I’m not sure whether today’s thoughts on the latest developments in the debate about Canada’s horrendous residential schools scandal should be delivered with Christmas bells pealing joyous “goodwill to all” in the background; but hope springs eternal.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller gave us hope back in October when he announced that he intended to release all records held in Ottawa dealing with Indigenous compensation claims. Increasingly, we are hearing that in 2015 the federal cabinet ratified a decision that, in effect, freed the Roman Catholic Church from compensating survivors of the residential schools’ debacle.
A few days after that announcement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Kamloops to apologize for an earlier bad decision to skip the first-ever national Truth and Reconciliation Day celebration in that community in favour of post-election R&R at Tofino on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. “It was a mistake,” he confessed to a gathering of Indigenous chiefs and people. He said his newly-elected government had, at long last, turned over all the pertinent records of government-funded, church-run residential schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) in Winnipeg.
Before the day ended the NCTR was quick to announce it had yet to see any documents.
A few days later Minister Miller confirmed all was well. His boss may have been a little premature, but he confirmed that all the files requested were now on their way. These included documents the Catholic Church and the government had shielded from public scrutiny despite regular pleas from Indigenous chiefs.
Miller didn’t say how many pieces of paper would be in the package, but promised delivery within 30 days. The NCTR has estimated Ottawa holds some 12,000 files in storage. CTV news recently reported that among these documents there should be a series of “school narratives – reports compiled by Ottawa outlining individual histories, administration statistics on the number of children forced to attend and key events such as abuse.”
Miller said earlier governments refused to make public some stored reports because of third-party legal obligations. However, he said decisively: “Knowing what we know today, it doesn’t seem right …” (to be hiding anything when reconciliation is the long overdue goal.) Minister Miller is correct. It hasn’t seemed right for years; and never will seem right until we make it so.
So, maybe we had better hold the joyous pealing of the bells until a review of the 12,000 files reveals who made the 2015 decision to abandon an appeal of a court decision that freed the Catholic Church from fully compensating survivors of the residential schools nightmare.
Minister Miller has been quoted as saying he knows of no evidence indicating it was a cabinet decision. Former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she “never signed” any decision to drop the appeal. But, somebody had the clout to derail the compensation train.
All we can do now is wait and, as Tennyson once wrote, “faintly trust the larger hope” that our leaders of church and state have the wisdom and the courage to get the compensation train back on track and moving ahead smoothly … with church and state picking up their full share of the arbitrated cost.