In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (the TRC) findings were released –the product of six years’ intensive and collaborative hard work.  Together, the four reports (The Executive Summary, Principles of Truth and Reconciliation, Survivors Speak and Calls to Action) provide a roadmap by which justice may be reached for the survivors of Canada’s residential school system, as well as their families and communities. These findings approach access to justice through the lens of reconciliation - a concept explored below.  The following paragraphs outline the goals of the TRC, its activities, findings, and questions that remain unanswered even after this massive undertaking.

Download the TRC Reports here:

What is the TRC?

The TRC is a commission created pursuant to the terms of a massive multi-party settlement agreement spawned as a result of Canada’s Indian Residential School (IRS) system.  

What is the IRS?  

The IRS was a system of boarding schools Aboriginal Canadian children were forced to attend between the late 1800’s until the 1990’s. The schools were funded by the Canadian government and administered by Christian churches. While promoted as an educational model for remote Aboriginal populations, the IRS system was a tool of cultural genocide: it was a policy that sought to assimilate Aboriginal children into the dominant Canadian culture by removing them from the influence of their families and culture. IRS were part of a wider Canadian policy with the primary objective of eliminating Canada’s Aboriginal peoples by ignoring their rights, terminating treaties and assimilating Aboriginal peoples through eliminating their distinct legal, social, cultural, religious entities (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015) [TRC Summary] at 1, 3, 54, 55 and 133).

Students who attended residential schools often experienced appalling and painful experiences. Aside from the culturally-motivated horrors - being taken from their parents, separated from siblings, and disallowing language, cultural or spiritual expression - many children experienced significant abuse, hunger and “institutionalized…neglect” (TRC Summary at 43). Survivors describe living in a world “dominated by fear, loneliness, and lack of affection” (TRC Summary at 41). It is estimated that approximately 150,000 pupils (including First Nations, Inuit and Métis children) attended IRS. At least 4,000 children died there. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Government of Canada and the leaders of the other federal parties in the Canadian House of Commons (TRC Summary at 211).

What is the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA)?

The IRS system and its abominable harms lead to a flood of legal actions. This resulted in the largest class action settlement in Canadian history – the IRSSA. The IRSSA is a settlement package reached by the Canadian government, the Church and IRS survivors. It is intended to recognize the damage inflicted by the IRS system, and provide a framework by which IRS survivors might be able to access justice.

The IRSSA established a significant ($2 billion) compensation package. However, the systemic devastation caused by IRS cannot be remedied through mere compensation. As such, the IRSSA also contains more holistic community and reconciliation-oriented terms. It possesses 5 main features:

(i)     Common Experience Payment- payment for each former student of the IRS.

(ii)   Independent Assessment Process- Special compensation payable to survivors subjected to physical or sexual abuse.

(iii)  Aboriginal Healing Foundation- Mandated “support initiatives” that aim to address the destructive legacy of the IRS.

(iv) The Settlement Agreement- The federal government’s agreement to fund initiatives to commemorate” the IRS experience.

(v)   The TRC- The creation of a commission that will tell Canadians about the history of the IRS and its impact on Aboriginal peoples as a way to guide reconciliation.

(TRC Summary at 130).

How Did the TRC Fulfill its Mandate?

The TRC’s mandate was 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 resilience 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 was to work to renew relationships on a basis of inclusion, mutual understanding, and respect.

(TRC Summary at 23)

The TRC approached this task with a multi-pronged approach. In facilitating reconciliation, the TRC:

  • Held hearings across Canada for the purpose of gathering statements from those impacted by the IRS. These hearings included survivors, their family members, community members and some former IRS employees.
     
  • Gathered documents (often after contentious court hearings) from the federal government and the Church about the IRS system and its legacy.
     
  • Funded and held national events that included, among other things, cultural performances and student educational seminars.
     
  • Hosted education and outreach forums.
     
  • Recommended and allocated funding for commemorative programs to honour the IRS survivors and educate the Canadian public about the IRS experience.
     
  • Set up a National Research Centre to permanently house the spoken records and documentation gathered by the TRC.
     
  • Issued findings with recommendations for achieving reconciliation.

What is Reconciliation?

Reconciliation does not yield itself to one definition. It is a deeply individualized concept that means different things to different people, communities, institutions, and organizations. For many survivors of the IRS system, reconciliation often involves coming to terms with (violent and disturbing) past events in a way that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship going forward.

The TRC viewed reconciliation as the establishment and maintenance of a mutually respectful relationship between all Canadians. Its mandate describes the process of reconciliation as:

An ongoing individual and collective process, and will require commitment from all those affected including First Nations, Inuit, and Metis former Indian Residential Schools students, their families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, government and the people of Canada. Reconciliation may occur between any of the above groups (TRC at 16).

Reconciliation is not a one-way street. It can only happen when everyone (survivors, perpetrators, and the broader public) accept responsibility for healing in ways that foster respect. Reconciliation is not paternalistic – it cannot proceed from the false assumption that only Aboriginal lives need healing. For the conversation of reconciliation to take place, everyone involved must adopt an attitude of humility and respect (TRC Summary at 9-10).                                 

 A Note on Reconciliation and Colonialism

The concept of reconciliation is particularly complex in this situation because of the inextricable link between the IRS system and colonialism generally.  Reconciliation is often viewed as the re-establishment of a healthy and respectful relationship between parties. For many Aboriginal Canadians, however, they have never experienced a healthy and respectful relationship with the Canadian government or its colonial settlers.

Since arriving in Canada, colonial powers drew on shifting doctrines to argue that the land occupied by Aboriginals for thousands of years was rightfully “discovered”, “conquered”, “occupied” or “possessed” by the English or French governments. These doctrines were not satisfactory or correct at law. Ultimately, the colonialists resorted to a system of treaties which were used to demonstrate that Aboriginal lands were ceded to them by agreement. Significant controversy still exists as to whether, or to what extent, the colonial powers actually intended to fulfill their obligations in these treaties (for example, see TRC Summary at 45). Thus, the distrustful relationship between Aboriginal persons and the federal government began (see generally, TRC Summary at 43–50).

Aboriginal education formed an integral part of these broader colonial objectives. Colonial powers, with Christian missionaries in tow, viewed themselves as superior to other races. Given their perceived special status above all others, it gave them the right and duty to educate and civilize the “heathen” (TRC at Summary 46). Residential schools were established in the shadows of these ideas (TRC at Summary 47).

Thus, the IRS system is but one painful aspect of the tense historical relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian government. Reconciliation, therefore, is not so much on re-establishing a respectful relationship, as locating common and equal ground from which all Canadians can move forward together (TRC at 6).

Reconciliation and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

The IRS system caused systemic trauma that has reverberated across generations. Its ripple effect continues to wreak havoc on aboriginal communities. The IRSSA recognized that government-sanctioned harm of this magnitude cannot be resolved in a courtroom - it must occur with the entire Canadian community. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) is one pillar of this broader reconciliation process.

The TRC established the NCTR as part of its IRSSA-driven mandate.  It selected the University of Manitoba, as the NCTR’s permanent home  (TRC Summary at 37-8) The NCTR will-

  1. give access to IRS-Survivors, their families and their communities to have their own stories as at when needed;
  2. educate generations of Canadian students on IRS history;
  3. give researchers on IRS and related issues and topics the opportunity to dig “deeply into” IRS history, its experience and legacy;
  4. give public access to public on “historical records and other materials” on IRS in order to help in fostering reconciliation and healing; and
  5. ensure that the history and legacy of IRS are permanently memorialized and “never forgotten” (TRC Summary at 35).

Earth (the Environment) a component of reconciliation

Reconciliation can also be viewed as an environmental law or the environment health practice in process. Reconciliation, in an Aboriginal perspective, is neither just all about talking, nor only about people. It includes the earth as a reconciliatory component. This aspect of reconciliation requires a reconciling with the natural world.  According to both Elder Reg Crowshoe and Elder Augustine, reconciliation is also comprised of our relationships (with) earth and all living things.  Elder Crowshoe says that reconciliation is incomplete if human beings resolve problems between themselves and continue to destroy natural world. Thus it accords with reason that, reconciliation also includes both the environment and environmental and social regulatory regimes created to care for, and manage, the earth (Environmental Law) (TRC Summary at 18).

Reconciliation And International law

Canada is not the first country that has adopted and used a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a healing tool to reconcile a country with a troubled past and an oppressed population. Perhaps most famously, South Africa used reconciliatory processes to heal some of the wounds caused by the apartheid regime. Reconciliation has thus become an international legal concept. It is particularly connected to the context of colonialism and the relationship between a state, its indigenous peoples (i.e. Aboriginal) and the colonial settlers.

In 2007, the United Nations (UN) issued a declaration that specifically addressed the rights of the Indigenous Peoples of the world.  And it is in the light of the foregoing declaration that, the TRC, in its 2012 Interim Report, enjoined the federal, the Provincial and Territorial governments and all parties to the IRSSA to explore the UNs’ declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, because it contains the essential “principles, norms and standards for reconciliation”. (TRC at 21. For the UNs’ Declaration see: The United Nations, “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples”).

What Were the TRC's Findings?

Storytelling: The TRC's Reconciliation Method

In large part, the TRC used story telling as a method of reconciliation. Story telling is the process by which IRS- Survivors (including their families and communities) inform and educate other Canadians about the IRS experience and their adverse impacts.   

For example, Ina Seitcher, a Survivor, who attended the Christie residential school, told his story:

I went [to Christie residential school]…for ten months. Ten months that impacted my life for fifty years. I am just now on my healing journey…I need to do this, I need to speak out…for my mom and dad who went to residential school, for aunts, my uncles, all that are beyond now…All the pain of our people, the hurt, the anger…  (TRC Summary at 15).

The TRC heard more than 6,750 stories. Storytellers included, survivors, their families, and members of their communities and those that wished to narrate and share “their knowledge of the [IRS] system and its legacy” (TRC Summary at 25).

Stories and their varied sources

The TRC gathered stories (as well as statements and documents) on IRS through and from:

  • “Public sharing”;
  • “Sharing Circles” mostly at national, regional and community events;
  • “Commission hearings”;
  • Private conversations, including those at correctional institutions, such as in Kenora, Ontario; Yellowknife, Northwest Territory- a clear indication of high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal population segment in Canada, itself a dreadful impact, among many, of the legacy of IRS system;

(The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Interim Report (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015 at 13). 

The TRC also gathered documentation relevant to the IRS. It is worthy of note that, in spite of the fact that IRSSA obliged both the Federal government and the Church to give the TRC all relevant documents in their possession, the TRC had to go to court on many occasions to force the two parties to turn in the relevant documents in their possession (TRC Summary at 27-29).

The IRS History

For more than a century, the Canadian government and the Church took away tens of thousands of Aboriginal children from their parents, often with the use of force, into the residential schooling program. Below, some of their common experiences are discussed:

  • De-culturing and Europeanizing students’ names: Aboriginal children’s homemade clothing that held particular cultural value and meaning to them. Upon arriving at a residential school, these clothes were immediately burnt or destroyed and exchanged for “school-supplied” clothing (TRC Summary at 39-40). Many pupils were assigned a number, and had their traditional names changed to European names. Such experiences marked the beginning of distancing the Aboriginal children from their cultures, traditions and Aboriginal meanings and practices they understood (TRC Summary at 158).
     
  • Sibling separation: Aboriginal children of same parents were always separated from one another. This isolation contributed to the fear, loneliness and lack of affection that were the constant companions of the IRS-children (TRC Summary at 41).
     
  • Language suppression: English language was the primary mode of instruction.  Aboriginal languages were never permitted, and in some instances were absolutely banned. Students who spoke Aboriginal dialects were punished severely (TRC Summary at 79-84).
     
  • Exit not permitted: Once students enrolled, only the government reserved the right to discharge them -- parents had no authority to withdraw their children. Students were often treated like criminals, and warrants for their arrest were issued if they refused to return to the IRS (TRC at 64). It was a crime for parents to refuse to return their child to the IRS system. In 1937, in Sandy Bay, Manitoba, a father was sentenced to 10 days in jail for the non-return of his son to IRS-hostel (TRC Summary at 119).
     
  • Compelling attendance: Under the guise of educating Aboriginal children, the government often declared parents unfit in order to compel attendance at the IRS (TRC Summary at 60-62).
     
  • Unregulated system: The Indian Act was a key piece of law used to operate the IRS system. This Act had many functions aside from IRS, and lacked depth on the operation and regulations for residential schools. It severely lacked anything resembling adequate regulatory mechanisms. Thus, the IRS was largely an unregulated system left to the whims and caprices of the government and the Church (TRC Summary at 62-63).
     
  • Poor education: Education in IRS was declared a failure. Students were expected to produce revenue to run the system, and as such, little attention was paid to educating them (TRC at 71-77).
     
  • Child labour: Students in the IRS system were subjected to extreme child labour. “Work: No idleness here” (TRC at 77) depicts “institutionalized child labour” and the “half-day system”, comprising of students working on farm and raising and preparing what they would eat, and doing chores (TRC Summary at 77-80).
     
  • Arranged/Blocked marriages: The federal government arranged marriages between fellow IRS students, and blocked those weddings it considered improper. The government believed it earned the right to organize and block marriages by virtue of provision of IRS-based education. Moreover, doing so was a way to ensure that IRS students would not return to “uncivilized ways” by marrying a non-IRS-trained student (TRC Summary at 84-85).
     
  • Hunger, Disease and Death: The IRS system was poorly funded. There was insufficient food, and often the students went hungry. During the depression, cooks sold bread to students. It was common for students to go into the bush to hunt gophers and squirrels to supplement their meager diets. The poor quality and lack of food made students susceptible to diseases, ill health and death. Hundreds of students died of diseases and preventable accidents (TRC Summary at 85-90).
     
  • Poor burial: The Government denied burial responsibilities for students who died in the IRS system. The Church also claimed excessive costs and often refused to give parents their children’s remains. IRS operators buried the children as they deemed fit (TRC Summary at 99-101)
     
  • Discipline was flogging/corporal punishment: Flogging and corporal punishment were the chief tools of discipline (TRC at 105-9). Joseph Martin Larocque of Beauval IRS, Saskatchewan, claimed that IRS “…was a harsh environment…they treated us like criminals…It is like prison.”        (TRC Summary at 101-105, 135).
     
  • Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse of students was common at the IRS.  Both the government and the Church largely ignored this awful reality and the damage it did to its victims (TRC Summary at 105-114).

The IRS Legacy

Inter-generational legacy

The IRS legacy goes far beyond its direct survivors. After experiencing this systematic neglect and trauma, it is no surprise that the children, families and communities of the survivors have also been adversely affected. These people suffer collective and individual trauma directly linkable to the IRS legacy. The TRC describes the legacy as inter-generational: affecting generations after generations.  Political and legal policies and mechanisms that surround the IRS continue to work against First Nations’ peoples today. This is exemplified by the glaring disparity between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal persons in education, income, health, standard of living and other social disparities. In addition, such is also reflected in the racism and “systemic and other forms of discrimination” Aboriginal peoples still suffer in Canada today (TRC at 135). Additionally, it is reflected in the “critically endangered status of most Aboriginal languages” (TRC at 135).

  • Child welfare “Strict discipline, religious indoctrination, and regimented life akin to…prison [life]” harmed the ability of IRS-students to be good, caring parents. The results are disaffection, apathy, poor parental skills, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse and broken homes. For example, Statistics Canada in 2011 found that 14,225 or 3.6% of the First Nations’ children aged 14 and under were in foster care as compared to 15,345 or 0.3% of non-Aboriginal Canadians (TRC Summary at 138).
     
  • Education: The IRS education system has been described as a failed education system (TRC Summary at 144). It was never designed for students to succeed. Thus the majority of the students never went beyond elementary schooling. This caused poor jobs, joblessness, poor economy and perpetual circles of poverty in the Aboriginal communities (TRC Summary at 146).
     
  • Language & Culture: The IRS system banned both the Aboriginal language and culture (though pockets minimally tolerated them). Many Aboriginal languages are now in danger of going extinct (TRC Summary  at 155).
     
  • Lost Names: IRS officials routinely gave students non-Aboriginal names. For example, an Inuit girl became “Alice” at the Aklavik Anglican School in Northwest Territories. Thus majority lost their Aboriginal names (TRC Summary at 158).
     
  • Poor Health: Health conditions and diseases plagued IRS students due to the prevailing poor and unhealthy conditions at the residential schools. Many died.  However, those that survived have lived with recurring health issues directly linkable to their time at the IRS. Their acquired trauma has been passed along to their children, communities, and loved ones (TRC Summary at 158-161).
     
  • Justice and over-representation in the Criminal Justice System: Aboriginal peoples are over-represented in the Canadian criminal justice system. Aboriginal adults are 4% of the Canadian population. In 1995-6, they represented 16% of those in criminal custody. By 2011-12, the number jumped to 28%. The situation is worse for incarcerated women. In 2011-12, 43% of incarcerated women were Aboriginal. In terms of youth, 49% of incarcerated girls were aboriginal – the figure was 36% for boys. The TRC links this contact with the Canadian criminal justice system to the IRS legacy. This legacy creates destructive coping mechanisms that can draw Aboriginal persons into the criminal justice system. (TRC Summary at 164-172, with particular focus on 171).

Recommendations for Reconcilation

What are the TRC’s recommendations

The TRC’s recommendations are exhortations directed to all Canadian levels of government, asking for action to redress “the legacy of [IRS] and advance the process of reconciliation” in Canada. See Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015) [Calls to Action] at 1).

How many recommendations?

There are 94 recommendations (“Calls to Action”) in total. They are arranged in 20 subheadings: child-welfare, education, language and culture, health, justice and equity for Aboriginal peoples in the legal system, church apologies and reconciliation, missing children and burial information, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Commemoration and replacement of the Oath of Citizenship to include the observance of treaties with Aboriginal peoples as a part of those duties a new citizen will fulfill (Calls to Action; see also Maclean’s Global Issues: Our Insights, “Commission offers 94 ways to redress ‘Cultural genocide’ ”, Maclean’s, June 2, 2015: online <macleans.ca>; Robert Benzie, “Premiers vow to implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations”, The Toronto Star, July 15, 2015: online: <thestar.com> (Benzie_thestar), and APTN: National News “Read the 94 calls to action here”, APTN News, June 2, 2015: online<aptn.ca>).

To whom are the 94 recommendations directed?

The recommendations are primarily directed to the federal Canadian government, because the Aboriginal matters are primarily the jurisdiction of the Canadian Parliament (Constitution Act 1867, 30 &31 Victoria, c3 (UK): s 91(24)). However, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments are also directly called upon to take action concerning the recommendations.

A Selection of “Calls to Action”

The full list of the TRC’s “Calls to Action” can be accessed here. In addition, lengthier explanations for each recommendation can be accessed in the TRC’s Executive Summary here (see pages 139-337). Below, we have excerpted a sampling of some notable Calls to Action.

  1. Child-welfare – the TRC calls upon all levels of government, including Aboriginal governments, among other things, to commit themselves to reducing the frightening number of Aboriginal children in foster care. This can be accomplished by monitoring and assessing neglect investigations, and by providing adequate resources to ensure that Aboriginal communities’ child welfare establishments keep Aboriginal families together, when safe to do so. Every effort should be made to keep Aboriginal children in culturally appropriate environments, regardless of where they reside. Moreover, that impact of residential school experience should be factored in when child-welfare decisions are being made- TRC Summary at 137-140; Calls to Action at 1).  
     
  2. Education- All levels of governments are called upon to commit themselves to urgently reduce the education disparity between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal peoples. This would include reexamining and eliminating the discrepancy in funding offered to First Nations children educated on reserve from those being educated off reserves (TRC Summary at 148-150; Calls to Action at 1-2).
     
  3. Language rights- The federal government is called upon to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights enshrined under section 35(1) of the Constitution Act include language rights. They press for the passing of the Aboriginal Language Act, which codifies the need to preserve aboriginal language and federal funding obligations to do so (TRC Summary at 155-157; Calls to Action at 2).
     
  4. Health- All levels of government are called upon to acknowledge the link between the current Aboriginal health crisis and past government policies, including the IRS system. Governments are urged to implement heath care rights for Aboriginal peoples in compliance with International law, Constitutional law and the Treaties (TRC Summary at 158-164; Calls to Action at 2,3)
     
  5. Justice- Responsible levels of government are asked to review statutes that limit and restrict aboriginal rights and claims, including restrictive statutes of limitations. Canadian and provincial legislation should ensure that governments and other entities cannot rely on limitation defences to defend legal actions of historical abuse brought by Aboriginal peoples. Moreover, adequate funding with resources should be provided to not only urgently address the issue of FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) but also to implement Gladue courts (R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688) and Ipeelee (R v Ipeelee, [2012] 1 SCR 433) as a way to address the over-representation of the Aboriginal peoples in the criminal justice system (TRC Summary at 164-182; Calls to Action at 3-4).

Challenges to the TRC's Recommendations and Broader Issues of Access to Justice for the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada

The Excluded

Many survivors of the IRS system were shut out from the benefits of the IRSSA, and particularly, from its compensation scheme. This includes students that attended “Day School”; Métis persons, students from schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, and those that attended the government-funded schools that were not clearly identified as residential schools. These people were not only victimized by an IRS-influenced program, they have been denied access to justice through exclusion from the reconciliatory scheme.

The federal government had several other programs that, although falling outside the IRS system, nonetheless inflicted similarly horrific harms. For example, victims of the “Sixties scoop” – the Canada-government-run system that removed babies and children from their parents and families and placing them in foster care within and outside of Canada in the 60s- are not part of the TRC’s mandate or the IRSSA. Thus, the TRC can be described as an incomplete measure, which grants an avenue towards justice to some and completely denies it to others.

Absence of recognition for Indigenous or Native laws

Indigenous or native laws do not receive widespread recognition in Canada. Hence, access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples of Canada is still very much lacking. While pockets of Aboriginal-informed justice administration exist, and many are staffed and managed by Aboriginal peoples, Aboriginal-informed justice system is largely absent in the majority of Aboriginal settlements in Canada. (For more information, see Heather Chan, 2013 Access to Justice: Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, 2013 ACLRC resources). This adversely impacts reconciliation efforts and is very unhelpful to the broader issues of access to justice for the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

Federal Government’s “Inaction”

The federal government played a pivotal role in setting up the machinery of the TRC. However, many commentators have observed that it has not done much to help the TRC move forward in fulfilling its mandate, or facilitating the process of reconciliation.

While fulfilling its mandate, the TRC was forced to go to Court on several occasions to get documents it was entitled to from the federal government. Since releasing its report, the federal government has been notably silent concerning any acknowledgement of its findings or pledges to execute its recommendations. This undermines the spirit of reconciliation.

At a TRC forum, the provincial and the territorial government groups unequivocally pledged their support and promised implementation for all the TRC’s recommendations. The federal government did not attend that forum. Benzie_thestar, supra

Aboriginal issues are primarily and exclusively the jurisdiction of the federal government.   [Constitution Act, 1867, s 91(24)]. The federal government’s inaction regarding the TRC’s recommendations does a great disservice to reconciliation and the broader issues of access to justice for the Aboriginal peoples.  This may eventually dampen the enthusiasm being currently shown by the provincial and territorial government groups concerning the implementation of those recommendations and may result in non-execution of them. This does a great disservice not only to the all-parties-Canadian reconciliation, but also to the spirit of access to justice for Canadian Aboriginal peoples. It is hoped that the federal government will embrace these recommendations, regain its previous momentum and take its pride of place in championing the cause for reconciliation as well as access to justice for the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

In 2014 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) published a report on the missing and murdered “Aboriginal females”.  The report, among other things, states that:

a)      There are 1181 homicides and unresolved missing of Aboriginal women (164 missing and 1017 homicide victims);

b)      Aboriginal women are overrepresented among Canada’s murdered and missing women; and

c)      Number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women is greater than what was previously in public estimates.

See Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview (Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2014). 

In spite of what can be described as a nation-wide and popular demand for inquiry into this important Aboriginal issue, enthusiasm towards it is lacking on the part of the federal government. The federal government’s view is that this matter is being dealt with appropriately by the police and the court. See Garth Stevenson, “The Strange Case of the Missing Aboriginal Women”, (2015) 37:31 Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Canadian Periodicals Index Quarterly, Web August, 2015.

To some commentators, the federal government’s lukewarm attitude to the issue of the missing Aboriginal women further reinforces the disturbing absence of leadership on the whole Aboriginal issues, and does not portend well for Canada’s quest for holistic and lasting reconciliation. Additionally,      it further suggests that the TRC’s efforts and its impressive successes concerning reconciliation success concerning access to justice for the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are of little consequence, because a burning and important part of the Aboriginal issues (e.g. missing Aboriginal women) has been neglected.  

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