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 June 2015.


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.[2] 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.[3] On January 21–22, 2009, 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.[4]


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.[5] 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.[6]

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".[7]

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;[8] five to seven percent of those who were enrolled in the institutions.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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":[12]


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

  • Child welfare
  • Education
  • Language and culture
  • Health
  • Justice

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


  1. ^ Residential School Settlement
  2. ^ Mark Kennedy, "At least 4,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools, commission finds", Ottawa Citizen,, 3 January 2014, accessed 18 October 2015
  3. ^ "Indian, church leaders launch multi-city tour to highlight commission". CBC. March 2, 2008. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 
  4. ^ "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. 
  5. ^ Judge at head of residential school investigation resigns, CBC, October 18, 2008, retrieved October 20, 2008 
  6. ^ New commissioners for native reconciliation, CBC, June 10, 2009, retrieved June 16, 2009 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Kennedy, Mark (January 3, 2014). "At least 4,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools, commission finds". Retrieved January 9, 2014. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Huge number of records to land on Truth and Reconciliation Commission's doorstep". CBC. April 23, 2014. 
  12. ^ 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. 

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