On Dec. 15, the TRC released its seven-volume final report that provides more detail and context for the 94 Calls to Action the commission unveiled last June, but the doors are now open to a new reconciliation phase, say Catholics involved in the process. Register file photo.

TRC final report closes legal phase but begins new reconciliation phase

  • December 15, 2015

OTTAWA - The legal phase of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Indian residential schools is over, but the doors are now open to a new reconciliation phase, say Catholics involved in the process.

On Dec. 15, the TRC released its seven-volume final report that provides more detail and context for the 94 Calls to Action the commission unveiled last June along with the lengthy executive summary of the final report. The report groups the Calls to Action into five categories: child welfare, education, language and culture, health and justice.

“Reconciliation will require more than pious words about the shortcomings of those who preceded us,” the report says. “It obliges us to both recognize the ways in which the legacy of residential schools continues to disfigure Canadian life and to abandon policies and approaches that currently serve to extend that hurtful legacy.”

It describes the present child welfare system — which places more indigenous children in foster care than had attended residential schools in any single year — as the “residential school system of our day,” and blasts the educational system, describing schools on reserves as a “national disgrace.”

The TRC report exposes disparate health outcomes for aboriginal people that “would simply not be tolerated by other Canadians” and blames cultural genocide exemplified by policies within the residential schools that punished children for using their own tongues for the loss of many aboriginal languages.  

The report also blames more than 3,000 recorded deaths of aboriginal children through infectious diseases and suicide on “coldness” and “indifference” and says the real figures are probably higher due to bad record keeping. The report argues these deaths were preventable.

It also indicts the justice system, saying residential school survivors were often “re-victimized” when they sought redress for physical and sexual abuse and only a fraction of abusers faced criminal charges. Only 50 people were convicted, the report says. It also notes that aboriginal Canadians face higher arrest, conviction and incarceration rates and are more likely to experience violence than non-aboriginals. It urges a reformed justice system “based on aboriginal law and healing practices and under aboriginal control.”

The TRC will now close down and transfer its archives to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

 “It’s a successful commission in that the Canadian public has been made aware of the life and the legacy of the Indian residential schools,” said Montreal-based lawyer Pierre Baribeau, who has represented Catholic dioceses and religious orders involved in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).
What the TRC has helped everyone understand is how the residential schools and the policies that gave rise to them created great suffering for aboriginal people, said Pettipas.

“We realize more of this now,” said Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, president of the 50 Catholic Entities, the legal body formed to respond to the litigation that led to the IRSSA. “We realize what has gone wrong. There has been a lot of headway gained in this whole process. One of things I always look for in this is balance.

“I think reconciliation is very much a grassroots effort,” said Pettipas. “It isn’t by making laws you are going to overcome racism… A lot has to happen at the grassroots and for people to come to a conversion in their own hearts about the issues. That takes time. We’re going to be at this reconciliation project for a long time.”

It’s something the commission always knew, said the archbishop.

“They knew from the beginning they weren’t going to bring about reconciliation.”

The final document is “huge,” he said, but the broad strokes were already outlined even in the interim report of a couple of years ago, and again in last June’s release of the executive summary.

“One of the things that struck me and impressed me about the report is how thorough it is,” Pettipas said. “There is not a stone unturned on the history of the schools, the history before the schools, the way the schools came to a slow and gradual halt and what has proceeded after the schools in terms of education. It’s comprehensive.”

Among some of the Calls to Action concerning the various churches involved in the settlement agreement is a call for the repudiation of the “doctrine of discovery” that give European colonizers the right to claim discovered lands as their own, Pettipas said. The TRC also calls for the churches to affirm native spirituality and customs because from the time of contact through the residential school system, “there was a sense their own spirituality and customs were denigrated,” he said.

Baribeau said it “appears a very large portion of the Canadian public has reacted already and is trying to take roads to live through the concept of reconciliation.”

Baribeau, who has spent 22 years involved in aspects of the IRSSA process that led to the TRC, said he thinks the “legal period” of the IRSSA is over and now it is time for the “social and economic aspects of this matter” to be addressed

Pettipas noted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promises to adopt all the Calls to Action “might be a bit naïve,” especially since many of them, such as getting the Pope to come and apologize in Canada within a year, are not something the new prime minister can deliver. But that said, the archbishop said Trudeau “seems to be starting off on the right foot. There’s a certain confidence people have.”

“I sense he is sincerely trying,” and while delivering on his promises might result in “different timelines and not be as inclusive as we like,” he is “taking the Calls to Action seriously.”

Baribeau admitted any report, especially “such a voluminous document,” will “receive its fair share of criticism,” but it’s being received in a “compassionate atmosphere” and reconciliation processes “have already taken their own speed.”

“We really hope it will be a major contribution to Canadian history,” he said. “The dioceses and religious groups have to re-think the ways things have been dealt with and ask, ‘How can we now, in the 21st century, get closer to the people who have been suffering, including on a cultural basis.’ ”

Even the dioceses that did not have Indian residential schools now have sizeable numbers of indigenous peoples living in them. Many First Nations, Métis and Inuit now live in large cities, not on reserves, Baribeau said. “There has to be a new dynamic to create expectancy of a second start with First Nations.”

The 50 Catholic entities will soon dissolve as a legal entity once it satisfies the last of its financial obligations. Pettipas said the entities are about to pay the last $1.2 million of the $29 million owed under the IRSSA.

The IRSSA required the Catholic entities to pay $79 million altogether: $29 million in cash contributions, $25 million of “in kind services” towards reconciliation and healing by the members over a 10-year period, and to make up the balance through a best-effort fundraising campaign, the archbishop said. That fundraising effort fell short, and Pettipas estimates it brought in between $4-5 million.

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