The Canadian poet invited to deliver a lecture on truth and reconciliation at the University of Regina later this month is cancelling his appearance amid controversy over his affiliation with a man convicted in the beating death of an Indigenous woman.
“After further reflection about the issue of my proposed lecture at the University of Regina, scheduled for January 23, it is with great sadness that I have decided to withdraw from this presentation,” George Elliott Clarke said Friday morning in an email statement sent by his literary agent to Global News.
Clarke, a professor at the University of Toronto, was invited by the faculty of arts to deliver this year’s Woodrow Lloyd Lecture titled: “Truth and Reconciliation versus the Murdered and Missing: Examining Indigenous Experiences of (In)Justice in Four Saskatchewan Poets.”
Clarke has been known to edit the work of Steven Kummerfield, who now goes by the name Stephen Brown. Kummerfield was found guilty in the beating death of Pamela George, of the Sakimay First Nations, in Regina in 1995. He was released on parole in 2000 after serving four-and-a-half years of a six-year sentence.
Earlier in the week, Clarke told CBC he “may or may not” read a poem by the convicted killer, prompting an outcry from Indigenous groups, and others.
In Friday’s statement, Clarke said he “never intended to cause such anguish for the family of Pamela George and the Indigenous community.
“For that I am truly sorry,” his statement said.
“My purpose in my talk was to discuss the role of poets in dealing with social issues, but that interest has been lost in the current controversy. So regrettably, I have asked the University of Regina to cancel my appearance.”
In an earlier statement to Global News, Clarke said he only learned of Kummerfield’s crime four months earlier and that it has changed his view of Kummerfield.
The University of Regina had stood by Clarke as the 2019 Woodrow Lloyd lecturer, despite the pressure to cancel the event in light of Clarke’s affiliations.
Friday morning, the university’s president, Vianne Timmons, tweeted a statement: “In an effort to hear people’s concerns and perhaps begin a healing process, the University of Regina, through its Office of Indigenization, is in the process of reaching out to a number of Indigenous leaders, representatives, elders and groups.”
The university wants to “listen, learn and share in a spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding,” according to the statement, which acknowledges the “original decision to bring Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke in as this year’s Woodrow Lloyd lecturer was not supported by all communities.”
The university says it will not be seeking a replacement speaker.