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"The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are all forced to go the distance."

-Justice Murray Sinclair,
Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,
to the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples,
September 28, 2010

Introduction


Purpose

This interim report covers the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada since the appointment of the current three Commissioners on July 1, 2009. The report summarizes:

  • the activities of the Commissioners
  • the messages presented to the Commission at hearings and National Events
  • the activities of the Commission with relation to its mandate
  • the Commission's interim findings
  • the Commission's recommendations.


Background

Up until the 1990s, the Canadian government, in partnership with a number of Christian churches, operated a residential school system for Aboriginal children. These government-funded, usually church-run schools and residences were set up to assimilate Aboriginal people forcibly into the Canadian mainstream by eliminating parental and community involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were placed in what were known as Indian residential schools. As a matter of policy, the children commonly were forbidden to speak their own language or engage in their own cultural and spiritual practices. Generations of children were traumatized by the experience. The lack of parental and family involvement in the upbringing of their own children also denied those same children the ability to develop parenting skills. There are an estimated 80,000 former students still living today. Because residential schools operated for well more than a century, their impact has been transmitted from grandparents to parents to children. This legacy from one generation to the next has contributed to social problems, poor health, and low educational success rates in Aboriginal communities today.

The 1996 Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and various other reports and inquiries have documented the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that many children experienced during their school years. Beginning in the mid-1990s, thousands of former students took legal action against the churches that ran the schools and the federal government that funded them. These civil lawsuits sought compensation for the injuries that individuals had sustained, and for loss of language and culture. They were the basis of several large class-action suits that were resolved in 2007 with the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. The Agreement, which is being implemented under court supervision, is intended to begin repairing the harm caused by the residential school system.

In addition to providing compensation to former students, the Agreement established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with a budget of $60-million and a five-year term.

The Commission's overarching purposes are to:

  • reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and the ongoing legacy of the church-run residential schools, in a manner that fully documents the individual and collective harms perpetrated against Aboriginal peoples, and honours the resiliency and courage of former students, their families, and communities; and
  • guide and inspire a process of truth and healing, leading toward reconciliation within Aboriginal families, and between Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal communities, churches, governments, and Canadians generally. The process will work to renew relationships on a basis of inclusion, mutual understanding, and respect.

To guide its work, the Commission has developed a strategic plan with the following mission and vision statements.

Mission Statement

  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will reveal the complete story of Canada's residential school system, and lead the way to respect through reconciliation … for the child taken, for the parent left behind.

Vision Statement

  • We will reveal the truth about residential schools, and establish a renewed sense of Canada that is inclusive and respectful, and that enables reconciliation.


Setting Up the Commission: Governance and Operational Framework

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established by Order-in-Council in June 2008. The initial Commission consisted of Justice Harry LaForme as chair, Claudette Dumont-Smith, and Jane Brewin Morley. Justice LaForme resigned in October 2008, stating that the Commission's independence had been compromised by political interference, and that conflict with the other two Commissioners regarding his authority made the Commission unworkable. Commissioners Dumont-Smith and Brewin Morley resigned in January 2009, stating that the best way forward for a successful Truth and Reconciliation Commission process would be with a new slate of Commissioners.

The parties to the Settlement Agreement then selected three new Commissioners: Justice Murray Sinclair as chair, Chief Wilton Littlechild, and Marie Wilson. Their appointments took effect on July 1, 2009. A ten-member Indian Residential School Survivor Committee, made up of former residential school students, also was appointed to serve as an advisory body to the Commissioners. The resignation of the initial Commissioners led to a loss of time and momentum. By the time the new Commissioners took office, a full year of the Commission's original five-year mandate had passed. From the moment they took office, the new Commissioners faced the challenge of restarting the Commission and restoring its credibility with survivors and the Canadian public.

The decision by the parties to the Settlement Agreement to establish the Commission as a federal government department—as opposed to a commission under the Inquiries Act—was made prior to the appointment of the current Commissioners, and is not one with which they would have concurred. That decision has created additional challenges for the Commission. The rules and regulations that govern large, well-established, permanent federal government departments have proven onerous and highly problematic for a small, newly created organization with a time-limited mandate.

Departmental staffing and other processes normally do not apply to federal commissions or special investigations. The requirement that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission comply with provisions that apply to the operations of a federal department has led to significant delays that will have an impact on the Commission's ability to meet its deadlines. The Commission is required to create an entirely new federal department, subject to, and accountable for, the complete range of federal government statutes, regulations, policies, directives, and guidelines. It has to do this with a comparatively small staff and budget. Meeting these requirements has hampered the Commission's ability to carry out its mandate to implement a statement-gathering process, hold National Events and community hearings, and establish processes for document collection and research activities.

One of the consequences of the resignation of the original Commissioners and the designation of the Commission as a department of government is the discrepancy between the original federal Treasury Board approval of the Commission budget in 2008 and the orders-in-council appointing the current Commissioners in 2009. The Commission expects its final public event to be held close to July 1, 2014. However, its current budget authority will have expired before then, and it is clear there will be a period of time after July 1, 2014, required to transfer records to the National Research Centre and to make final decisions concerning the Commission's financial records, personnel resources, and physical assets. A period of time after July 1, 2014 also may be required for translation and production of the Commission's final report. The Commission will require orders-in-council and funding authorities to be modified to expire at the end of the 2014–15 fiscal year.

Recommendations

  1. The Commission recommends that the Government of Canada issue the necessary orders-in-council and funding authorities to ensure that the end date of the Commission and Commissioners' appointments coincide, including the necessary wind-down period after the Commission's last public event.
  2. The Commission recommends that the Government of Canada work with the Commission to ensure the Commission has adequate funds to complete its mandate on time.
  3. The Commission recommends that the Government of Canada ensure that Health Canada, in conjunction with appropriate provincial, territorial, and traditional health care partners, has the resources needed to provide for the safe completion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's full mandate, and to provide for continuous, high-quality mental health and cultural support services for all those involved in Truth and Reconciliation and other Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement activities, through to completion of these activities.

Despite these challenges, the Commission developed a strategic framework to guide its work, established a multi-year budget, and set about making and implementing several key operational decisions in its first year.

Head and Regional Offices

While the residential school system operated across Canada, the majority of schools were located in the West and the North. For this reason, the Commission established its head office in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It retained a small Ottawa office, and opened satellite offices in Hobbema, Alberta, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. To extend the Commission's reach into smaller centres and communities and as required by the Settlement Agreement, seven regional liaison workers have been hired to work in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Inuit Sub-Commission

In recognition of the unique cultures of the Inuit, and the experiences and impacts of residential schools on them, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also established an Inuit Sub-Commission. It is charged with ensuring that the Commission addresses the challenges to statement gathering and record collection in remote, isolated Inuit communities, and among Inuit throughout Canada. The Inuit Sub-Commission provides the environment and supports necessary to earn the trust of Inuit survivors.

Staffing

The Commission staff is drawn from the public service, private sector, and non-governmental organizations. As of July 1, 2011, the Commission employed seventy-five people, including forty-eight Aboriginal employees who work at all levels of the organization.