Lethbridge College is pleased to announce that The Honourable Murray Sinclair will be the 20th honorary degree recipient in the institution's history. Sinclair will receive a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Justice Studies as part of the college’s spring 2021 Convocation ceremonies.
Sinclair (Mizhana Gheezhik), who is Anishinaabe and a member of the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, was Manitoba’s first and Canada’s second Indigenous judge. In his more than 40 years of work as a legal professional and senator, Sinclair has been a powerful voice for Indigenous peoples and tireless advocate for reconciliation, including in his role as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). He was appointed to the Senate in 2016 and served in the Red Chamber until his retirement in January of this year.
“As a mentor and role model, The Honourable Sinclair has helped generations of young people find success in the legal profession, while his work with the TRC has created a path for a better future for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to travel together,” says Lethbridge College President and CEO Dr. Paula Burns. “As Lethbridge College is located on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot Confederacy and we continue our own journey to improving Indigenous education, we could not ask for a better guide than His Honour.”
Due to the pandemic, Sinclair will not travel to Lethbridge and will instead be presented with his honorary degree in Winnipeg by Lethbridge College grad and 2006 Distinguished Alumni Dr. Karla Guyn (Environmental Science 1986) in a ceremony to be shared online during the Spring 2021 Convocation ceremonies on May 27 and 28.
Sinclair was born in 1951 in the Selkirk area north of Winnipeg and was raised by his grandparents after his mother died when Sinclair was still an infant. In 1979, he graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba and was called to the Manitoba bar the following year. He began his law practice focusing on civil and criminal litigation, Indigenous law and human rights, and in 1988, he was appointed Associate Chief Judge of the Manitoba Provincial Court. That same year he served as co-commissioner of the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal Peoples of Manitoba, which explored and exposed systemic racism within the province's criminal justice system. In 2001, he became the first Indigenous person to be appointed a judge on Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench.
In 2009, Sinclair took over as chair of the TRC, and he spent the next several years travelling across the country to hear and document the stories of the survivors of a residential school system that ripped Indigenous children from their homes, parents and communities, stripped them of their languages and cultures, and subjected them to neglect and abuse. In 2015, the commission released a comprehensive report that included testimony from more than 7,000 survivors and 94 recommendations regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. After briefly retiring from public life, Sinclair was appointed to the Senate in 2016 and served for five years, working on numerous committees, including the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Since retiring from the Senate, Sinclair has joined Cochrane Saxberg, a litigation, child protection, employment and labour, corporate and Indigenous advocacy law firm in Winnipeg, as general counsel. He continues to maintain an active public speaking schedule and has been invited to speak throughout Canada and internationally.