Residential Schools: Time is running out for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

residential school survivor

Last week, people in several cities around the country held peaceful demonstrations  demanding that the government disclose everything that it knows about the crimes of Canada’s disgraceful residential schools. Predictably, the old media ignored it, much as they have done with other Idle No More type actions recently.

The latest outrage was prompted by a shocking discovery made by a researcher at the University of Guelph that in the 40s, the Canadian government conducted secret experiments on aboriginal school children, at least one of which involve deliberately depriving hungry children of milk to see what effects it might have on their already extreme malnutrition (an idea that would no doubt make infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele proud). This news comes at a particularly tense period in relations between the government and First Nations over the lack of progress being made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), tasked with exposing the atrocities committed in the name of “civilizing” aboriginal kids by members of the churches running these schools.

The courts, in particular the Ontario Superior Court, have also ruled in favour of the TRC with regards to the obligations of the government to hand over all relevant documents (read about the Ontario Superior Court decision here ) despite the government’s attempts to bog it down in legal bickering over the definition of what “relevant documents” is ( is it any wonder people hate lawyers???). Basically, the Aboriginal affairs department made the intellectually dishonest and lazy argument that, under the definition contained in mandate of the TRC, it was not required to go beyond its own archives and provide historical documents only available through the National Archives of Canada.

Might this have something to do with the cost of searching and producing such materials? Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s 2013 report on the Fed’s expenses seemed to hint that it was. The cost of gathering all the documents is estimated by Library and Archives to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 million and would take 10 years to digitize.

Aboriginal Affairs already complained to the AG that they were given less than 20 million to do the job, so far. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the TRC’s mandate which expires in 2014.

As Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations recently said in an op-ed published in the Globe, it’s Harper’s responsibility to make good on his 2008 apology to First Nation Canadians and our responsibility as a Country to see that the government reveals our shameful past: “Canada, this is your history. We must confront the ugly truths and move forward together.”

* For more on residential schools in Canada, please watch the documentary Unrepentant http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqUvhDG7x2E

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