NDP MP Saganash apologizes for apparent plagiarism in Canada 150 column

OTTAWA — NDP MP Romeo Saganash has apologized for a Canada Day column he wrote in which he appears to have plagiarized the work of other writers. 

“In drafting my letter on my thoughts on Canada 150, a mistake was made by which ideas that were expressed by someone else were not given proper credit,” Saganash said in a statement provided to the National Post. “I take full responsibility for this omission and have taken steps to correct this.” 

Saganash, the NDP’s Indigenous affairs critic, wrote a column the Globe and Mail published on July 1 under the headline 150 years of cultural genocide: Today, like all days, is an insult. The piece was an impassioned and seemingly personal rebuke of Canada 150 celebrations.

“You see, for us, nearly everything around us represents colonial domination and genocide and is an example of Indigenous resiliency,” wrote Saganash, a residential school survivor. “Except that I’m really tired of constantly having to fight to prove that I have the right to exist.”

A large teepee erected by indigenous demonstrators to kick off a four-day Canada Day protest stands in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Justin Tang/ The Canadian Press

But multiple passages of the column seem to have been lifted almost verbatim from other writers’ work. 

One paragraph of the piece is almost identical to an abstract by Indigenous writer and student Erica Violet Lee, written for a keynote talk she delivered at a student conference at Carleton University in March. The abstract was published online.

“What does it mean to be safe and free in the context of a colonial state?” it reads in part. “The frontlines of Indigenous struggle are everywhere, now: from the prairies and rivers to city streets, and in classrooms. In a world where our movement is criminalized and our presence is resistance, Indigenous curiosity is radical vulnerability, memory, and futurism.”

A portion of Saganash’s column is very similar:

“What does it mean to be safe and free in the context of a colonial state when it is celebrating its sesquicentennial? The front lines of Indigenous struggle are everywhere, now: from the prairies, boreal forests and rivers to city streets, in classrooms and in the buildings of Parliament. In a world where our very existence is criminalized and our presence is defiance, Indigenous people are forced every day to live in a world built by their colonizers.”

CBC News has since discovered a second passage from the op-ed that seems to plagiarize work by Eric Ritskes, a PhD student at the University of Toronto. 

“Settler colonialism demands Indigenous erasure for the purpose of claiming Indigenous land, it is the symbolic and real replacement of Indigenous peoples with settlers who attempt to claim belonging,” Ritskes wrote in a piece published online in 2013. 

The same passage, with corrected grammar, appears in Saganash’s column. 

The NDP confirmed it has contacted the newspaper to correct the online version of the piece.

In his original apology, which referred only to the use of Lee’s work, Saganash said there’s an “important lesson” to be learned from the incident.

“We should all make every effort to ensure that we give full credit for ideas,” he said. “For too long, Indigenous people have been without a voice and therefore I apologize for not giving Erica Violet Lee the credit she is due.”

A second statement was later issued to include both writers, after the CBC story was published. “I apologize for not giving the authors the credit they are due,” it read. 

Lee could not be reached by deadline, but she told APTN she was “disappointed when I saw my words used without my name.”

APTN also published a screen shot of a message she’d apparently received from Saganash on Sunday, in which he appeared to blame an assistant for the plagiarism.

“Just saw your post, I’ll contact my Assistant who wrote the draft, and adjust accordingly. Thanks for the heads up,” the message reads.

In his statement Tuesday, Saganash didn’t mention an assistant, instead saying he takes “full responsibility” for the issue. 

The Globe and Mail also apologized to Lee and Ritskes and updated the story on its website to give them attribution.

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