Quebec ready to support searches of residential school sites, if Indigenous communities make the request

·3 min read
A ceremony was held Monday in Montreal's Jeanne-Mance Park to honour the 215 children whose remains were found in Kamloops, B.C. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A ceremony was held Monday in Montreal's Jeanne-Mance Park to honour the 215 children whose remains were found in Kamloops, B.C. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Quebec's Indigenous affairs minister said the provincial government is willing to protect sites of former residential schools in order to allow their grounds to be searched for unmarked graves.

Ian Lafrenière said the government would move quickly if requests come from Indigenous communities. Lafrenière said the government doesn't want to proceed without their approval.

"We started to contact families yesterday," Lafrenière said Tuesday at a news conference in Quebec City. "We need to respect families and listen to them."

He added that he has already spoken with representatives from the provincial coroner's office and the Ministry of Public Security to discuss logistics of possible searches.

Last week, ground-penetrating radar indicated there were remains of 215 children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Children's shoes were placed in front of a church in Kahnawake, Que., in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Children's shoes were placed in front of a church in Kahnawake, Que., in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C.(Chloe Ranaldi/CBC)

The discovery has prompted calls, including by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, for governments to help search the sites of other residential schools across the country.

"I demand that all governments commit to supporting First Nations seeking thorough investigations into former residential school sites and to take any, and all action available to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions," Bellegarde said in a statement.

Legault promises to co-operate with feds

According to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there are 11 sites in Quebec where residential, or day, schools operated. Premier François Legault signalled he would co-operate with Ottawa to ensure jurisdictional issues don't stall search efforts.

"With the federal government, we'll do everything we have to, to get the maximum information possible, because it's terrible what these families went through," Legault said.

Later on Tuesday, the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion that, among other things, called on the Quebec government to help search residential school sites for human remains.

"Obviously, we can't assume that atrocities of the same order [as B.C.] occurred here, on Quebec territory, but we can't exclude it either. It's not impossible," Legault told the the legislature, in a brief speech supporting the motion.

Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said Indigenous people need to be supported while navigating the justice system.
Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said Indigenous people need to be supported while navigating the justice system. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Legault's government is expected to pass legislation in the coming days that will allow Indigenous communities to access information about children who went missing between the 1950s and 1990s after being taken to receive medical care.

Lafrenière said the government wasn't going to expand the bill to include a public inquiry into the disappearances, a demand made by Indigenous leaders and all three opposition parties.

But he also said the government was open to holding an inquiry later if the demand was made by Indigenous communities.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.