International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 17, No 1 (2010)

Morals, Process and Political Scandals: The Discursive Role of the Royal Commission in the Somalia Affair in Canada

Janis Goldie
Issued Date: 15 Jun 2010


This study was an effort to describe and understand the communication function of the Royal Commission of Inquiry in the Somalia Affair in Canada. A major political scandal in Canada, the Somalia Affair was initially marked by the torture and death of a Somali man at the hands of a Canadian soldier while on a peace enforcement mission in Somalia in 1993 and resulted in a great deal of media attention as well as the general public reproach of Canadians.
After first providing an overview of Royal Commissions of Inquiry, as well as the historical and social context of the Somalia Affair within Canada, this dissertation argues that this political scandal shook the nation, in part, because it marked a moment of moral dissonance in Canada. That is, the Somalia Affair presented serious incongruities between commonly espoused Canadian values– such as peacekeeping, multiculturalism and transparency/accountability – and the actions that the Canadian soldiers undertook in Somalia. I connect the issue of moral dissonance to the commission in an attempt to answer why the commission was used in response to the moral dissonance caused by the Somalia Affair. Utilizing an in-depth case study approach to the Somalia Affair, I undertake discourse analysis on the approximately 50,000 pages of primary documentary sources from the commission as well as on the media coverage of the affair. Ultimately, I find that the commission is an appropriate space to deal with the moral dissonance that the Somalia Affair posed for two main reasons. Firstly, because it offers a space to debate, define and potentially reassert the morals that were originally transgressed. Secondly, the commission’s reliance on process and procedure works to institutionalize, rationalize and legitimize those morals that were transgressed as well as display that the political system itself operates effectively. In all, I argue that it is these two communication features of the commission – as a space for moral discourse to occur within a heavily formal and procedural process – that make the commission an appropriate discursive place to respond to the moral dissonance that occurs in a political scandal like the Somalia Affair.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.v17i1.157


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