenous dysfunction – even though a small fraction of the Indigenous population even attended residential schools – was promoted and financed lavishly.
More lately, the claims of Indigenous leaders, such as AFN Grand Chief Roseanne Archibald, that “tens of thousands of Indigenous children were murdered at residential schools” or that there are 215 “graves” containing the bodies of children killed at a residential school at Kamloops and secretly buried, met with no pushback at all. Quite the contrary, Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller publicly scolded anyone who even questioned these fantastical claims.
Trudeau ordered flags lowered for months to honour those false claims – even though there is no evidence that even a single child was murdered at a residential school and that those 215 “graves” are almost certainly an old septic system the junior archeologist doing the radar work negligently overlooked.
The Trudeau Liberals actively supported and funded all of these specious claims. Justin Trudeau even endured a public scolding by the Kamloops Indian chief for going surfing instead of paying his respects to these phantom children. Even the statue topplings and church burnings that inevitably resulted from this government-approved anti-Catholic bigotry yielded only a yawn and an “understandable” from the Prime Minister.
So, despite spending a staggering amount of money and genuflecting at the altar of some “nation to nation” utopia that will never be, we still have broken reserves that produce broken people, like Myles Sanderson.
Treaty 6 James Smith Cree Nation, where Sanderson was born and raised, is a typical prairie reserve where unemployment, dependence and substance abuse are chronic. Cree writer Harold Johnson, in his epic book Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People, estimated that half of the people in his Treaty 6 Area died directly or indirectly as a result of alcohol.
Johnson wrote that book soon after the Liberals took power in 2015. The only difference between then and now is that alcohol is just one of the dangerous drugs that have been ruining lives and making it so difficult for the decent people of those communities to live good lives.
And despite the mountain of money that the Liberals have poured into those benighted communities, they will continue to be human warehouses, where dependency, unemployment, drug addiction, low life expectancy, – and a lack of purpose – simply perpetuate human misery.
Justin Trudeau’s plan has failed. It is not money and more separateness that those communities need. It is a sense of purpose and economic opportunity for their young people. It is a simple fact that most of those opportunities – jobs and careers – do not exist on the reserves.
Eventually, Justin’s father’s plan will have to be given a chance. Segregation and special rights have always been the problem. Integration has always been the answer. The growing number of successful Indigenous people who have left the reserve is proof of that statement. They have achieved that success while keeping as much of their Indigenous identity as they care to.
The fact is that there has never been a better time to be an educated, Indigenous young person in Canada as now. Government, corporations and small businesses in the cities are eager to hire them. Politicians – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – must recognize this reality and move beyond the toxic status quo that traps young Indigenous people in extremely limited communities.
It has always been about integration, equality, and economic opportunity. Pierre’s plan had its flaws. But it was far closer to the mark than the failed plan of his son.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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