The tragedies of the Canadian Indian residential school system – including the death and disappearance of Indigenous children – have been known for many years. The recent discoveries of unmarked grave sites at various residential school locations across Canada have brought this tragic history to the forefront of public conversation.
The University of British Columbia was reminded by many people both within and beyond the university that in 1986 the university granted an honorary Doctor of Laws to John Fergus O’Grady, who at that time was the Catholic Bishop of Prince George. Prior to his being appointed a bishop, O’Grady was a principal at various Indian Residential Schools, including the Kamloops Indian Residential School in the 1940s, on the historical and unceded territory of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc peoples.
Understandably, there have been many calls from both within the university and from the broader community for this honorary degree to be rescinded. In response, the UBC Senate Tributes Committee established a sub-committee to consider the honorary degree granted in 1986 to O’Grady. Through a review of files, including those from Oblate authorities in Ottawa and Quebec, and informed by discussions with UBC Chancellor Steven Lewis Point and Professor Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Aki-Kwe, Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC on process and substance, the sub-committee considered if and how O’Grady was a party to deaths of children during his tenure as principal of the residential school in Kamloops.
Based on its deliberations and consultations, the sub-committee recommends that the Senate rescind its approval of the Honorary Degree awarded to the late John Fergus O’Grady, as well as conducting a historic reflection on its role in the subjugation of Indigenous people and communities, in addition to several other recommendations.
The Sub-Committee presented this report to the Tributes Committee, which passed it to the Senate with a request that it be made public, to allow parties have an opportunity to comment on the recommendations before the Senate makes final decisions on this matter for the University. The Senate has approved that request.
In the coming months, the Senate also intends to develop a robust process to review and address concerns about other honorary degree holders with backgrounds of concern.
Feedback from interested parties will be solicited through a 30-day consultation period beginning today, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. More details are available at: https://senate.ubc.ca/vancouver/honorary and feedback and comments may be submitted via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
John H.V. Gilbert, C.M., Ph.D., LLD., FCAHS
Chair, Vancouver Senate Tributes Committee