Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair Photo by Michael Swan

Truth and Reconciliation Commission seeks more funding

  • December 7, 2011

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission looking into Canada’s 130-year history of residential schools for native children may not have enough money to finish the job.

The commission was set up in 2008 with a five-year mandate and a $60-million budget. After an initial false start, the commission is now scheduled to produce a final report by 2014.

“The original amount set aside in the Settlement Agreement may need to be revisited,” said the commission’s most recent annual departmental performance report to the Treasury Board.

In his report TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair cites  “the scope of time, places and people affected by residential schools... the number of records to be collected from approximately 100 or more separate archives and... the cost of holding community events” as reasons the commission may need more funding.

The costs of centralizing the records into a single, permanent archive — especially photocopying, scanning and digitizing thousands of documents in church and government archives — is proving to be much more than originally imagined.

“The commission’s budget is simply not sufficient to cover the costs associated with reproducing the documents, including the costs associated with recording the details and locations of each original record,” Sinclair wrote.

The government mandated the TRC to create a national research centre that would contain the most complete record possible of the residential school system. The centre would house one of Canada’s largest collections of oral history and millions of documents gathered from church and government archives.

In November the TRC put out a call for submissions from institutions willing to host the centre, but Sinclair warns the TRC may not have the money to complete the project.

“It now seems likely that the commission’s budget will not allow the commission to fund the creation of a national research centre,” said Sinclair.

To arrive at the end of years of hearings and gestures of reconciliation but not complete the TRC’s mandate would be a great shame, said Rob Meilleur, chief administrative officer of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

“It’s the only way of moving forward,” Meilleur said. “All of this is critical to the healing process.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment.

“We think that this is a matter which should remain between the TRC and the Government of Canada,” said CCCB spokesman Rene Laprise in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

No formal request for more money has been launched, said TRC spokeswoman Nancy Pine.

The biggest funding hole is the creation of a national research centre, said Pine.

“Everything else has been carried out in the mandate,” she said.

Residential schools were set up by the federal government in the 1870s with the specific task of assimilating future generations of Metis, Inuit and First Nations children into mainstream European culture. About 150,000 children passed through 130 residential schools. They were forbidden from speaking their languages and cut off from their families. Teacher-student and student-on-student abuse littered the system. The last residential school closed in 1996.

The commission was created out of the official Canadian government apology offered in 2008. The commission has held national events in Winnipeg, Inuvik and Halifax. National events at which residential school survivors give their testimonies will also be held in British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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