Speaking Frankly – A Retired Supreme Court Justice

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

Jack Major – the very well respected retired Supreme Court Justice – has now endorsed Peter Best’s book, “There Is No Difference”. Justice Major served on the Supreme Court from 1992 until 2005, when he retired shortly before the mandatory retirement age of 75. He was widely respected as a judge who believed that the making of laws was best left to the people’s elected representatives, and the court’s task was to interpret those laws. In short, he was a conservative, as opposed to an activist judge. Needless to say, he often found himself with the minority. Since 1982, Canada’s Supreme Court has been a decidedly “activist” court, with conservatives, like Major, in the minority.

Peter Best’s book – the book endorsed by Major – takes issue with today’s Indigenous orthodoxy that calls for a continuation and expansion of the “parallel” system (or “apartheid system” as others – including Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien have called it). Instead, Best urges us to follow the examples of world leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. who changed the world with their lifelong campaigns for equality for all under one set of laws. Why does Major endorse the book? He explains why in a letter to Best: “‘There Is No Difference’ continues to impress me no doubt because I agree with it.”

Major also writes – in response to Best advising him that a scheduled “Meet the Local Author” book-signing event scheduled for last spring at the Sudbury Chapters store had been peremptorily cancelled by Chapters when they learned the general tenor of There Is No Difference: “The thought of Chapters cancelling your event for fear that the truth is unacceptable is appalling. It baffles me that a majority look to a past that was nonexistent and persist in looking to preserve or create what logic makes so clear is counter-productive.”

Interestingly, Major also takes issue with the commonly accepted view that poor Indigenous children were forced into residential schools for nefarious purposes. As he wrote to Best, specifically referring to the residential school that was located at Spanish, Ontario (of which he had personal experience through his friendship with Basil Johnston, author of Indian School Days (discussed in Best’s book), one of the school’s most distinguished alumnus): “The notion that pupils at residential schools were torn from happy loving homes is a myth. There may have been some of which I am unaware of but in my experience, a significant number of children were rescued from starving on trap lines, many of them afflicted with TB (tuberculosis). In fact Spanish had a separate floor to care for those. It is true that English was paramount, but how else to equip the student to function off a particular reserve? It is strange that native spokesmen are reluctant to tout any success by them in the modern world…I suppose the silence reflects the motives of the vocal elements and the misguided followers.”

Major says he can’t explain what he calls the “mushroom effect” of the Haida Nation’ “duty to consult” decision, implying that it has been taken beyond its originally intended purpose.

And he decries what he calls the “stagnation” of the status quo, saying: “I suppose my view is the stagnation in the present mode and the success of those few who have been able to pick the best of their opportunity while still being proud of their heritage”.

He also criticizes the decision of the current federal government to rescind the First Nations Financial Transparency Act in these words: “Can you make any sense out of the current (sic)government immediately on taking office discontinuing the need for any accounting for funds received? In the meantime the majority living on reserves live at the whim of the Chief and cannot own their house.”

In ‘There Is No Difference’, Peter Best attempts to exhort Canada’s elites to act less timidly and more responsibly and competently towards our systemically-disadvantaged Indigenous fellow citizens, (disadvantaged by the reserve system). He quotes the Russian proverb; “Without a righteous person no village can stand”.

Retired Justice Jack Major is that righteous person. Although he no longer serves on the Supreme Court, he continues to serve Canada, and, by bravely and righteously speaking out, serving the long-term best interests of Canada’s Indigenous citizens.

Perhaps with Major’s “major” endorsement, some people who have not yet done so will order Mr. Best’s book from Amazon or Chapters and read it. “There Is No Difference” is an important book. It shows us a way that will actually work. Several reviews of the book are available (A Plea To End Canadian Apartheid, C2C Journal, Brian Giesbrecht, Jan. 14, 2019). The fact that an eminent jurist like Retired Justice Jack Major has endorsed the book and shares many of Best’s opinions is proof that Canadians should rethink their support for the stagnant Indigenous status quo. An updated version of the book can be obtained at no charge online.(nodifference.ca/essay). This edition will include some of Retired Justice Major’s observations.

Unless, of course, Chapters feels the need to shield Canadians from the views of a Supreme Court Justice.