Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to move for concurrence in the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
I will turn in a moment to the specific recommendations that the committee puts before the House but let me begin with an overview of the miasma which the government has created with respect to its handling of this matter.
The government's administration of the residential school file exhibits a degree of arrogance, mismanagement and ineffectiveness, which is shocking even by Liberal government standards.
In the time since 1998, when the Liberals made their statement of reconciliation and unveiled their action plan entitled, “Gathering Strength”, their handling of this file has achieved two outcomes: they have spent over $600 million and they have asked Parliament in the most recent budget for an additional $160 million. In result, they have settled less than 2% of the known cases and, in so doing, they have set the survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Bar Association and the taxpayers of Canada all against them. What an achievement.
The residential school saga is a sad and disturbing period in Canadian history and it is a part of our history that we must come to grips with if we are to achieve healing and reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. That is why one of the critical recommendations in the committee's report involves the striking of a national truth and reconciliation process.
Incidentally, the government has ignored the requests of the survivors, the AFN, the RCAP or the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Law Commission of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association, all of whom have called for precisely such a public inquiry. To this very day, the government refuses to do so.
Here is what the Canadian Bar Association says:
The negative consequences of removing Aboriginal children from their parents and communities and forcing them to attend schools where they were raised in "an atmosphere of fear, loneliness and loathing" and where they were forbidden from telling their ancestor and creation stories and from participating in traditional ceremonies and practices are still being felt today. Punishing children for speaking the language of their birth and ridiculing their cultural and spiritual traditions caused profound damage. Their identity, their sense of belonging and their self-respect were taken from them.
Carrying on, in the words of the Canadian Bar Association in its recent report, this is what we have inherited today in Canada as a result of this:
In our view, there is a direct correlation between the policies of oppression and inequality of Canada's Indian Residential Schools, and the challenges Aboriginal individuals, families, their communities and their Nations continue to face in this country in 2005. With Aboriginal offenders representing 40% of Canada's prison population, with Aboriginal peoples experiencing the highest suicide rates in the country, with Aboriginal communities struggling to deal with poverty, substance abuse, and illness, it is clear that Canada has not yet faced the truth. "The effect of the Indian residential school system is like a disease ripping through our communities".
Regrettably, the government is not interested in truth nor in reconciliation. It is interested in tax and spend liberalism and bureaucracy, and it is to that subject that I now turn.
The House must understand first and foremost how much money the government has invested in this residential school strategy.
First is the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. In the time since 1998 when this foundation was established, it has been given $350 million by the Government of Canada and, moreover, in the 2005 budget the government proposes an additional $40 million for the foundation, bringing the total expenditure to close to $400 million.
Second, however, is the Department of Indian Residential Schools Resolution, yet another government bureaucracy invented by the Liberal administration in 2001. Since that time, this so-called department has gobbled up approximately $275 million in administration, expert costs, legal costs and bureaucracy.
In the 2001-02 fiscal year the department spent $42.5 million,of which only $13 million went to the victims. In other words, the victims received 30% of the money; the bureaucracy gobbled up 70%.
In the 2002-03 fiscal year the department spent $55.8 million, of which only $13.5 million went to victims. The bureaucracy's take increased to a higher percentage that year of 75%.
In the 2003-04 fiscal year the department spent $77.4 million, of which less than $16.5 million went to the victims.
We are now seeing the real benefits of Liberal bureaucracy and administration. We have now reached the point that a full 80% of the money which is expended is invested in bureaucracy. The victims get only 20¢ on the dollar.
In this most recent fiscal year, 2004-05, the department's estimates authorized expenditures of $100 million. We assume that all or most of that money has indeed been spent at this point in time.
Under a Liberal administration the waste will continue. For the current 2005 budget the Deputy Prime Minister has asked for an additional $121 million for this department which settled fewer than 100 cases last year.
In addition, not included in the costs of which I speak is the expense associated with hundreds and hundreds of lawyers within the Department of Justice who are employed on these files. Some estimates indicate that as many as 25% of the lawyers working for the Department of Justice spend time on the residential school files. Those costs, whatever they are, are buried deep in the Department of Justice figures.
In total since its inception this so-called department has spent $275 million of which the victims have received less than 20% to 25% of the money. Today it has the audacity to seek another $121 million.
What has been the success rate resulting from all of this? Again we must understand at the outset that the department of which I speak handles only a fraction of the residential school cases. Let us get the numbers straight. Approximately 150,000 students attended residential schools in the time between the 1940s and the 1970s. As of January 31, 2005 there are 85,975 former students who are still alive. This is the available pool of possible claimants.
Of a total of, let us say 86,000 people, a total of 13,396 former students have filed claims against the Government of Canada. The vast majority of these cases are in court. Fully 12,000 of the 13,000 cases are represented by lawyers and they are plaintiffs in class actions started in Ontario and Alberta.
The cases which this department is handling at an expense of $275 million are only 1,400 in number as of today's date. After a full three years of operation this department is handling less than 2% of the available pool of claimants and less than 10% of all of the cases which have been filed against the government at this point.
The Deputy Prime Minister calls this much vaunted ADR process the centrepiece of the government strategy. It is certainly the centrepiece in terms of cost. The reality of matters is that people are not using the ADR process of which the government is so fond. Perhaps they are dissuaded by the 40 page application which requires the assistance of experts to fill out, or perhaps it is the Liberal government's cultural sensitivity which is frightening them away.
For example, according to lawyers and claimants who are experienced with the system, the government spends approximately $20,000 per case to fight the small cases that involve $500 to $3,500 in compensation, and the government sometimes appeals those decisions.
The Deputy Prime Minister clings to this ADR process as her lifeline, describing it as culturally sensitive and holistic. In fact it has no supporters, other than her and those who are part of the administration. The survivors describe it as a demeaning process which revictimizes them. The Assembly of First Nations describes it as abusive. The Canadian Bar Association says that it is flawed and that it has failed both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. The departmental officials will admit privately that it is flawed. Even the Ontario Court of Appeal in the Cloud decision offers little respect or support for the ADR process, which has cost all so much money.
The Ontario Court of Appeal criticized the ADR process as follows: “I do not agree that this ADR system displaces the conclusion that the class action is the preferable procedure. It is a system unilaterally created by one of the respondents in this action and could be unilaterally dismantled without the consent of the appellants. It caps the amount of possible recovery and, most importantly in these circumstances, compared to the class action it shares the access to justice deficiencies of individual actions. It does not compare favourably with a common trial”.
Only the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada applauds the process. In the House on November 15, 2004 she said, “There is no mismanagement involved here”. The facts are different. At committee on February 22, 2005 she said, “Our ADR approach is groundbreaking, culturally based, humane and holistic”. All of the evidence that was put before the standing committee indicated the contrary without exception.
There is a way forward. There is a better way. There is a path which is outlined in brief in the recommendation of the standing committee. First, as a nation we must attack the challenge of restorative justice. That objective is not about money. It goes beyond reparation in a material sense. It focuses upon a national truth and reconciliation process, a national process, a public process which is comprehensive and respectful. It will be a process which heals wounds in a way that money does not, indeed, in a way which money cannot. This is precisely what other commentators, the Law Reform Commission, the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Canadian Bar Association and RCAP, among others, the AFN and the survivors have been calling for, for many years, denied only by the Liberal Government of Canada.
The difficult issues surrounding corrective justice or, put more simply, how much money does the government owe to those claimants who have sued the government, can also be resolved much more quickly than the current government is proceeding. Over 12,000 litigants are suing the Crown. They include three classes of plaintiffs: first, the former students; second, the siblings and parents of the former students; and third, the children and the spouses of former students. Their claims are based on breaches of duty which are characterized as breaches of treaty, breaches of fiduciary duty and negligence.
These issues are currently before the courts of Ontario and Alberta on an expedited basis. Over 90% of the claimants who now claim against the government have opted for this process. It seems obvious to us that the government should be aggressively engaged in court supervised negotiations to settle all of those claims. There are 12,000 claimants. They have legal counsel. They are aggressively proceeding in court with their cases. The courts are prepared to intercede. They have capable mediators and arbitrators. There would seem to be no impediment to resolving those cases through such a process.
Certainly many of these claims raise difficult legal and factual questions. For example, did every single person who attended residential school suffer, and suffer equally, at the hands of these institutions? What sort of duty did the government of the day have? Was that duty breached? Was it a treaty breach? Was it negligence? Was it a breach of fiduciary duty? Is loss of language and culture compensable in law? The Government of Canada will be answerable on all of these questions once some guidance is obtained from the courts.
I would also emphasize that the difficult cases involving sexual abuse, physical abuse and wrongful confinement must be dealt with in an expeditious manner. The current department and the current process have no credibility as an efficient, compassionate, culturally sensitive way to get to the bottom of these cases.
We must recognize that there have been less than 1,000 extreme circumstance cases which have been brought before the government at this point. It is unclear to all of us how many such cases exist, but it is very clear that it should not cost $275 million to resolve less than 10% of them.
We do not need a separate government department. We currently have other mechanisms in the Government of Canada. The Indian Claims Commission of Canada deals on a daily basis with issues involving breaches of fiduciary duty and treaty rights. There are other bodies that have the requisite financial experience, independence, expertise and credibility among aboriginal Canadians to get to the bottom of these cases. Why would we not consider expanding, for example, the mandate of the commission to resolve these difficult cases in an expedited way?
The net effect of all this is that the current approach which is being followed by this administration is not working. It is horrendously expensive. This program at this point in time is well into an expenditure of $600 million of public money, somewhere in the $700 million quadrant in fact, and we are not seeing the results. Less than 2% of the cases which are known to exist have been resolved.
In sum, the Liberal administration of the residential school file has been a complete disaster from every conceivable human or public policy perspective. The recommendations of the standing committee in respect of which we moved concurrence set out an alternate path. We urge and implore the government to take the measures outlined in our report seriously and to move forward.