University of Manitoba - University Governance - Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, LL.D., May 30, 2002
Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, LL.D., May 30, 2002
The Honourable Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair
LL.B. (Man.); DU (Ottawa); DCL, (St. John's, Man.)

It is my distinct honour to introduce you to Justice Murray Sinclair. Justice Sinclair has another name; his Ojibway name is Mizanay Gheezhik, "the One Who Speaks of Pictures in the Sky". I am sure that when he looks at the sky now he is well aware of the many dark clouds. Indeed, he has spent his life primarily working for justice among Aboriginals, so that one day the sky will be much clearer and much brighter.

Justice Sinclair began his life with many hardships. His mother died when he was but an infant. He was fortunate to have grandparents, aunts and uncles to protect and guide him in his early years on what was then St. Peters Reserve, just north of Selkirk. By the completion of his high school he already was showing future leadership qualities as he was Valedictorian for his graduating class and Athlete of the Year at Selkirk Collegiate.

After studying several disciplines at both the Universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, and engaging in diverse work experiences including time as Executive Assistant to the Attorney General, he enrolled in Law school at the University of Manitoba. He graduated in 1979 and was called to the Bar the following year. In the course of his legal practice he worked primarily in the fields of Civil and Criminal Litigation and Aboriginal Law. He represented a number of First Nations, Aboriginal child welfare agencies, Tribal Councils, Aboriginal education authorities, Aboriginal corporations, Friendship Centres and Metis organizations, and appeared as counsel in cases involving Aboriginal and treaty rights. He also taught in the Department of Native Studies and the Natural Resource Institute as well serving as a mentor for many students in the Faculty of Law. His broad interests also led him to be legal counsel for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, and he appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada on its behalf.

The discerning quality of his legal mind brought him to the attention of the Government and he was appointed Associate Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba in 1988. In the very same year, his extensive background in such a wide range of Aboriginal issues led to his appointment as co-commissioner of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, with Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice A. C. Hamilton. This three year study, including almost three hundred recommendations, is still having an impact on the justice system. It was a daunting task. "In almost every aspect of our legal system," the authors wrote, "the treatment of Aboriginal people is tragic. We marvel at the degree to which Aboriginal people have endured and continue to endure what the justice system is doing to them." During this same time he presided in court daily, including monthly circuit court sittings in remote communities in the Province. He continued some teaching at the University of Manitoba and was invited to lecture at Cambridge University as well as the Universities of Calgary, Saskatchewan, Toronto and Windsor and to numerous professional organizations, including the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges and the National Judicial Institute. One Keynote address would seem to summarize the thrust of all his reports, publications and presentations: "Justice, Peace and Harmony: Everyone's Responsibility."

His responsibilities on the Court were expanded considerably when he was appointed to direct the very complex Paediatric Cardiac Surgery Inquest at the Health Sciences Centre.

In 2001, the Federal Government appointed Justice Sinclair from the Provincial Court to the Superior Court in Manitoba, the Court of Queen's Bench. This new appointment offers opportunities for him to have even more impact on the justice system in Canada through written judgements that are more widely reported, carry substantial weight, and can be precedent setting.

As we honour Justice Sinclair, we need to have a sense of his incredible commitment to work for the betterment of virtually every aspect of community life: The Boy Scouts, The John Howard Society, The Royal Canadian Air Cadets, The Canadian Club, The Jemima Centre for the Handicapped, The Prairie Indian Cultural Society, The Canadian Native Law Students Association, The Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties, The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, The Board of Regents of the University of Winnipeg, Mamawi wici itata Centre, and Prairieaction Foundation, finding solutions to violence and abuse, these and other organizations have experienced the quiet passion of his commitment and the wisdom of his advice. He is particularly proud of the work he and his wife, Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair, did in establishing Abinochi Zhawaydakozhiwin Inc. an Ojiway immersion nursery school program in the core area of Winnipeg, designed to deliver an educational program totally in the Ojibway language. It is noteworthy that Justice Sinclair has carried on several of these commitments even since his judicial appointments. Grace, generosity and humility, one of his nominators noted, always characterize his work.

Justice Sinclair is the first judge of Aboriginal descent in Manitoba, and the second in Canada. In 1994, in its very first year of operation, he was honoured with the National Aboriginal Achievement Award. He has received numerous other community achievement awards, as well as Honorary Doctorates. All the while he has maintained a strong connection to his tribal traditions and regularly attends traditional and ceremonial gatherings held throughout Canada and the United States. He is a member of the Fish Clan, a member of the Three Fires Society, and a Third Degree Member of the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine) Society of the Ojibway Nation.

Justice Sinclair is a role model for all of us. His distinguished achievements in scholarship and public service for all Manitobans are an inspiration.

Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour and a privilege for me to ask in the name of the Senate of the University of Manitoba that you confer upon Justice Murray Sinclair, the One Who Speaks of Pictures in the Sky, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.