House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, what has been put before this House is the report of the standing committee. It represents the consensus that existed at that time among the members of the standing committee. It is a motion which builds in part upon the work of the AFN and the Canadian Bar Association and the reports which they put forward.

It builds as well upon the five days of dedicated time that the standing committee devoted to this issue and considered all of the evidence which the standing committee heard at that time, including the evidence of victims, individuals with experience with the process, the healing foundation, and including participation not only from victims but from their legal counsel. All of that has been put in the mix, including what we heard from the Deputy Prime Minister, who came and spoke to us about this particular program. The result is the motion that was put forward by the standing committee and which is before this House today for debate.

It may be that many of the stakeholders who take part in this issue do not support each and every one of those recommendations. Those recommendations reflect the wisdom of the standing committee put before this House.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think I should get back to the hon. member. First, he is saying that we are debating the contents of the report today which of course is factually incorrect. We are debating the motion to concur in the report. We are not debating what he said we were.

Second, the parliamentary secretary was quite clear in saying that it is not even supported anyway.

Third, and more fundamentally, if the hon. member actually believes what he says, why was he unable to convince even a critical mass of Conservative MPs to make this an order of the day for their opposition day?

Then they say they do not get to choose their own opposition day. I wonder who does choose their opposition day. Is it some lobbyist some place, if it is not them?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, there is no obligation on the part of any of the opposition parties in the House to dedicate their opposition days to the debating of concurrence motions. It is preposterous to suggest that is what we have to do to concur in a standing committee report. My hon. friend knows better than that.

This is a concurrence motion where the House is being asked to concur in the report of the standing committee. It is before the House in a proper manner for debate and that is why we are here.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, the member for Calgary Centre-North should keep up with things and check his facts. It is true that this was a motion that was concurred in committee; however, Liberal members argued against it because it did not have the support of the Assembly of First Nations. In fact, there was another motion, as the member knows full well, by the member for Winnipeg Centre which I think made a lot more sense. The Assembly of First Nations does not like this particular motion. The AFN is the one that is affected and it does not like it for a number of reasons.

It does not like it because the motion recommends terminating the current ADR process. The Assembly of First Nations believes that the ADR processed should be repaired and not terminated.

The motion recommends that the process be handed over to the courts to supervise and enforce. The Assembly of First Nations believes that the first nations must negotiate the settlement with the assistance of the courts if required.

The motion recommends a partial truth commission involving survivors only, whereas the AFN recommends a comprehensive truth commission involving governments and churches.

The motion is silent on a need for an apology. The Assembly of First Nations calls for a full apology.

The motion is silent on the administration of a reconciliation payment. The Assembly of First Nations insists that the administration be through a first nations entity.

The motion is silent on the need for a reconciliation. The Assembly of First Nations sees reconciliation as the rationale for the entire compensation package.

Therefore, the very people that this motion is supposed to be representing, supporting and helping, are not supporting the motion.

Here we are in the House debating something that does not even have the support of Canada's largest and perhaps most influential group of first nations peoples.

The alternative dispute resolution process for victims of sexual and physical abuse at Indian residential schools is unfairly represented in this motion as well. The so-called fact-finding by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was undertaken to provoke drama and headlines, not to learn, not to understand, and not to bring realistic solutions for individuals who were harmed as children attending Indian residential schools.

This motion represents the worst of all worlds: uninformed or intentionally misleading political notions built on the hopes of abused aboriginal people in our country.

Former residential school students and their families deserve more than this and we must not let them down. Simple compensation will not make up for the evils we know that happened. Adding up the cost and dividing it by 86,000 people will not fix the problems that we face as parliamentarians, as leaders, and as Canadians.

The most difficult challenge is to accept that there are no easy answers to the various questions raised by this institutional system. No action, be it a program to heal the wounds, a forum on truth and reconciliation or compensation, will successfully close this dark chapter of our history.

For the country and the government, the effects of the Indian residential schools represent an exceptional problem which requires innovative and realistic solutions.

Lawsuits against the government filed by more then 11,000 former students still remain. Unless we continue to vigorously implement an alternative dispute resolution approach, it will take forever to move these existing cases through the traditional courts. It will cost much more than what we will spend using other avenues.

The motion would have us believe that the alternative dispute resolution process has sprung from nowhere. How insulting to the many individuals and organizations from across Canada who have put many years into creating a workable and approachable system.

The government's approach has been developed in concert with the input of hundreds of former Indian residential school students and other important stakeholders, such as the churches. The alternative dispute resolution process is the result of listening, not to political whimsies and short term expediencies but to the vital visceral desire to put the past to rest with dignity.

Former students are seeking options to waiting years for the courts and options for validating their experiences. They seek financial support for personal and community healing because of the widespread effect of damaged lives. They seek spiritual support and they seek to have their loved ones with them at a hearing. Together, we are seeking options for cross-examination on details that may have taken place 50 years ago. We all want to avoid isolation from friends and family.

Clearly, our challenge has been and continues to be to find a timely, safe, and effective option for former students to settle their claims. We need a holistic approach, one that facilitates access to justice and that treats former students as humanely as possible.

All Canadians expect their government to be accountable. Former students themselves have called for a credible process to validate their experiences and to educate Canadians about what happened to them. These are complex cases, usually involving many parties. It takes time and resources to appropriately address these claims.

The motion would have us run away from our responsibilities. Resolving the legacy of Indian residential schools must address not just compensation, but the longer term need for healing and for reconciliation. This is all part of the program and the support system. This is all well in progress as we speak.

The motion before the House would have us abandon the alternative dispute resolution process that has been so carefully developed and which continues to be the subject of ongoing refinements. It would have us abandon the some 1,200 former students who have put their faith in this process and whose hearings will take place over the coming months.

We are receiving on average 20 applications to the alternative dispute resolution process each and every week. We cannot abandon these people and this process. Rather, we should be asking why, to date, over 1,400 former students have chosen this process to pursue their Indian residential school claims.

What is the alternative dispute resolution process? What sets it apart from the courts? First, we recognize that we are approaching fragile individuals who have suffered more in one lifetime than we would like to know. They need to be believed. If they have the strength to come forward, the system has to support them. Hearings are private affairs and only the adjudicator can ask questions.

What kind of support is provided to former students, whether they choose the ADR process or litigation? There are crisis lines, mental health workers, traditional support, and travel money to attend a hearing, so that there is a loving family member or friend to lean on.

Former students are encouraged to retain legal counsel to advise them on completing their application and undertaking the process. The government pays legal costs that would otherwise come out of former students' pockets. We know of former students who, despite our efforts, have suffered by telling their stories through the ADR process.

We cannot undo the pain they suffered by examining their past. We all regret the suffering, and health supports are in place and available to offer ongoing support to former students during these times of crisis.

We continue to fine-tune the alternative dispute resolution process. We know that we must look at every possible way to further streamline the process. We know that more can be done and will be done.

This is not enough. We are working with our partners and other stakeholders on further innovation. We asked the Assembly of First Nations for its views and we received solid ideas that are now under active consideration.

We need to open the door to redress for more than the victims of sexual and physical abuse. We are working with the Assembly of First Nations and other partners on an ongoing and regular basis to examine the ways suggested by the Assembly of First Nations report to acknowledge the impacts of Indian residential schools on former students.

The alternative dispute resolution process may not be for everyone. However, it provides a respectful, honourable and more expedient option for former students who suffered sexual and physical abuses and it presents a strong option to using the courts.

This motion before us would have us believe that, based on its first year of operation, the alternative dispute resolution process is a dismal failure and that it and the thousands of people engaged in seeking redress, healing and reconciliation should be abandoned. That is what this motion is saying.

I have strong evidence to the contrary. The Honourable Ted Hughes, chief adjudicator for the alternative dispute resolution process, wrote to me last week and described the performance of the adjudication secretariat. He reports that his adjudicators have delivered 150 decisions and that another 100 files are at the hearing stage. The total value of these decisions now amounts to over $6 million.

Mr. Hughes grants that there may not have been unanimous satisfaction with the ADR hearings process, but he also makes clear that the level of dissatisfaction is nowhere near what the committee would have us believe.

Mr. Hughes goes on to say:

I sincerely believe that the measure of satisfaction with which the efforts of the Adjudicators are being met far exceeds the negativism that the Committee's Report projects. I have no doubt that the 'positives' of which I speak will continue to grow as we deliver the 1,000 decisions expected of us in the current fiscal year.

This process is not failing. It is not perfect either. That is why we are in active discussions with the Assembly of First Nations and our other partners to take a serious look at how our approach might be improved or supplemented.

We are not cowering in the face of criticism. We are not prepared to be hijacked by wavering political interests. Most important, this government is not prepared to turn tail and abandon thousands of former students and all the work done to date.

Also, we fear neither change nor improvement. We are honouring our commitments and accepting our responsibilities. We are dealing with the consequences of our actions and will continue working with our critics to find the best solutions possible for the thousands of former Indian residential school students.

I challenge all members of Parliament to examine carefully their own thinking on this motion. I challenge them to understand that undoing the wrongs of a century cannot be achieved overnight. I challenge them not to abandon the aboriginal victims of abuse and our responsibilities to them and to all Canadians.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jeremy Harrison Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member a question regarding the supposed efficiency of this program.

On the ADR itself we have information showing that $125 million has been spent. Less than a million dollars has gone to actually compensating survivors. We have information showing that for Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada only $1 goes to compensation for every $4 spent on administration.

For this program, even if it were running as well as the government has wanted it to from the beginning, half of the budgeted cost goes to administration. How can this possibly be seen as an efficient program? Maybe it should not surprise us. This is from the party that brought us the gun registry and the sponsorship scandal. Perhaps the hon. member would comment on that.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member wants me to comment on the gun registry, which is actually demonstrating very clearly that it does have a significant effect on gun homicides and suicides in Canada. In fact, law enforcement officers are making about 2,000 inquiries a day on the gun registry system. These are front line officers who obviously know what they are doing and they are getting some value out of it.

However, I am sure the member for Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River really wanted me to comment on the residential schools issue and the alternative dispute resolution process. The member has raised a valid point. I know that he has been engaged with this file.

The reality is that in starting up a program like this we had to define the parameters. We had to work with first nations people. Staff had to be brought in. Lawyers had to be engaged. Program people had to be set up. A program like this cannot take off from a flying start. We cannot tell a department or a group of people that we are going to do something today so they need to start reviewing the files tomorrow.

The criteria had to be established. What would the process be? How could it be made understandable to people in terms of their culture? They might have a different way of thinking about this type of thing.

There was some lead time. I would like to characterize it this way. We look at the chart, which starts off slowly, but then once the infrastructure and the mechanisms are in place it starts to take off in a sort of exponential way.

Just comparing the numbers from the outset gives an artificial view of what is actually happening. As the Honourable Ted Hughes said, they are starting to deal with these claims in a very expeditious way and there is a lot of interest in the process.

I would just ask the member to give it a chance. If he were to ask the same question next year and there had been no significant progress and the expenditure on claims had not started to move against the infrastructure costs and the staff costs, I think he would have a valid point, but I would submit that it is too early in the process right now.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, to follow up on that very question, it would seem to me that the best way to judge whether the program has been successful or not is to judge the amount of money which has been spent on this so-called government department in the last four years and determine what percentage of that money went to the claimants and what percentage went to the bureaucracy.

The problem I have with the explanation given by my hon. friend, which is that we need to wait because the program is starting to bear fruit, is that the numbers actually support the contrary conclusion. If we compare the government's fiscal expenditures with the amount of money spent in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, the amount of money that goes to bureaucracy is actually increasing, not decreasing.

We are not reaching the point where there are any efficiencies. In those four years, the amount of money going to victims actually decreased from 30¢ on the dollar to 20¢ on the dollar. We are actually getting less output from the system, not more.

Let my give my hon. friend a comparison. In 1988 this country dealt with the circumstances involving the Japanese Canadian experience. An agreement was signed offering redress for injustice during and after the second world war. That entire program, which was administered by a Conservative government, opened and closed in five years. Within one year the government processed 17,500 applications. Over 65% of the applications were processed and closed within the first 12 months.

By comparison, this program, which is now into its fourth year, has spent $275 million, plus the healing foundation money, and has resolved less than 2% of the cases. How is that a success and why should we wait?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is not unlike the Conservative Party's approach to the Gomery inquiry. Every day there is a new bit of information, so those members jump on it.

The Conservatives are not really interested, but we are in this for the long haul. They cannot pull out statistics from one year or another. We all know that it takes time to validate these claims.

I am absolutely amazed that the members of the Conservative Party would suggest that all people need to do is fill in a claim form and send it to Ottawa, where it will just be validated and a cheque will be sent to them. This is the same party that stands up in the House day in and day out looking for accountability and good financial management systems, but on the other hand it says to just send in a claim form.

The problem we have is that a lot of these cases go back many years, so some of the people who allegedly committed these terrible things are not around. The Assembly of First Nations has proposed that we forget all that and just say that the fact a person was at a residential school qualifies the person, period, and we would just pay the person a lump sum. I must say that the government is looking into it, but the problem might be that it is just so exorbitantly expensive. I do not know. The government is working with the Assembly of First Nations on it.

There is another problem I raised at committee, which the others did not really deal with. We know there are many members of the first nations who went to residential schools and had a very positive experience. What are we going to do? Are we going to cut them a cheque as well? Admittedly there might not be tons of these people around, but there are some who speak quite highly of their experience at residential schools.

Rather than doing what the Conservative Party always does, which is just pick out a statistic here and there, I say to stay in this for the long haul, be concerned about the first nations people and listen to the Assembly of First Nations.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

An hon. member

How about taking some responsibility?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

The Assembly of First Nations does not support this motion. Surely that is enough.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

That last part was very difficult for me to hear, so we will assume that everything was okay and the vocabulary was fine.

We are still in questions and comments. The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague, the member for Calgary Centre-North, asked a very straightforward and direct question based on the fact that a very few per cent of claims have been settled. The administrative costs are at somewhere between 70% and 80%, just enormous. He is looking for some answers.

The hon. member opposite got up and tried to somehow relate this to the sponsorship program, which is surprising, to say the least, and then went on to say that it was the Conservatives, it was the opposition.

My question is quite simple. Based on the facts and based on the gut-wrenching testimony we heard at committee, which was that people have been trying for a long time to get any type of satisfaction and have been told that they do not qualify or that the abuse was acceptable abuse at that time and in those days, when is this government going to stand up and take one ounce of responsibility for some of these wrongdoings? When is it going to show an ounce of humility and admit that it made a mistake, that something is not working?

Why does the government always want to pretend that it has this divine right and everything it does is right? It is incredible that the member has the gall to stand in this House and try to suggest this is somehow like the sponsorship program.

I ask the member to show some humility. I ask the member to show an ounce of responsibility and show our first nations people some respect. Let us start fixing these problems instead of trying to blame everyone else.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands was wandering through the crocuses blooming this weekend and forgot to read or study the fact that this motion is not supported by the Assembly of First Nations.

If he had actually listened to what I had to say, he would have heard that I acknowledge and the government acknowledges that we need to do more work on the alternative dispute resolution process. We need to streamline it. That is precisely why this government asked the Assembly of First Nations to review it and come back with a set of recommendations. That is why the motion proposed by the NDP at committee made some sense to us.

This motion does not have the support of the Assembly of First Nations, for the reasons I rattled off. Perhaps the member did not hear that.

I find it astounding that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands would talk about humility. I am not sure that he is the person who would teach this House or Canadians a lot about that.

Nonetheless, this is a serious matter. The government is seized with it. We acknowledge that work has to be done to improve this process. That is precisely what we are doing. When the member wanders through the crocuses next weekend, I think he should read some of the literature on these motions as they are presented to the House.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Cleary Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I was dumbfounded by the last remarks of the Liberal member. I have never heard remarks as serious and fabricated in response to a question.

This is certainly no way to convince me to support him in what he is proposing. The member attended the committee meetings. He heard as well as I and the other members did all that was said against the current process. He heard from individuals, seniors and aboriginal organizations that this process should be completely changed. Every stakeholder without exception, government officials excluded, found that the approach did not make any sense and that it was imperative to bring in changes as soon as possible, so that seniors who were in residential schools in their youth can receive what they are owed and were promised.

It is my understanding that this government's preferred approach or strategy is to drag any investigation out, so that—as was the case with the veterans—those concerned disappear and die before having obtained what they wanted.

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness came to the committee. We told her all that happened and conveyed to her all the criticism from the public, but she just kept repeating that there was no problem, that all was well, and that we should let her continue operating the same way, that spending would increase but that the money for these poor people would never be there.

The committee unanimously decided this would be what we would be tabling, and that is what we are doing today. I resent this attempt at convincing us to drop this motion or to oppose it, when we, in the committee, have already voted for it.

As you no doubt know, Mr. Speaker, what this motion states is consistent with our study and our decision. The committee considered the written and oral evidence presented.

Former students of residential schools met with us and explained that there were major problems that needed to be resolved in order for the process to work. Witnesses included the hon.Ted Hughes, Chief Adjudicator of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada; the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Minister Responsible for Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada; Mario Dion, Deputy Minister Responsible for Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada; and the Canadian Bar Association. The committee took particular note, in formulating the recommendations below, of the written and oral evidence of the former students and the representatives of former students and survivors’ organizations regarding their personal experiences in the residential schools and in the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada alternative dispute resolution process.

The witnesses were compelling for their candour and integrity about their experience as inmates in the residential school system and fair, frank and persuasive on matters of public policy.

The committee came to the inescapable conclusion that the alternative dispute resolution process is an excessively costly and inappropriately applied failure, for which the minister and her officials are unable to raise a convincing defence.

Specifically the ADR process is a failure becauseit is strikingly disconnected from the so-called pilot projects that preceded it. It is failing to provide impartial and even-handed due process. It is not attracting former students to apply in credible numbers. It provides grossly inadequate compensation when, grudgingly, it does so. It excludes too many of the some 87,000 remaining former students from eligibility. It is proceeding too slowly, allowing too many former students to die uncompensated. It is an arbitrary administrative solution that is vulnerable to political whim.

Many former students do not trust the process. There is no satisfactory evidence in the numbers that the program is working.

The committee took note of the consistency of the former students, the AFN and the CBA on five points. First, the necessity of compensation for those former students who are able to establish a cause of action and a lawful entitlement to compensation process. Second, the necessity of keeping the compensation referred to above separate and apart from compensation for sexual and severe physical abuse. Third, the absolute necessity for a settlement process that includes direct negotiations with the former students and the vigorous protection of their legal rights during the negotiations. Fourth, the wisdom of a court-approved, court-supervised settlement that is transparent, is arrived at in a neutral manner and cannot be tampered with politically. Fifth and last, the necessity of a settlement that is comprehensive and final and relieves the government of future liability.

The committee took note of three recommendations by former students and their groups:the need for continued financial support of healing processes, with a greater degree of local direction and personal self-direction on how that healing is to be achieved;the need for a respectful national forum and the urgency for prompt compensation, reconciliation and healing because former students are elderly and on average some 30 to 50 die each week uncompensated and bearing the grief of their experience to the grave.

The reconciliation payment should start with a base amount for any time spent at a school—for example, $10,000—and add an amount for each year at a school—for example $3,000.

The committee regrets the manner with which the government has administered the Indian Residential Schools Claims program and recommends that the government give consideration to the advisability of government taking the following steps. First, the government should take all the actions recommended hereafter on an urgent basis, with consideration for the frailty and short life expectancy of the former students.

Second, the government should improve the Indian Residential Schools Resolutions Canada Alternative Dispute Resolutions Process. It should also engage in court-supervised negotiations with former students. It should ensure that the courts have full and final discretion with respect to limitations on legal fees.The government should expedite the settlement of other claims involving aggravated circumstances.

In order to ensure that former students have the opportunity to tell their stories to all Canadians in a process characterized by dignity and respect, the government should cause a national truth and reconciliation process to take place in a forum.The government should also ask the Auditor General to conduct an audit of the Indian Residential Schools Canada Dispute Resolution Process from its creation to its winding down.Finally, the government should respond publicly in writing to the Assembly of First Nations report.

Other than Government of Canada employees, everyone who testified condemned the ineffectiveness of the alternative dispute resolution process. The only thing the government succeeded in doing was implementing an ineffective and very costly structure.

After all this criticism, the minister appeared before the committee to say that there was no problem and that everything was going extremely well. What a joke.

Here is what the aboriginals want: first, a lump-sum payment for former students; second, an apology; third, an Amerindian agency to administer the payment of funds to former students; and fourth, a commitment to reconciliation.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, for whom I have a fairly quick question.

In fact, the Assembly of First Nations does not accept the motion presented in the House today. Does that not bother the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent?