Home / BC Civil Liberties Association Rescinds 2020 Reg Robson Award from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

BC Civil Liberties Association Rescinds 2020 Reg Robson Award from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) awarded the Reg Robson Award to Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond as part of the 2020 Liberty Awards. The BCCLA’s annual Liberty Awards honour exceptional contributions to the fields of human rights and civil liberties in Canada. Named after a former Board President, spokesperson, civil rights advocate, and BCCLA co-founder, the Reg Robson Award honours substantial career contributions to the cause of civil liberties in British Columbia and Canada. Through a nomination process open to our entire membership, Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s name was put forward and selected by our Board of Directors. 

In awarding Dr. Turpel-Lafond with BCCLA’s most prestigious and long-standing award, the Board had believed in Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s public representations regarding her professional accomplishments, as well as her Indigenous ancestry. In particular, the Board understood that Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s Cree ancestry played an essential role in informing her professional roles, her position in the community, and her work to advance human rights on behalf of Indigenous peoples and advocacy organizations. 

Information has since come to BCCLA’s attention that demonstrates, in our view, that Dr. Turpel-Lafond falsified her claims to Cree ancestry. Furthermore, certain professional and academic accomplishments claimed by Dr. Turpel-Lafond have been disproven or called into question, all of which, in our view, erode her professional integrity. This includes, for example, her claim to be “the first treaty Indian to be appointed to the [Provincial Court in Saskatchewan],”[1] as well as her claims to an honorary degree from First Nations University,[2] and to have been awarded a Queen’s Counsel designation in the province of Saskatchewan.[3] To date, Dr. Turpel-Lafond has failed to provide public transparency or accountability regarding any of these claims.

Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s misrepresentation regarding her purported Indigenous ancestry must also be contextualized within the greater, widespread pattern of Indigenous identity fraud, and the severe harms that it causes. Indeed, Indigenous identity fraud perpetuates colonial violence and assimilation practices, allowing settlers to shape the future for Indigenous communities while marginalizing Indigenous voices and weakening self-determination.[4] 

In this case, Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s actions have taken away opportunities and recognition which was rightfully owed to Indigenous women. This is particularly egregious, given the manner in which colonization and patriarchy intersect to cause particular harm to Indigenous women. Further, any further damage caused by Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s use of her professional position of influence, in particular to the rights of Indigenous peoples, is yet to be duly reviewed and understood.

The recent revelations about Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s purported Indigenous identity and professional claims, as well as her lack of accountability or remorse on these matters, have been shocking and disturbing. The Indigenous Women’s Collective has issued a resounding call to rescind the honorary degrees and awards issued to Dr. Turpel-Lafond.[5] As a largely settler organization, the BCCLA has a responsibility to stand with Indigenous communities and follow the lead of Indigenous scholars, leaders, and organizations on the appropriate measures to address ongoing harms faced by Indigenous peoples. The BCCLA also recognizes that in awarding Dr. Turpel-Lafond the 2020 Reg Robson Award, our organization contributed to amplifying Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s false claims and position of influence. Furthermore, as a legal advocacy organization that takes its professional and ethical obligations seriously, the BCCLA cannot in good faith ignore the impact that Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s false claims have played in gravely undermining the public confidence and trust in the legal profession within the communities we serve.

For these reasons, the BCCLA Board and Staff have unanimously decided to formally rescind the 2020 Reg Robson Award given to Dr. Turpel-Lafond and understand we have an obligation to be transparent and accountable regarding our decision.

Beyond this award, the BCCLA recognizes that identity fraud is part of a greater and nuanced conversation on Indigenous identity within colonial structures and the ongoing work of decolonization. We recognize the important contributions of those working to illuminate the ways forward in this area[6] and intend to actively reflect on these discussions and our role in this work. The BCCLA re-iterates our commitment to standing in solidarity with Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, and to listen with open hearts and minds in our support against colonial violence. 

[1] National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Panel IV: Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, “A Voice for Children and Youth”, (4 October 2018), online: <https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/20181004_MMIWG_Winnipeg_Child_Family_Welfare_Parts_2__3_Vol_13.pdf>; See also: Geoff Leo, “Disputed history”, CBC News (12 October 2022), online: <https://www.cbc.ca/newsinteractives/features/mary-ellen-turpel-lafond-indigenous-cree-claims>.

[2] Geoff Leo, “Universities weighing call from Indigenous women’s group to revoke Turpel-Lafond’s honorary degrees, CBC News, (1 November 2022), online: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/indigenous-collective-wants-universities-revoke-turpel-lafond-honorary-degrees-1.6637426>.

[3] Geoff Leo, “Missing book, non-existent honour, leaked membership list among new Turpel-Lafond revelations”, CBC News, (2 November 2022), online: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/turpel-lafond-new-information-emerges-1.6635033>.

[4] Jean Teillet, Indigenous Identity Fraud: A Report for the University of Saskatchewan, (17 October 2022), <https://leadership.usask.ca/documents/about/reporting/jean-teillet-report.pdf>.

[5] Indigenous Women’s Collective, “Response to Vancouver Island University Announcement Regarding Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s Relinquishing Their Honorary Degree”, (17 January 2023 at 9:43 PM), online: Twitter <https://twitter.com/IndigenousWome4/status/1615585676518359042>.

[6] See also, for example: First Nations University of Canada & National Indigenous University Senior Leaders’ Association, Indigenous Voices on Indigenous Identity: What Was Heard Report, (June 2022), <https://fnuniv.ca/wp-content/uploads/Indigenous-Voices-on-Indigenous-Identity_National-Indigenous-Identity-Forum_Report_March-22_June-22-FINAL.pdf>.