What to Know About the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Before You Vote

Each of the major parties have made platform promises about Indigenous rights, some including responses to the TRC

Senator Murray Sinclair is a member of the Canadian Senate and First Nations lawyer who served as Chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015. (Flickr/ Thompson Rivers University)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada aims to facilitate reconciliation for former students, families, and communities that were affected by the country’s residential school system.

The TRC report is based on the testimonies of around 7,000 survivors of the residential school system.

Residential schools predominantly run by the Catholic church opened in Canada in the 1840s, and in 1883 the federal government established three large institutions in Western Canada to “kill the Indian in the child,” as reported by APTN National News. By the 1930s, there were approximately 70 residential schools in operation, and by the time the last one closed outside of Regina in 1996, the federal government had already supported 130 total residential schools.

Throughout this period, 150,000 children are believed to have gone through the program, and 80,000 are believed to still be alive.

In these schools, the mortality rate was up to 60 per cent, according to Truth and Reconciliation chairman Justice Murray Sinclair.

An article published by the Globe and Mail on Sept. 30 provides a list of the names of 2,800 Indigenous children who died in residential schools. This recent announcement came about as a result of the National Residential School Student Death Register, which is also a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

From 2007 to 2015, the Government of Canada has provided $72 million to the TRC’s work, but the total compensation package offered to residential school survivors by the federal government tops out at $1.9 billion. The TRC’s goals are to acknowledge residential school survivors, provide a safe environment for those who come forward with their stories, and promote educational awareness to Canadians.

“To redress the legacy of residential schools and advance reconciliation, in its final report the [TRC] called on governments, educational, and religious institutions … and all Canadians to take action on the 94 Calls to Action,” reads the Government of Canada’s website.

The calls to action include child welfare, education, youth programs, and many more. The government has considered the recommendations from the commission but have not completely fulfilled their promises.

According to APTN News, “Canada has made little progress implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 10 calls to action related to the imprisonment of [Indigenous] people.”

Candidates in the 2019 federal election have presented their platforms on social, economic, environmental, and political promises that they say they would implement if elected. The major parties have stated how they plan to work with Indigenous people in Canada, including by addressing the TRC.

The Green Party has pledged to create a “Council of Canadian Governments,” which would include Indigenous people as partners when making decisions within the different levels of government.

“[We] will support Indigenous peoples’ work and efforts towards self-determination to ensure no one is left behind or excluded from their rightful heritage,” reads the Green Party’s election platform.

The New Democratic Party fully commits to implementing the recommendations from the 94 calls to action and promises to “work with Indigenous Peoples to co-develop a national action plan for reconciliation.” The NDP says it wants to help protect and restore Indigenous languages and diversity within communities as well.

“We will establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to acknowledge the painful legacy of colonization, honour the survivors of residential schools, and help communities across Canada commit to meaningful reconciliation,” reads a statement on the NDP website.

The Conservative Party has yet to release its platform regarding Indigenous issues and commitments to the TRC’s calls to action.

The Liberal Party pledges to provide a higher quality of life for Indigenous people by ensuring them access to health care, including mental health services, and environmental services. It has also promised to “address all major infrastructure needs and ensure that Indigenous communities that rely on diesel are powered by clean energy by 2030,” as written in the Liberal Party’s election platform.

One of the 94 recommendations from the TRC was to call upon Pope Francis to formally apologize on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for its role of the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of Indigenous children at the residential schools.

In May 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked Pope Francis to deliver a formal apology for this, but he refused.

Trudeau’s office says that it will continue to advocate for this apology to be made.