Concrete Change Begins with Empathy, but It Doesn’t End there

According to the panelists at a Congress session called “On Indigenous lands: Empathy and social justice,” the formation and findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada constitute just the first and very incomplete step in addressing the injustices that plague Canada both past and present.

For Professor Joanna Quinn (Western University), reconciliation is the intersection of empathy and justice and the discovery or rediscovery of facts surrounding gross abuses of human rights. However, past examples show that societies emerging from such trauma aren’t immediately open to truth commissions, but are usually reticent if not openly hostile to such processes. How then can people be made to care about uncovering these truths and about what others have suffered? According to Quinn, the “soil” of post-conflict society needs to be “amended” for reconciliation and transitional justice through what she terms “thin sympathy” for the other: a basic understanding of how the other lives, what happened to them, and a simple acknowledgment of their humanity. However, thin sympathy is just the leading edge of understanding, the initial move toward generating “thick sympathy” and eventual empathy. The reconciliation process requires at least thin sympathy among outsiders and bystanders, and without a combination of empathetic champions and at least thin sympathy at a critical mass in the general population, reconciliation cannot succeed.

As an Indigenous academic and a constitutional scholar, Professor Kiera Ladner (University of Manitoba) brought unique and deep insight to the panel. She pointed out that reconciliation needs to move beyond empathy to concrete action. While current reconciliation programs in countries like Canada and Australia—where Ladner has worked for the last seven years on constitutional reform—focus on relatively narrow elements of endemic injustice, these efforts need to be refocused on the issues that really matter to Indigenous peoples: land, sovereignty and self-determination. According to Ladner, Indigenous peoples don’t want “one big hug” as part of a nation building process. Instead, the very notion of the “Aboriginal problem” needs to be flipped on its head: it is not an issue of Indigenous peoples needing to reconcile with Canada, but an issue of non-Indigenous Canadians needing to learn our nation’s true history and find out what it means to live on Indigenous lands. All Canadians need a greater understanding of Indigenous law and what it means to live under treaty law and as a treaty people.

Sociologist that he is, Professor Fuyuki Kurasawa (York University) proposed a taxonomy of three tasks in reconciliation: remembrance and commemoration, acceptance and assuming responsibility, and justice as a process of decolonization. He also pointed out that the process of reconciliation here in Canada is collectively asymmetrical. Non-Indigenous Canadians cannot determine if reconciliation has been achieved or demand that Indigenous peoples accept it: this right must be ceded to the victims of systemic injustice and violence. He pointed out that reconciliation is a relational, ongoing process that always has the potential to fail, and that there are no shortcuts or half-measures.

All three panelists pointed out that understanding and education are important first steps in the path to reconciliation and reform, but they remain first steps only. Real change can only take place when justice is brought forth through concrete measures.

Professors Joanna Quinn, Kiera Ladner and Fuyuki Kurasawa participated in a panel discussion entitled On Indigenous lands: Empathy and social justice at Congress 2017 at Ryerson University, and hosted by the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists at the Royal Society of Canada.

This article was written by Caleb Snider and originally published on the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences blog.

College Presidential Nominations

The College is pleased to announce the opening of the period during which nominations will be sought for the next President of the College of New Scholars. This person will become the President-Elect at the upcoming Celebration of Excellence (formerly AGM) in Winnipeg this November. They will then begin their two-year term as President at the 2018 COE.

For the nomination itself, a concise explanation (one or two paragraphs) about the suitability of your proposed candidate will suffice. The criteria are as follows: vision for the future; bilingualism; interdisciplinary appeal; administrative experience; commitment/availability; and willingness to participate in funding initiatives.

The nomination ought to be submitted to Russel MacDonald no later than June 12.

Members whose names have been suggested for the role will be informed of their nomination. If they accept the nomination, they will be requested to submit a brief (maximum two-page) statement of their qualifications and plans, if elected, along with a brief biography (maximum one page) and a CV. These documents will be made available to the voters, and ought to be submitted by June 26.

The voting process will begin in the summer.

Goose Bay, Labrador

As one of the objectives of the College is to get to learn about and borrow from diverse modes of knowledge production and dissemination across the country, and the different challenges facing Canadian communities today, the College intends to hold one meeting per year in smaller and harder to access regions.We have been invited by College Member Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo, Director of the Labrador Institute of Memorial University, to visit the institute in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL. During our stay the College plans to meet with the three Indigenous Nations, the Labrador Friendship Centre, the Labrador Land Protectors, and colleagues from the Labrador Institute, among others. The dates are from June 18-June 22 (travel days included), and some financial support for on-site costs is available. Accommodations are limited, so for more information or to express interest in the trip, please contact Russel MacDonald.

2017 Nomination Period is Closed

The 2017 nomination period is closed, and 242 nominations were received, from 44 institutions in all 10 provinces. Thank you to all who submitted a nomination. The review process is now underway, and up to 80 candidates will be selected for the 2017 cohort. Successful candidates will be contacted in June/July, and the public announcement will be made in September.

Montreal Meeting

The College’s first members’ meeting of 2017 was held in Montreal, February 20-21. Discussions were held regarding a number of College initiatives, including Canada Wave 150, Voices of the College, the Yellowknife meeting, The Conversation, and other events. The meeting was capped with a discussion with RSC Executive Director Darren Gilmour about the RSC’s forthcoming Strategic Plan. Read the minutes from the meeting.

The College Elects Cynthia Milton as President

The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists has elected Dr. Cynthia Milton of the Université de Montréal as its next President. Dr. Milton will assume the role as President during the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Society of Canada on the weekend of November 17-19, 2016, at the Four Points by Sheraton in Kingston, Ontario.

Dr. Cynthia E. Milton is a full Professor and Canada Research Chair (Level 2) in Latin American History in the History Department at the Université de Montréal. Her interdisciplinary research projects study truth commissions and alternative modes of truth-telling, and the artistic representation and cultural interventions in the constructions of historical narratives in the aftermath of state violence and during the era of transitional justice and human rights (

Dr. Milton has administrative experience within her home institution at the departmental and faculty levels, as a member of the academic board of the International Institute of the Université de Montréal (CÉRIUM), as director of the Canada-Mexico Chair program, as holder of the Canada Research Chair in Latin American History, as well as in various international associations. She is also co-founder of the Latin American Research Network of Montreal (RÉLAM, which brings together over 50 scholars in the Montreal environs from the four main universities and all disciplines.

Major honours include the Bolton Johnson Prize for the best book published in her field, the Alexander Von Humboldt Fellowship for Advanced Scholars, and the Fernand Braudel Fellowship from the European University Institute (where she is presently). Dr. Milton has been very successful in her career in seeking funds (from within Canada and abroad) and would be able to bring these skills to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Dr. Milton is trilingual: Anglophone by origin, she speaks fluently French (the language of her academic institution) and Spanish (language of research).

Vision Statement


2016 Cohort Announced

The RSC has named the incoming 80 members of The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Those named to the College represent the emerging generation of scholarly, scientific and artistic leadership in Canada.

Together, the members of the College will address issues of particular concern to new scholars, artists and scientists, for the advancement of understanding and the benefit of society, taking advantage of the interdisciplinary approaches fostered by the establishment of the College.

“This year’s members join the College at an exciting time as a number of College supported projects are launching and looking for participants to strengthen the teams with various expertise and perspectives” said College President Alidad Amirfazli.

The Presentation of this cohort, sponsored by Concordia University, will take place on Friday, November 18, 2016 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Kingston, Ontario.

College Citations 2016