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Turpel-Lafond voluntarily returns honorary degree to Vancouver Island University

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has received more than 10 honorary degrees from Canadian institutions.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has voluntarily returned the honorary law degree presented to her in 2013 by Vancouver Island University. 

The Nanaimo-based university had informed Turpel-Lafond that it would be “moving forward with a process regarding her honorary doctorate,” VIU said in a statement released Tuesday. 

VIU said it has accepted the return of the degree. 

The university started its process after hearing from members of the VIU community and calls from the Indigenous Women’s Collective to review Turpel-Laford’s eligibility to hold the degree, it said. 

The university said it would not comment further on Turpel-Lafond’s case “as the matter is now concluded.” 

Turpel-Lafond spent a decade as B.C.’s representative for children and youth and subsequently prepared a report on Indigenous-specific racism within the province’s health care system. 

A CBC news investigation raised questions last year about her assertion that she was a treaty Indian of Cree ancestry. The Indigenous Women’s Collective, of Saskatchewan, requested universities who had given Turpel-Lafond an honorary degree rescind them. 

Turpel-Lafond could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. 

VIU said it will be reviewing its policy and procedure for nominating, awarding and rescinding honorary doctorates, and will continue consultations now underway to develop and implement an Indigenous identity policy. 

“False claims of Indigenous ancestry cause harm to Indigenous people,” Deborah Saucier, VIU president and vice-chancellor, said in a statement. 

“This is why VIU’s future policy on Indigenous identity will honour the contributions of Indigenous students, faculty, staff and community leaders and will include safeguards to confirm Indigenous identity going forward.” 

Turpel-Lafond has received more than 10 honorary degrees from Canadian institutions. 

On Vancouver Island, Royal Roads University presented Turpel-Lafond with an honorary degree in 2016. It said in November and reiterated Tuesday that it was reviewing the concerns raised and consulting with academic and Indigenous colleagues. 

Last month, Turpel-Lafond told Business In Vancouver in an email that she retired from her position as a full-time tenured professor at the University of B.C.’s Allard School of Law at the end of 2022. 

UBC issued a statement Tuesday saying it deeply regrets its handling of the Turpel-Lafond matter. It said it is reviewing its processes regarding Indigenous status and truthfulness in hiring. 

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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