Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Canada)

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was a truth and reconciliation commission organized by the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.[1] The commission was part of a holistic and comprehensive response to the charges of abuse and other ill effects for First Nations children that resulted from the Indian residential school legacy. The Commission was officially established on June 2, 2008, and was completed in December 2015.


The Aboriginal Men and Women, who lived through residential schools, placed the concern of residential schools on the public agenda.[2] Their joint work resulted in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which stipulated a residential school Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada be conducted.[2] The Royal commission concluded that the Canadian residential school system was established for the purpose of separating children from their families.[2]According to the commission this was done with the intention to minimize the family's ability to pass along their cultural heritage to their children.[2][3] The commission spent six years traveling to different parts of Canada to hear the testimony of approximately six thousand Aboriginal people who as children were taken away from their families and placed in residential schools.[2]

After the closing of the Indian residential schools, which operated from the 1870s to 1996, and held some 150,000 aboriginal children over the decades, some former students made allegations of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse and neglect.[4] The commission studied records and took testimony for evidence of activities alleged to have occurred at residential schools, as well as the negative effects resulting from the schools' stated aim to assimilate First Nations children into the majority culture. The matter of student deaths at these institutions and the burial of deceased students in unmarked graves without the notification or consent of the parents was an additional item on the agenda.

In March 2008, Indigenous leaders and church officials embarked on a multi-city 'Remembering the Children' tour to promote activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[5] On January 21–22, 2008, the King's University College of Edmonton, Alberta, held an interdisciplinary studies conference on the subject of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. On June 11 of the same year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the role of past governments in administration of the residential schools.[6]


Justice Harry S. Laforme of the Ontario Court of Appeal was named to chair the commission. He resigned on October 20, 2008, citing insubordination by commissioners Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley.[7] Although Dumont-Smith and Morley denied the charge and initially stayed on, both resigned in January 2009. In June, Murray Sinclair, Manitoba's first aboriginal associate chief justice, was appointed to chair the panel. The other members of the commission were Marie Wilson, a senior executive with the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and Wilton Littlechild, former Conservative Member of Parliament and Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.[8]

Unlike the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, the Canadian commission had no power to offer known perpetrators of abuse the possibility of amnesty in exchange for honest testimony about any abuses that may have been committed. The Canadian commission heard mostly from alleged victims, with little to no testimony from persons of authority in the residential school system. Hymie Rubenstein, a retired professor of anthropology, and Rodney A. Clifton, professor emeritus of education and a residential school supervisor in the 1960s, held that, while the residential school program had been harmful to many students, the commission had shown "indifference to robust evidence gathering, comparative or contextual data, and cause-effect relationships," which resulted in the commission's report telling "a skewed and partial story".[9]

The commission held a series of national events in Winnipeg, Inuvik, Halifax, Saskatoon, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver. In 2014, it reported that at least 4,000 Aboriginal children died in residential schools;[10] five to seven percent of those who were enrolled in the institutions.[11] The truth and reconciliation report did not compare its findings with rates and causes of mortality among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children attending public schools. Rubenstein and Clifton noted that the report also failed to consider Indian residential schools were typically located in rural areas far from hospitals, making treatment more difficult to acquire.[12]

The commission's mandate was originally scheduled to end in 2014, with a final event in Ottawa. However, it was extended to 2015 as numerous records related to residential schools were provided to the commission by the federal government by order, in January 2013, of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.[13] They needed to review these documents. The commission held its closing event in Ottawa from May 31 to June 3, 2015, including a ceremony at Rideau Hall with Governor General David Johnston.

Calls to action[edit]

Upon closing, the commission issued a document identifying 94 "Calls to Action" to "redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation". These were divided into two categories: "Legacy" and "Reconciliation":[14]


Redressing the harms resulting from the Indian residential schools, the proposed actions are identified in the following sub-categories:

  • Child welfare - Residential schools served as a foster home rather than an educational center. According to a 1953 survey, 4,313 children of 10,112 residential school children were described as either orphans or originated from broken homes.[15] By 2011, 3.6% of all First Nations children under the age of 14 were in foster care, compared to 0.3% for non-aboriginal children.[16] In 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced its concern on Canada's removal of aboriginal children from their families as a 'first resort'.[17]
  • Education - The education system for residential schools operated under the assumption that aboriginals were intellectually and culturally inferior. As a result, many students did not progress beyond a rudimentary education. The calls to action are to address the current school completion rates and the income gap between the aboriginals and non-aboriginals. In addition, the calls to actions request to eliminate the discrepancy in funding of schools on and off reserves, where children have had to leave their families behind to pursue high-school education or further education.
  • Language and Culture - Children in residential schools were not allowed to speak their native languages or practice their culture in an effort by the government to assimilate Aboriginals. According to UNESCO, 36% of Canada’s Aboriginal languages are listed as being critically endangered.[18] The calls to action request increased funding for educating children in Aboriginal languages and also request that post-secondary institutions provide degrees and diplomas in Aboriginal languages.
  • Health - The Aboriginal children of residential schools were subjugated to sexual and physical abuse. The effects of the trauma were passed on to the survivors of these schools. Today, due to the isolated locations of many Aboriginal communities, there continues to be a significant lack of health services available to these communities. The calls to action are meant to address the health outcomes for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
  • Justice - When the Canadian legal system was tasked with investigating abuse claims, few prosecutions resulted from police investigations. In many cases, the federal government and the RCMP actually compromised the investigations. Given the statutes of limitations, many acts of abuse have gone unpunished because the children did not have the means or possess the knowledge to seek justice for their abuses. The calls to action seek to extend the statutes of limitations and reaffirm the independence of the RCMP.

In order to bring the federal and provincial governments and Indigenous nations of Canada into a reconciled state for the future, the proposed actions are identified in the following sub-categories:

  • Canadian governments and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People
  • Royal proclamation and covenant of reconciliation
  • Settlement agreement parties and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Equity for Aboriginal people in the legal system
  • National council for reconciliation
  • Professional development and training for public servants
  • Church apologies and reconciliation
  • Education for reconciliation
  • Youth programs
  • Museums and archives
  • Missing children and burial information
  • National centre for truth and reconciliation
  • Commemoration
  • Media and reconciliation
  • Sports and reconciliation
  • Business and reconciliation
  • Newcomers to Canada

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Residential School Settlement
  2. ^ a b c d e Truth and Reconciliation Commisision of Canada. (Report). 
  3. ^ Connie Walker (2015-12-10). "Connie Walker and the firsthand legacy of residential schools". CBC Radio. Retrieved 2016-07-30. It's taken years to voice and acknowledge the damage caused by residential schools through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 
  4. ^ Mark Kennedy, "At least 4,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools, commission finds", Ottawa Citizen,, 3 January 2014, accessed 18 October 2015
  5. ^ "Indian, church leaders launch multi-city tour to highlight commission". CBC. March 2, 2008. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools". Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Government of Canada. June 11, 2008. Retrieved June 17, 2015. 
  7. ^ Judge at head of residential school investigation resigns, CBC, October 18, 2008, Archived from the original on November 3, 2012, retrieved October 20, 2008 
  8. ^ New commissioners for native reconciliation, CBC, June 10, 2009, retrieved June 16, 2009 
  9. ^ Rubenstein, Hymie; Rodney, Clifton (June 22, 2015). "Truth and Reconciliation report tells a 'skewed and partial story' of residential schools". National Post. Post Media. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  10. ^ Kennedy, Mark (January 3, 2014). "At least 4,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools, commission finds". Retrieved January 9, 2014. 
  11. ^ Black, Conrad (June 6, 2015). "Canada's treatment of aboriginals was shameful, but it was not genocide". National Post. Post Media. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  12. ^ Rubenstein, Hymie; Rodney, Clifton (June 4, 2015). "Debunking the half-truths and exaggerations in the Truth and Reconciliation report". National Post. Post Media. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Huge number of records to land on Truth and Reconciliation Commission's doorstep". CBC. April 23, 2014. 
  14. ^ Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (PDF) (Report). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2015. In order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes the following calls to action. 
  15. ^ TRC, NRA, INAC – Resolution Sector – IRS Historical Files Collection – Ottawa, file 6-21-1, volume 2 (Ctrl #27-6), H. M. Jones to Deputy Minister, 13 December 1956. [NCA-001989-0001]
  16. ^ Canada, Statistics Canada, Aboriginal People in Canada, 19
  17. ^ United Nations, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations, 12–13
  18. ^ Moseley and Nicolas, Atlas of the World’s Languages, 117

External links[edit]