Former MP Argues He Isn’t Racist

By Lloyd Dolha

A former Saskatchewan Member of Parliament who sent constituents controversial pamphlets suggesting aboriginal people shouldn’t get special treatment says he isn’t racist and that he believes in the equality of all Canadians. Jim Pankiw told the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on Oct 21, that the pamphlets his office mailed to voters between 2002 and 2004 were actually meant to point out racist government policies. Three different pamphlets calling for the end of hiring quotas, court sentencing provisions, hunting and fishing rights, and tax exemptions were mailed out to Saskatoon residents within and outside Panikw’s Saskatoon-Humboldt riding between December 2002 and June 2004.

The pamphlets bore slogans such as “Stop Indian Crime” and “It’s Clear Who the Terrorists Are.” They called affirmative action programs “race-based hiring quotas for Indians” and said that treaties should not be valid in modern times. The pamphlet titled “Stop Indian Crime” showed a photograph of the 1990 Oka protest in Quebec. The caption under the photo described an aboriginal protester as a terrorist. Still, Pankiw argued that he simply believes aboriginals should not get special treatment by the system. He told the tribunal, “You can’t discriminate in favour of someone without discriminating against someone else. Discrimination is wrong.” The former MP gave an example of the case of a woman he knows who didn’t get into law school because a certain number of seats were set aside for aboriginal students. “In my opinion,” he said, “she was discriminated against.”

Pankiw served two terms as a Reform MP and then as a Canadian Alliance MP in the Saskatoon-Humboldt riding before he left to sit as an independent. He lost the 2004 election and was defeated again as a candidate in the Battlefords-Lloydminster riding in 2006. Pankiw also lost a 2003 bid to become mayor of Saskatoon. Nine people have filed official complaints about the pamphlets, saying they were discriminatory. The human rights complaints allege that Pankiw engaged in a discriminatory practice on the basis of race or ethnic origin in a matter related to the denial of goods or services: the publication of discriminatory notices and harassment. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) then referred the matter to the tribunal. Pankiw fought against the hearing, but lost appeals before the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case.

Pankiw called the complaints “crank, vexatious, mean-spirited personal attacks,” but Roch Levac (the lawyer representing the CHRC) said Pankiw purposely targeted a visible minority with the pamphlets and used language to demean them. The tribunal also heard that the pamphlets were racist and stirred up negative feelings toward aboriginal people. “They were half-truths and half-lies, out of context,” said Richard Ross, a First Nations man and one of nine complainants offended by the pamphlets. Complainant Aisla Watkinson said Pankiw used his privileged position to promote a “discriminatory and destructive agenda.” She said the House of Commons should have oversight over an MP’s mailouts. John Melenchuk, a Métis construction worker in Saskatoon, filed one of the complaints after his eight-year-old son showed him the Oka pamphlet and asked him if he was a terrorist. “I’m just disgusted by these pamphlets,” he told the tribunal. “He was using taxpayers’ money to print out this type of literature.”

The three-member panel will issue a decision in the case at a later date. An RCMP investigation has already concluded that the pamphlets did not constitute hate literature under Canadian law.