Poet who edited work of convicted killer should speak: University of Regina

REGINA—The University of Regina says it would be against its principles to cancel a lecture by a celebrated Canadian poet who has worked with a convicted killer of an Indigenous woman.

Richard Kleer, who is dean of the university’s faculty of arts, says George Elliott Clarke — who served as Toronto’s poet laureate for three years starting in 2012 after being appointed by city council — was invited to deliver the Woodrow Lloyd Lecture later this month.

Kleer says some have taken issue with the fact that Clarke has edited poetry by Stephen Brown, who changed his name from Steven Kummerfield.

Kummerfield was convicted of manslaughter in the 1995 death of Pamela George — a case that underscored racism Indigenous people face in Saskatchewan.

Kleer says the faculty was unaware of Clarke’s relationship with Brown when it first extended the invitation, but it stands by its decision.

He says Clarke, who has Indigenous ancestry, is a champion of social justice and that the faculty looks forward to hearing his message against racism and violence.

Kleer said neither Clarke nor the university condone Brown’s “heinous crime.” “In fact, they both fully support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, including publicly acknowledging and condemning any violence directed towards Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Having Clarke speak at the University is witness to that commitment,” Kleer said in a statement Thursday.

Clarke, for his part, told CBC that he might read a poem by Brown, but retreated from that in a statement Thursday, saying that “Because I care passionately about violence against Indigenous women, with whom I am and have always been an ally, I would like to reassure all those concerned that I will not be citing the poetry of Mr. Kummerfield Brown, who was convicted of manslaughter in the case of an Indigenous woman, in my upcoming lecture, slated for January 23rd, because of my sensitivity to the feelings of the survivors of his victim, Pamela George.”

“Furthermore, and as a matter of principle, denying someone a speaking platform, or censoring their message, simply because they have had a working relationship with a convicted criminal goes against everything a university should stand for.

Get more books in your inbox

Get the latest book news and reviews with our Books email newsletter.

Sign Up Now

TORONTO STAR