BC Civil Liberties Association revokes award granted to Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond loses another award

VANCOUVER -Another award has been stripped from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the former judge, law professor and British Columbia representative for children and youth, whose claims of Indigenous ancestry have been discredited.

The BC Civil Liberties Association issued a statement Thursday saying it has rescinded the Reg Robson Award given to her as part of its 2020 Liberty Awards.

Board members believed Turpel-Lafond’s representations about her professional accomplishments and Cree heritage when the association granted the award recognizing substantial contributions to civil liberties in B.C. and Canada, it said.

Indeed, they believed her 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,” it said.

But information came to light demonstrating that, in the board’s view, Turpel-Lafond had falsified that claim, while certain professional and academic accomplishments have also been disproven or called into question, the statement said.

Her professional integrity has been eroded, it said, adding Turpel-Lafond has yet to publicly account for the allegations about her heritage and other claims, including that she was recognized with a Queen’s counsel designation in Saskatchewan.

The revelations about her “purported Indigenous identity and professional claims, as well as her lack of accountability or remorse on these matters, have been shocking and disturbing,” the civil liberties association said in the statement.

Turpel-Lafond’s actions have taken opportunities and recognition away from Indigenous women and played a part in “gravely undermining” public confidence in the legal profession, it said.

The association must follow the lead of Indigenous scholars, leaders and organizations, including the Indigenous Women’s Collective, which is demanding that all honorary degrees and awards conferred on her be revoked, it said.

McGill University, Carleton University and the University of Regina each rescinded honorary degrees awarded to Turpel-Lafond last month, and she has returned degrees conferred by two B.C. post-secondary institutions after the schools initiated reviews in response to questions and concerns about her claims.

A number of others have confirmed they are looking into honorary degrees awarded to her, including Brock, Mount Saint Vincent and St.Thomas universities.

In conferring its own award, the association recognizes it “contributed to amplifying  Turpel-Lafond’s claims and position of influence,” the statement said.

Her actions added to a “widespread pattern of Indigenous identity fraud, and the severe harms” it causes, it said.

“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,” it said.

A phone call to Turpel-Lafond was not immediately returned on Thursday.

She previously told the CBC that while she was growing up she didn’t question the biological parentage of her father, who she has said was Cree.

She served as British Columbia’s representative for children and youth and, until last December, she was a tenured law professor at the University of B.C.

Until last year, she also served as the academic director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the university.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.



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