NDP MP apologizes for plagiarizing parts of an op-ed column

NDP MP Roméo Saganash has apologized for plagiarizing parts of a recent op-ed column he wrote about why he, and many other Indigenous people, would not be celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary.

Quebec MP Roméo Saganash lifted paragraphs, nearly verbatim, from 2 different sources

NDP MP Roméo Saganash has apologized for plagiarizing parts of a column he wrote for the Globe and Mail about Canada 150. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

NDP MP Roméo Saganash has apologized for plagiarizing parts of a recent op-ed column he wrote about why he, and many other Indigenous people, would not be celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary.

Saganash lifted paragraphs, nearly verbatim, from a speech delivered by student Erica Violet Lee at an event called Reckoning with Canada at 150 at Carleton University in March. Some of her words were later republished under the MP's name in a column titled "150 Years of Cultural Genocide: Today, Like All Days, is an Insult."

Lee first flagged the issue on her Facebook page after she read Saganash's column in the Globe and Mail. "I saw an excerpt from this G&M article quoted on a Facebook status today, and I thought the language sounded too familiar to my work," she wrote. "I'm not sure what to do about this."

APTN reported Tuesday that Saganash, a Cree from northern Quebec, then reached out to Lee after her post circulated on social media, sending her a message promising to speak with his assistant — who he said wrote the first draft of the piece — and make adjustments.

2nd instance

A further analysis of the op-ed by CBC News revealed at least one other passage was apparently lifted, this time from a different source. One paragraph was copied from a piece first published in February 2013 by Eric Ritskes, a student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, on the now defunct website New Left Project.

"Settler colonialism demands Indigenous erasure for the purpose of claiming Indigenous land, it is the symbolic and real replacement of Indigenous Peoples with settlers who attempt to claim belonging," Ritskes wrote. Saganash used the exact same sentence in his piece, though with corrected punctuation.

Saganash apologized to Lee in a statement sent to CBC News Tuesday morning, and later modified his comments when asked about the other example of apparent plagiarism that was not initially addressed.

"In drafting my letter on my thoughts on Canada 150, a mistake was made by which ideas that were expressed by someone else were not given proper credit. I take full responsibility for this omission and have taken steps to correct this," Saganash said.

"An important lesson should be taken from this. We should all make every effort to ensure that we give full credit for ideas. For too long, Indigenous people have been without a voice, and therefore I apologize for not giving the authors the credit they are due."

'Thankful for Mr. Saganash's honesty'

Lee said in an email that she was "thankful for Mr. Saganash's honesty," calling him a "friend and a great advocate for our people in a place that is still so hostile to us."

Ritskes said while it was "disconcerting" to see his work copied under Saganash's name without attribution, he is more concerned about "the pattern of plagiarism and lack of concern about plagiarism that is demonstrated by the Globe and Mail and their editors," pointing to the continued employment of columnist Margaret Wente.

"I would like to see more than an apology or correction from the Globe and Mail. I would like to see change. I would like to see them take the chance to not only recompense Erica Violet Lee for having her work lifted, but also to make a firm commitment to supporting emerging Indigenous writers such as Erica, writers whose work, ideas and words are obviously worthy enough to grace the pages of their columns," he said.

Lee said, she too, would like to see "Canadian media include more work and writing from Indigenous women and young people, cited and fairly compensated."

The Globe and Mail updated the piece at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday to include attribution to the paragraphs in question, and acknowledged Saganash's apology in an editor's note.

"The Globe and Mail's editorial code of conducts says: 'It is unacceptable to represent another person's work as your own.'"

The Globe added its own apology to the writers.

Excerpt from Saganash's piece: 

"What does it mean to be safe and free in the context of a colonial state when it is celebrating its sesquicentennial? The front lines of Indigenous struggle are everywhere, now: from the prairies, boreal forests and rivers to city streets, in classrooms and in the buildings of Parliament. In a world where our very existence is criminalized and our presence is defiance, Indigenous people are forced every day to live in a world built by their colonizers."

Excerpt from Lee's speech:

"What does it mean to be safe and free in the context of a colonial state? The frontlines of Indigenous struggle are everywhere, now: from the prairies and rivers to city streets, and in classrooms. In a world where our movement is criminalized and our presence is resistance, Indigenous curiosity is radical vulnerability, memory, and futurism. Travelling toward an Indigenous feminist conception of freedom, we reclaim our homes in the world."

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.