Two faces of transitional justice: Theorizing the incommensurability of transitional justice and decolonization in Canada

Jennifer Matsunaga

Abstract


Transitional justice is a complex form of political and legal intervention used by state governments to redress state-sanctioned and large-scale harms (Balint, Evans, & McMillan, 2014). The typical aims of this model include maintaining peace during times of political flux, installing rule-of law, creating new historical narratives, and reconciliation (Teitel, 2003). In both theory and practice, transitional justice usually concerns ‘fragile states’ or post-conflict states. Governments, academics and practitioners, however, are broadening transitional justice theory and practice to include harms to Indigenous peoples in settler states such as Canada. Notably, recent efforts seek to integrate ‘decolonization’ into transitional justice as a desired process or goal. This paper is a critical intervention into this trend. I demonstrate that Canada has two faces of transitional justice – one, internally focused on ‘reconciliation’ with Indigenous peoples and the other, externally focused on providing peace and security expertise to fragile states. I bring land-centered understandings of decolonization and Indigenous resurgence into conversation with this duality to argue that efforts to incorporate decolonization into transitional justice, without taking seriously its roots and the international transitional justice work with which Canada is engaged, does more to obscure and de-legitimize Indigenous nationhood and settler colonialism entirely. 


Keywords


transitional justice; reparations politics; settler colonial states; decolonization; Canada; Indian residential schools

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ISSN 1929-8692