Manitoba·Opinion

Premier seeks to divide province with incendiary comments on vaccine, First Nations: Sinclair

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s comments regarding vaccine distribution at his news conference on Dec. 3 were inflammatory and divisive, says Manitoba Sen. Murray Sinclair.

Manitoba senator challenges claim that federal plan for COVID-19 vaccine is 'unfair'

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday that Ottawa's proposed plan to reserve a portion of COVID-19 vaccines for First Nations would leave the province with the fewest doses for the rest of the population, a statement criticized by Sen. Murray Sinclair. (Luca Bruno/The Associated Press)

This column is an opinion by The Honourable Murray Sinclair, who is retiring as an Independent senator from Manitoba in January 2021. He is also a former justice of the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba and the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Mr. Premier, we're better than that.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister's comments regarding vaccine distribution at his news conference on Thursday are inflammatory and divisive. 

He basically said, "If you don't get vaccine right away, blame the Indians." 

I didn't hear him say, "If you don't get vaccine right away, blame the old people in personal-care homes." Or "Blame the front-line workers."

No. He said it was "unfair" to "Manitobans" (I guess he doesn't consider Indigenous people living in this province as Manitobans) for First Nations to get a separate supply of vaccine under the federal vaccine distribution plan.

It's only when the target of vaccine distribution plans are First Nations that the premier calls out the federal government.

For what? Being unfair to Manitobans, he says. That statement makes it clear that he does not see First Nations as "real" Manitobans.

Like many others, the premier is blind to his own racism.

WATCH | Premier wants feds to provide extra COVID-19 vaccine doses for First Nations:

Manitoba premier calls on feds to provide extra COVID-19 vaccine doses for First Nations

CBC News Manitoba

3 months ago
4:44
Premier Brian Pallister says a federal proposal to reserve a portion of Manitoba's vaccine allotment for First Nations would leave the province with the least number of doses for the rest of the population. 4:44

Pallister has played the race card before. 

Don't walk down the streets, he says, because even he feels endangered by those Indigenous people he sees. 

Those First Nation guys hunting for food at night? Forget about their constitutional rights, he says. Just ignore their rights, increase the fines or lock 'em up longer, 'cause his friends can't hunt at night. If we don't do that, we're going to have a "race war." 

Canada and the provinces have waged war against Indigenous people through law for generations.- Sen. Murray Sinclair

Does he not realize that Canada and Manitoba have targeted Indigenous people through discriminatory laws before? (Remember the provincial liquor laws that banned "Indians" from beer parlours? Or the laws that denied Indigenous people the right to testify in court? Or the laws that upheld restrictive covenants on land to prevent anyone not a "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" from owning that land?)

Race war

Canada and the provinces have waged war against Indigenous people through law for generations. You're just part of the current "race war," Mr. Premier, and — sadly — one of its leaders.

But the reality is that if the province of Manitoba under Pallister was charged with distributing vaccines, I believe that he would ensure that First Nations did not get their share as Manitobans, because they're a "federal" responsibility. That is apparently how he thinks and is, apparently, what he thinks of Indigenous people.

The premier is undermining decisions made on the basis of public health risk assessments, conducted by independent experts.

Should the federal government ignore that advice? Of course it shouldn't. It's proven reliable in the past and is based in part on the evidence that the people most seriously infected by the H1N1 virus were Indigenous people.

Sinclair says Pallister 'is appealing to those who believe that whatever Indigenous people get, it's always at the expense of "ordinary Manitobans." That's racism.' (Submitted by Murray Sinclair)

The vulnerability of Indigenous people to COVID-19 is plainly before us. They have the highest poverty rates, and the evidence clearly shows that the poor people of this country are more seriously affected because of their poverty. (And keep in mind that that is a poverty imposed by colonialism). 

They have the highest medical needs and the poorest medical services in the province. They suffer from poor nutrition and astronomically high food prices; inadequate housing and overcrowded living conditions; remoteness and isolation; poor water supplies caused by resource development in most instances; and a provincial government dominated by a premier who does not understand Jordan's Principle — "Help first and ask questions later."

During an emergency, Premier Pallister is seeking to divide Manitobans. He is appealing to those who believe that whatever Indigenous people get, it's always at the expense of  "ordinary Manitobans." That's racism.

We're better than that.

Premier ... are you? 


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

The Honourable Murray Sinclair is currently an Independent senator from Manitoba, a former justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba and the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

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