[Justice Murray Sinclair, centre, Chief Wilton Littlechild, left, and Marie Wilson pull back a blanket to unveil the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld]
The recommendations in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Canada’s residential school system cover not just a variety of topics but also a range of difficulty in implementation.
Six years in the making, the Truth and Reconciliation report was released on Tuesday. The report’s creation was one of the agreements within the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history.
Among the report’s thousands of pages are 94 recommendations that go beyond residential schools themselves, covering a wide range of topics related to indigenous life and history in Canada.
“They cover everything from child welfare and education to a national centre of reconciliation, which has already been established, and work in the justice system,” Kristina Llewellyn, an associate professor of social development studies at University of Waterloo, tells Yahoo Canada News.
The report was written by a three-person commission chaired by Justice Murray Sinclair of Manitoba. The commission argues that true reconciliation for the country’s residential schools— where over a century 150,000 indigenous children were removed from their families and forced to attend — is only possible once aboriginals restore their self respect and non-aboriginals understand the worth of the culture of indigenous Canadians.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to implement all 94 recommendations in the report, but some of those will be easier to enact than others.
The recommendations involve the authority of a variety of jurisdictions both within Canada and beyond its borders. Many of the recommendations are related to education, for example, which involves both federal and provincial jurisdiction and multiple school boards.
However, several of these educational recommendations could be the least likely to receive opposition. It is not politically easy to fight a recommendation that all Canadian students be taught about the country’s indigenous history as part of their regular school curriculum.
“They have actually started embarking on a lot of the recommendations from the commission,” Llewellyn says. For example, she says, on Thursday it was announced that the isolated Shoal Lake 40 First Nation in Manitoba would finally receive an access road. The community is on a man-made island with no all-weather road connecting it to the mainland, and has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years.
And a couple of line items are already in place. There is the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which is part of the University of Manitoba. On Dec. 8, the Liberal government outlined the first phase of an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
“They’ve committed to a process where first they will take guidance from indigenous people and their families,” Llewellyn says.
Other recommendations will be more complicated to enact. For example, the first five recommendations refer to child welfare, including the placing of aboriginal children into state custody. But the seizure of children from their homes is a matter of provincial or territorial jurisdiction, and involves a variety of child-welfare agencies. And past cases have shown that these agencies do not necessarily communicate with each other as a matter of course.
"That involves a wholesale different approach for social work within this country,” Llewellyn says. “It’s a whole different way of how we approach child welfare.”
Other recommendations may run into problems not because of their contents but because of their cost.
“I think a number of the problems will be anything that requires committed funding,” Llewellyn says.
“They haven’t been costed or analyzed. There’s excellent recommendations but, without costing, there’s cause for concern,” Conservative indigenous affairs critic and B.C. MP Cathy McLeod told Kamloops This Week about the recommendations.
“It’s quite disheartening to hear from the Conservatives that Trudeau making this commitment is ‘irresponsible,’” Llewellyn says.
It may be politically difficult to push forward recommendations with serious costs attached, Llewellyn concedes, like those related to closing the funding gap between Canadian students off and on reserves.
“I personally think that it’s irresponsible not to make those commitments and seek out the ways in which we’re going to make this happen in this country,” Llewellyn says. “I think the biggest thing is to make that commitment and to come up with a strategy for action.”
Some have charged that the report contains recommendations — such as one to increase CBC funding to enable the broadcaster to support reconciliation — that are unrealistic or unrelated to residential schools and therefore should not be implemented as part of the government’s response to the report.
And some recommendations are simply outside the authority of any Canadian jurisdiction, regardless of the political will to enact them. Trudeau said on Wednesday that he will ask Pope Francis to formally apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in running residential schools. One of the report’s recommendations is that the pope apologize for the church’s role “in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”
At the same time, the prime minister conceded that he has no authority to compel the pope to apologize.
“I’m not going to pretend that it is my job to order other governments or other organizations to do anything, but I certainly look forward to a constructive engagement where we can address this issue, because quite frankly, there are multiple levels of different organizations that have a role to recognize in this terrible part of Canada’s past,” Trudeau said at a news conference on Parliament Hill on Wednesday.
And even if the pope doesn’t ultimately apologize, and if some recommendations are difficult to implement, there is important value in the national dialog and education spurred by the commission’s report, Llewellyn says.
“That has gone a long way already,” she says. “[Indigenous leaders] are giving Trudeau full marks for changing the tone of the discussion.”