UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Truth commissions without transition : examining Canadian inquiries Wiebe, Jazlyn Amalia


Truth commissions have become an increasingly popular mechanism for settler states to address past colonial violence. The transitional justice (TJ) literature has increasingly analyzed the use of TJ mechanisms in established democracies where no recent transition has occurred. Previous research has addressed why states adopt truth commissions, though these studies do not distinguish between transitional and non-transitional contexts. This thesis seeks to understand which mechanisms drive settler states to adopt a truth commission. Using publicly available data from the Canadian parliament, media and interviews, this thesis employs a quantitative comparative analysis of three contexts in Canada where a truth commission was adopted or rejected by the federal government: the adoption of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the rejection of an inquiry into the killing of Inuit sled dogs, and the adoption of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. I argue that settler states adopt truth commissions in response to bottom-up activism which threatens the legitimacy of the liberal settler state as the political authority. I find that in the TRC and the National Inquiry into MMIWG, domestic and transnational advocacy engages with the liberal government in power and the public to reveal the inequality between indigenous people and settlers which was authorized by the state. In response, the government will approve a truth commission in order to maintain the legitimacy of the settler state. Given the state’s liberal orientation towards truth commissions, it would be useful for transitional justice practitioners to further consider how the TJ can be decolonized.

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