Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 42nd Parliament, Volume 150, Issue 63
  Wednesday, October 19, 2016
 
Senator Statement: Comments by Senator Dennis Patterson

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, three weeks ago, Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuutit, and Elisapee Sheutiapik, President of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, called for Senator Dennis Patterson to apologize for accusing them of racism. In the National Observer on September 21, Senator Patterson equated his experiences as a non-Inuk senator to that of Qajaq Robinson, a non-Inuk commissioner on the national inquiry panel into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. He opined that his political experience and expertise in Nunavut, as well as his personal experience living and hunting with Inuit, are considered by some as irrelevant to his qualifications as Nunavut's senator. He wrote: "They cannot look past the colour of my skin."

Senator Patterson also wrote:

. . . I am very wary of using the term 'racism' to criticize any actions or beliefs.

But I believe that unfortunately racism is exactly what is motivating Pauktuutit, Canada's national Inuit women's association, and the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council to condemn the recently announced appointment of Qajaq Robinson as a commissioner to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

He also wrote:

It is sad to see organizations representing Inuit women condemn Qajaq Robinson solely based on her race, minimizing her stellar qualifications and achievements.

Furthermore, Senator Patterson wrote:

To overlook her intimate knowledge of Inuit, her experience with the justice system and her knowledge of the law is to say that race bloodline is the primary requirement for a competent commissioner. That is racist and deplorable.

Honourable senators, these women leaders had not condemned Ms. Robinson, nor made any derogatory comments about her race. They did not question her credentials, but they did ask for an Inuk woman to be added to the panel in addition to Qajaq Robinson and the other non-Inuit commissioners. Ms. Kudloo stated:

This is not in any way personal. For this inquiry to be meaningful to Inuit it must be led by Indigenous women, including us Inuit women. This is to me a fundamental matter of principle, equality and trust.

Ms. Sheutiapik stated:

Shame on him as a senator to make this a race issue it's not.

Honourable senators, the request by the Inuk women leaders for an Inuk woman commissioner is not racist, just as it is not sexist for them to ask for a woman commissioner. The commission's mandate is to look at the missing and murdered Inuit women of Canada, and it is natural for Inuit women to have one of their own to represent their views and experiences on the commission.

Honourable senators, for Senator Patterson to call Ms. Kudloo and Ms. Sheutiapik racist is unfair and unjustified. The Aboriginal senators myself, Senators Brazeau, Lovelace Nicholas, Sibbeston, Sinclair and Watt call upon Senator Patterson to reconsider his remarks and to apologize personally and publicly to Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuttit Inuit Women of Canada, and Elisapee Sheutiapik, President of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council.