Ms. Caroline Davis (Assistant Deputy Minister, Resolution and Individual Affairs Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development):
Thank you. Good morning.
I'd like to thank the chair and members of the committee for inviting us here today to talk about Indian residential schools and the work the government is doing to attempt to resolve the sad legacy the schools have left behind.
I would like to provide you a brief historical overview, and then describe the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
If I could correct the record, sir, I have Paul Vickery, who is senior general counsel of the Department of Justice; Linda Barber, who is director general of policy partnerships and communications; and Patricia Power, who is acting director of policy and strategic planning.
The three of us are with the resolution and individual affairs sector of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and Paul is with the Department of Justice.
Following Confederation in 1867, the Government of Canada began to play a role in the development and administration of Indian residential schools. By the 1920s, the government had assumed control of the Indian residential schools operations, of which there were about 132 schools over time situated in seven out of 10 provinces and all three territories. In many cases the government operated the schools in partnership with religious organizations, and often employees of the government, including Indian agents and the RCMP, compelled attendance at the schools.
Aside from education, one of the stated intents of the Indian residential schools policy was to assimilate the children into the dominant culture. The policy resulted in over 150,000 children being removed from their homes and raised in isolation, away from the influence and comfort of their families, communities, traditions, and cultures. Conditions in the school were often quite harsh, and in some cases even abusive.
While most Indian residential schools ceased to operate by the mid-1970s, the last federally run school in Canada closed only in 1996.
On May 30, 2005, the Government of Canada appointed former Supreme Court Justice, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci, as the government's representative. His mandate was to lead discussions with legal counsel for former students, the Assembly of First Nations, and church entities toward a fair and lasting resolution of the legacy of Indian residential schools. These discussions culminated in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which was signed by all parties and approved by the government on May 10, 2006.
All nine jurisdictional courts approved the agreement, and it would become the largest class action settlement in Canadian history. The agreement includes five components.
First of all, the Common Experience Payment, knowing as the CEP, provides a lump sum payment for the general experience of being removed from family, community and their care. This payment increases incrementally in relation to the duration of time spent at the school. A trust fund of $1.9 billion was established for the CEP.
The independent assessment process provides additional individual compensation for physical and sexual abuse under an alternative dispute resolution model. Awards range from $5,000 to $430,000.
Measures to support healing include a $125 million endowment to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and a Health Canada support program of $95 million over five years, which offers counselling and emotional support.
Twenty million dollars will be used to fund commemoration initiatives.
The last major component is the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with a budget of $60 million.
I'll talk briefly about progress to date.
Implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement commenced on September 19, 2007.
In collaboration with Service Canada, 97,000 applications for common experience payments have been received for review by our office. Seventy-two thousand have been approved for payment, and cheques have been sent out amounting to $1.48 billion, which is an average of $20,500 per claimant. We have an extensive research team with access to a computer-assisted research system. They prepare careful decisions on each individual application.
To date, 20,000 people have been found to be ineligible, either because their school is not on the agreed upon list, because they were day school students, or because we were unable to find records of their attendance.
The government is making every effort to ensure former students receive the compensation for which they are eligible, including a reconsideration process. Twenty-two thousand people have applied for reconsideration, and we have completed 9,000 reviews. Assessment of applications is intended to confirm eligibility, not to reduce it.
In addition, applicants can appeal directly to the national administration committee in the event that their request for reconsideration has been denied, in whole or in part. The national administration committee oversees the implementation of the agreement on behalf of the courts. There have been 1,100 appeals made to date.
Recognizing the impact that the agreement would have, the Government of Canada established the Community Impacts Working Group in early 2006. The community coordinates and informs aboriginal communities and former students about the individual and collective elements of the agreement. We are planning the next meeting to take place in March.
A national Indian residential schools crisis line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students. The crisis line is staffed by trained counsellors who are available to answer calls from former students and their families, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The phone number for the crisis line is 1-866-925-4419.
Should former students or their family members require additional support, they are referred to Health Canada's Indian residential schools resolution health support program, which was developed to support former students and their families through the implementation of the agreement.
At implementation date, the agreement included an agreed upon list of 130 institutions. All decisions on requests for the addition of institutions to the schools list are guided by article 12 of the agreement.
The criteria for adding an institution to the list are: (a) the child was placed in a residence away from the family home by or under the authority of Canada for the purposes of education; and (b) Canada was jointly or solely responsible for the operation of the residence and care of the children resident there.
To date, the department has received over 8,500 requests to add approximately 1,250 institutions to the agreement. Two schools have been added to the list. We continue to process approximately 15 requests per month.
A word about the apology.
On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, rose in the House of Commons and issued a full apology to former students of Indian residential schools. This was followed by an apology from each of the leaders of opposition.
Present on the floor of the House were the leaders of the national aboriginal organizations, who also addressed the House in acceptance of the apology. The event was transmitted to a crowd of several thousand who gathered on Parliament Hill and was broadcast across the nation. Survivors of the residential schools watched with anticipation from coast to coast to coast.
The apology garnered international attention. In November 2008 Canada was given an award in Washington, D.C., for the apology by Search for Common Ground, an internationally renowned organization respected for working with local partners to address conflicts constructively.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC, is the cornerstone of the agreement. The commission will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between aboriginal people and other Canadians. As you most likely know, the TRC has experienced some challenges with the resignation of its chairman and the resignation of two commissioners, which will be effective on June 1, 2009.
The enlistment of Justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee the selection of the new commissioners gives us confidence that the process will be under way soon for the sake of survivors and their families. In the interim, the secretariat has continued to lay the groundwork for the seven national events that are part of the settlement agreement.
Canada has supported this establishment of the TRC. I would like to stress, however, that the assistance Canada has provided to the TRC is strictly related to the operational and administrative set-up. We will continue to be available to the TRC in this regard. The Government of Canada has ensured that the TRC can conduct its important work with complete autonomy.
Getting under way sooner rather than later is indeed critical to regaining the trust and confidence of the survivors, their families, and communities. As I'm certain you can appreciate, they have been waiting for some time to have their opportunity to speak to their individual and collective experiences. Of equal importance, we believe that Canada has also waited for a long time to hear this part of our collective history.
We have high hopes for the TRC and its role in fulfilling the renewal of the relationship with aboriginal people in Canada. Thank you.
Ms. Aideen Nabigon (Acting Executive Director, Truth and Reconciliation Commission):
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for this opportunity to appear before your committee to discuss the work of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
With me here today I have Alia Butt, who is the acting director of policy, and Matt Garrow, the acting director of corporate services.
I've been the acting executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Secretariat since September 2008. The secretariat is a new government department that supports the work of the commission. The commission, which is comprised of a chair and two commissioners appointed by order in council, is independent. The executive director reports to the commission on mandated activities and to the minister for the purpose of reporting to Parliament on how the TRC has spent the money allocated to it under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
By way of background, I've spent my public service career dedicated to aboriginal issues, and in recent years I've been actively involved in Indian residential schools issues for three separate government departments.
I'd like to provide an overview of the TRC, including the work of the commission since it was established on June 1, 2008, and the work it will undertake over the course of its five-year mandate.
The TRC is one component of the court-approved settlement agreement. Pursuant to the agreement, $60 million was allocated for the creation of the TRC. The commission is said to be the cornerstone of the settlement agreement.
Canada's TRC is unique from other commissions around the world in that its scope is primarily centred around the mistreatment of children. Its focus of research spans more than 100 years, one of the longest durations ever examined. It is also the first court-ordered truth commission to be established. As such, the court plays an ongoing role in the implementation and supervision of the commission. Participation in all TRC activities is voluntary. The TRC process will be inclusive and open to all those who wish to participate. The commission is not a criminal tribunal and will therefore not hold hearings.
As set out in our mandate, the TRC will do the following: research and examine the conditions that gave rise to the Indian residential schools legacy; provide an opportunity for those affected, including first nations, Métis, and Inuit survivors, their families, communities, the churches and former school employees, the government, and the Canadian public to share their experiences about a significant part of Canadian history still unknown to most Canadians; create an accurate and public historical record of the past, and in doing so it will help to fill the blank pages of Canada's history; contribute to a process of truth, healing, and reconciliation; and be forward-looking and results-orientated in terms of rebuilding and renewing aboriginal relationships and the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
At the end of our mandate we will have accomplished the following: we will have listened to those whose lives have been deeply affected by the legacy of residential schools; we will have held seven national events in different regions across Canada to promote awareness and public education about the Indian residential schools system and its impacts; we will have supported community events across the country and produced a public report that will include recommendations to the parties of the settlement agreement; we will have supported commemoration initiatives nationally for activities that honour Indian residential school survivors and pay tribute in a lasting manner; and we will have established a national research centre that will be a lasting resource about the Indian residential schools legacy.
In terms of the progress that has been made to date, I can advise that the TRC secretariat has been working to put in place the essential organizational structure to allow the secretariat to implement its various mandate activities, including the development and approval of a Treasury Board submission, the development of an organization chart, which has been submitted to the Public Service Commission for approval, and we've initiated processes to meet federal reporting obligations.
With respect to the TRC mandate, the secretariat has developed a strategic plan and we have developed implementation strategies and work plans. We've also identified legal issues impacting on the work of the TRC and obtained advice with respect to statement gathering, legal obligations under federal privacy legislation, and the collection and archiving of documents.
We need to gain back the trust of survivors and restore confidence in the process. Once the new commission has been appointed, we will be in a position to move forward to successfully implement our mandate. In spite of the challenges the commission has faced, we appreciate the patience and understanding of Canadians, particularly survivors of residential schools. We recognize that many survivors are elderly and that we need to move forward as quickly as possible to receive statements from anyone affected by the legacy of residential schools. People will be able to describe their experiences in a safe, respectful, and culturally appropriate manner. A person might share his or her story through a one-on-one interview, in a written statement, or in a group setting.
Over the course of the next few months, the secretariat will finalize frameworks for national and community events, finalize budget allocations for mandate activities, increase communications and outreach and continue dialogue with parties and survivor organizations, and conclude the selection process for members of the Indian residential schools survivor committee, which is a 10-member committee, the majority of whom will be survivors from across Canada, that will serve as an advisory body to the TRC and will ensure that the voices of survivors are heard and reflected when providing advice and recommendations to the commission. We'll hire regional liaisons, and we'll increase our capacity by staffing positions, with a particular priority on hiring aboriginal employees.
Our focus must be on what is important for survivors and all of Canada. Indian residential schools are a part of our shared history, a history that is not well understood by many. We need to educate Canadians as to why this history is important and what impacts are still being felt as a result of this legacy. That is why the TRC is relevant today and for future generations.
There has been international interest in the work of the TRC, and the Prime Minister's apology last June further increased its international profile. The TRC must facilitate a process of truth and healing and provide the foundation for reconciliation. We want to help guide and inspire aboriginal peoples and all Canadians toward a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect.
Mr. Chair, I welcome the input of the members of the committee on ways that we can ensure the success of the TRC. Thank you.
Mr. Marc Lemay:
Ms. Nabigon, please rest assured that I am not angry with you on a personal level and the remarks I'm about to make do not take away from your work in any manner. Since September, I would not have wanted to be in your shoes. I don't know what has happened within this commission and I don't know what is going on right now, but you have a big problem.
I'm going to read out the most important sentence in your opening remarks, and I hope that the people on both sides of this room will listen: “We need to gain back the trust of survivors and restore confidence in the process.” That's certainly a safe statement to make. So far the commission has been shooting from behind and the score is 2-0. You won't get a third chance. I hope that someone somewhere will understand this.
In my riding alone, four survivors died over the past year. So those are four survivors who will not be able to testify. There were 132 boarding schools.
The commission is starting to be very centralized. Sometimes I am in favour of centralization. But to my mind, when I read: “Over the course of the next few months[...] Conclude the selection process[...] Hire regional liaisons[...]” All I see is red tape. The commission absolutely has to get down to work.
Since I knew that the commission would be coming to give testimony before us, I went around my riding and talked to some people. No one understands why seven national events will be held and no one is in favour of that. All the aboriginal people and the Algonquians in my riding are asking me why people are not going to come and see them in their region. Mrs. McDougall is 78 years old, and so she will never go to Quebec City or Gatineau. On the other hand, if you come to Senneterre or to Amos, she will be there. All the Indians from Obedjiwan who were taken to Amos by force will never come to Gatineau. I strongly suggest that you review these seven national events.
The aboriginal people want to give their testimony in the place that they come from, the place where they belong. I would suggest that you choose some of the 132 places where there were boarding schools and that you go visit them. Go out to the regions, don't just go to Montreal, Gatineau and Vancouver. In Quebec, nearly all the Indians who went to the boarding schools live in the North; they do not live in Montreal. A few live in Quebec City, but not many. Will you follow up on our recommendations?
Why were the mandates of the commissioners misinterpreted? I've read all the articles on the resignation of the commissioners. Up until now, your commission has been operating really badly. I'm sorry to be mean.
You talked about June. Do you think that you will be able to turn things around and make progress in a short period of time?
Ms. Jean Crowder:
Thank you for coming today. This is a very important issue, and you can tell there's a lot of passion around it.
I don't need a response, but I want to echo Monsieur Lemay's comments around the seven national events. This has to be more than a PR exercise. I live on Vancouver Island, and I can tell you that if you hold an event in Vancouver, many of the elders will not be willing to go there; some will, some won't. There has to be some recognition that many of these survivors were taken from their communities and sent somewhere else, and they don't want to be told once again that they are being sent somewhere else. It's very important that there be a recognition of that.
I understand that a benchmark survey on public awareness of the Indian residential school legacy was done and that it was reported in July 2008. I wonder how that information is going to be used, since it is a benchmark survey, to inform the activities of the commission.
I'm going to ask you a couple of questions to which I'd like answers, and that's one.
Has there been any consideration given to appointing an Inuit commissioner to the truth and reconciliation process? We've heard fairly consistently that the Inuit have been left out of this conversation.
With regard to the issue around restoring confidence in the process, I think the trust and confidence in this process has been badly damaged by what happened. Of course, it's outside of your control. I'm sure that you would have preferred to have the commissioners stay in place and work together, but the reality is that many people believe it's going to be difficult to get this process back on the rails. A Treasury Board submission has been done, but do you know what work went into ensuring that the truth and reconciliation process will remain independent of the government and how that's going to be set up?
In the absence of having a functioning group of commissioners, to whom does your secretariat report? Where is your accountability line around this? You really don't have functioning commissioners. Will survivors actually have input into the selection of those new commissioners?
If you get through those questions in my time, I want to ask you about the selection process for the Indian residential schools survivor committee.