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Turpel-Lafond returns honorary degree to Royal Roads

The university says the former representative for children and youth voluntarily returned the degree after she was contacted as part of its review process
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond previously returned an honorary degree to Vancouver Island University. An Indigenous group in Saskatchewan had asked that degrees be rescinded after questions were raised about Turpel-Lafond’'s claims to Indigenous ancestry. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has returned the honorary degree she received from Royal Roads University, the second degree she’s handed back to a Vancouver Island post-secondary institution.

Last month, the former B.C. representative for children and youth voluntarily returned an honorary degree presented to her by Vancouver Island University in 2013.

Turpel-Lafond was given an honorary doctorate of law by Royal Roads in 2016.

Both institutions began reviewing the awards after concerns were raised about Turpel-Lafond’s apparently unfounded claim to be a treaty Indian of Cree ancestry.

In response to a 2022 investigation by CBC News, Saskatchewan’s Indigenous Women’s Collective asked all post-secondary institutions that had given Turpel-Lafond honorary degrees to rescind them.

Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops has said it is reviewing the honorary degree it gave to her in 2009. Turpel-Lafond has never received an honorary degree from the University of Victoria.

Turpel-Lafond, who served as B.C.’s representative for children and youth for over a decade and investigated Indigenous-specific racism within B.C.’s health-care system, was given 11 honorary degrees by Canadian schools.

Royal Roads announced in November that it would look into the Turpel-Lafond degree.

On Tuesday, it issued a statement saying that it contacted Turpel-Lafond during the review process, which also included consultation with Indigenous and academic colleagues, as well as the university’s advisory committee on honours and awards.

“Turpel-Lafond responded by voluntarily relinquishing the degree, and the Royal Roads Board of Governors has accordingly cancelled the degree,” the statement says.

Royal Roads said it acknowledges “the harm caused to Indigenous people and communities by controversies such as these, and the need to be more proactive in developing policies and processes to support Indigenous students, faculty, and staff.”

In December, Turpel-Lafond retired from her position as a full-time tenured professor at the University of B.C.’s Allard School of Law.

UBC issued a statement in January saying it regretted its handling of the Turpel-Lafond matter, and that it is reviewing such processes as truthfulness in hiring.

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