First Nations leaders decry patronage appointment


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WINNIPEG — The Tory government is under fire for giving a patronage appointment to a former Manitoba attorney general who doesn’t believe the residential school system was a form of genocide.

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WINNIPEG — The Tory government is under fire for giving a patronage appointment to a former Manitoba attorney general who doesn’t believe the residential school system was a form of genocide.

Indigenous leaders and opposition parties said Jim McCrae — a former Brandon West MLA and former city councillor — should not have been appointed as a citizen member of a committee that helps select judicial officers, or masters, for the Court of King’s Bench.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen recommended McCrae for a three-year term, according to a cabinet decree dated May 10.

Jim McCrae (centre), a former Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA and city councillor, was appointed to a Manitoba government committee, which garnered plenty of backlash for the province. McCrae, who doesn't believe the residential school system was a form of genocide, later handed in his resignation. (File)

Goertzen told the Winnipeg Free Press he was unaware of McCrae’s online articles on residential schools, when approached for comment Thursday morning.

Former citizenship judge McCrae, 74, later handed in his resignation, which Goertzen accepted, after the Free Press began raising questions.

For the last six years, he was an appointed member of the province’s social services appeal board, recently serving as its chair.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said McCrae’s latest appointment was “very frightening” and a sign the government doesn’t care about Indigenous peoples.

“It’s very disrespectful to the First Nation people in our province that something like this would happen in 2023,” she said.

Merrick welcomed McCrae’s resignation, but questioned why he was selected in the first place.

“If nobody would have said anything, nothing would have happened,” she said, adding the province should incorporate Indigenous knowledge keepers during future selections for public committees.

McCrae said he believed it was best to step aside from the voluntary role, given the concerns about his appointment.

“I don’t wish to be the source of any pain or bad feelings in my province,” he told the Free Press.

The committee recommends masters, who are appointed by the lieutenant-governor and whose responsibilities include striking out improper evidence in family law cases and presiding over child protection screening court.

In an earlier interview, McCrae said he isn’t a residential school denier.

He went on to claim, among other things, the reported number of child deaths at residential schools had been inflated, while expressing doubts about the discovery of suspected unmarked graves at a former school in Kamloops, B.C.

“Native people are angry. They are feeling terrible about this history, and the more that we exaggerate the history the angrier they get,” the Brandon resident said. “They’re bitter. How are we going to reconcile without truth?”

McCrae said he doesn’t believe residential schools were a genocide, claiming the evidence was insufficient.

He said he believes survivors’ accounts. He called the schools “something to be regretted.”

In October, the House of Commons recognized the residential school system as a genocide.

Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse said all committee candidates such as McCrae should know the history of human rights violations against First Nations.

“Senior appointees to government positions should not be actively involved in the denial of well-documented, acknowledged patterns of gross human rights violations,” she said in a statement. “They should avoid speaking on important matters of public interest on which they obviously lack the necessary expertise.”

Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, said McCrae’s appointment was “extremely disappointing,” while noting how intergenerational trauma continues to affect First Nations citizens.

“As First Nations continue to be over-represented within the justice system, it is imperative that people working within this system have a clear understanding of the true and lasting impact of residential schools,” he said in a statement. “It is also my expectation that the minister of justice understands how cultural genocide, caused by the residential school system, exacerbated by the over-policing of First Nation peoples, and combined with systemic racism within the justice system, contributes to the over-incarceration of First Nations people in Manitoba.

“Any government that asserts they are committed to reconciliation should not be appointing representatives who deny the truth of residential schools.”

McCrae was the Progressive Conservative MLA for Brandon West from 1986 to 1999. In addition to justice, he held the portfolios of health, environment and education in then-premier Gary Filmon’s government.

He previously worked as a court reporter in Manitoba and a Hansard reporter in the House of Commons.

NDP MLA Eric Redhead said McCrae’s “shameful” appointment shows ignorance, and was a step back for the Stefanson government’s reconciliation efforts.

“It’s straight-out wrong and inexcusable to give this kind of power and authority to a man who’s a residential school denier,” said Redhead, the NDP’s critic for Indigenous reconciliation.

The Thompson MLA believes it was a “deliberate” appointment, with McCrae’s articles easy to find in an internet search.

He called on the government to apologize, consult with Indigenous leaders and appoint someone who understands the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.

During question period, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont asked why Premier Heather Stefanson appointed McCrae to the committee.

Goertzen, responding on behalf of the government, didn’t explain. Instead, he defended the government’s record on reconciliation.

Lamont told the legislative assembly McCrae “flat-out denies” the documented history of residential schools in his online writings, including an article co-authored with Tom Flanagan, who was an adviser to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Lamont said the article cited research from a conspiracy theorist, with “mass graves hoax” and “genocide myth” as content tags.

“Jim McCrae should know better, and this government should know better than to appoint somebody, who’s denying facts and evidence, to appoint people to work in our courts,” he later told reporters.

» Winnipeg Free Press

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