Matt James, University of Victoria

Associate Professor Political science Victoria, British Columbia mattjame@uvic.ca Office: (250) 721-6489

Bio/Research

To varying degrees and ends, in recent years many contemporary societies have been engaged in reassessing, debating, remembering, and making reparation for past injustices of colonialism and racism. For example, the Canadian federal government has issued at least five official political apologies...

Click to Expand >>

Bio/Research

To varying degrees and ends, in recent years many contemporary societies have been engaged in reassessing, debating, remembering, and making reparation for past injustices of colonialism and racism. For example, the Canadian federal government has issued at least five official political apologies for historical wrongs and has paid financial compensation for such injustices as the Japanese-Canadian internment, Chinese “head tax,” and Indian residential schools. Indeed, in Canada redress has become formalized and regularized as an ongoing area of state activity. Under the Community Historical Recognition Program, volunteer and community groups are invited to apply for funds with which to undertake projects of acknowledgment, remembrance, and public education concerning particular historical injustices specified in the Program criteria. Similarly, the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was given a five-year mandate starting in 2009 to commemorate, investigate, and report on the policy of mandatory boarding schools for Native children which brought so much pain and destruction to Indigenous communities.

Recent research appears to suggest that not only these official redress programs but also many of the group demands and activities surrounding them share important underlying commonalities. These commonalities include assumptions about how causal responsibility for major historical wrongs should be apportioned and about how wrongs should be officially addressed and remembered. Causal responsibility is typically assigned to past governments and leading societal institutions (such as the major Christian churches), taken as undifferentiated wholes, rather than with local institutions or individual planners, actors, and decision-makers. Remembering injustice is seen as a matter of attending to the voices and experiences of affected communities and victims, and not as a forensic task of digging deeply into the circumstances and mechanics of how and by whom the injustices were committed. This overall approach to injustice characterizes what we can call, to adopt Pauline Wakeham’s helpful phrase, Canada's “culture of redress.” Yet this culture has not been systematically mapped, analyzed, and assessed.

Mapping, analysis, and assessment are what this project proposes to provide. The project will study the demands of major redress-seeking groups; the federal government’s official contemporary responses and policy frameworks; the activities, events, and creations funded under these responses and frameworks; and the roles played by Canada’s official redress actions in processes of civic debate. In short, it aims to investigate Canada’s overall culture of redress in order to understand how Canadian responses to historic injustice are governed.

The project also has an evaluative purpose: to assess how Canada’s culture of redress affects our capacity to deliberate collectively as a political community. Have Canadian redress initiatives and debates helped to forge more inclusive civic discussions, promote civic participation, and build inter-group comprehension and trust, as some research would lead us to expect? Or, as other scholarship warns, have they created problematic new biases, exclusions, distractions, and pathologies? By answering these questions, this project will help scholars, citizens, activists, and policymakers to better understand our dominant patterns of contemporary engagement with past injustices, and, where appropriate, to work to improve and transform them.


Click to Shrink <<

Links