Jun. 11, 2021

Ottawa is shirking its responsibility on residential schools

Ottawa says it's not liable for cultural damage caused by Kamloops residential school. 105 First Nations are part of a class action seeking reparations for cultural impact of residential schools.

Denying responsibility is expected from this government. It has a history of irresponsibility. Millions agree that lurching from one scandal to another is not an indication of accountability, openness, prudence and responsibility.

It is unacceptable that the government should take the position that it has the right to command the teaching of Christian doctrine to anyone. That violates common law precedence of separating church and state in effect for centuries before the Charter.

The constitutional relationship between the federal government and indigenous people is unique and involves a consequential fiduciary responsibility.

The discovery of children's bodies on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School has led to hysterical and poorly considered commentary.

When the school opened in 1890, child mortality rates were very high. Charges that the deaths of these children were deliberate (murders) are not credible or substantiated.

That does not detract from oral records of malnutrition and abuse. The body of evidence is too large and consistent to deny, and liability arises from that. The disrespect of not maintaining records of deaths and notifying families is not forgivable.

Even in the circumstances as upsetting as discovery of the grave site, follow the money. Who stood to gain by suppressing records of the deaths? Who wrote and cashed the cheques? That is where the documentation is.

The federal government had an obligation to check on its residential school contractors. The existence of unmarked graves of school residents should not be a surprise. Since the residential schools were not monitored, the federal government is responsible for searching diligently to establish how bad the problem is.

The contractors (operators) of the residential schools have a liability. They contracted to culturally reprogram children. That did not include a license to abuse their charges. The federal government has an inescapable constitutional responsibility for indigenous people and their lands. That will drive the court action.

Our standards and values were significantly different at the start of the 20th century. In the early 1900s, women were still considered chattels and unable to hold office or vote. Looking at history through 21st century lenses affects what we think we see and understand.

Indigenous people and our governments are walking into a trap by considering UNDRIP as a solution. That lets our government off the hook and does not solve problems in indigenous relations.

The solution has to be made in Canada for Canadians, which includes indigenous people. UNDRIP is not compatible with our constitution or with existing treaties. Is UNDRIP to replace treaties? UNDRIP cannot alter our constitution, and risks us getting into a tangled mess of competing laws that will delay reconciliation indefinitely.