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House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was apology.

Topics

International TradeCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on International Trade in relation to Canada's trade policy. Pursuant to Standing Order 109, a government response is requested.

Canadian Sustainability ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-437, An Act to develop and implement a National Sustainable Development Strategy, create a Green Fund to assist in its implementation and adopt specific goals with respect to sustainable development in Canada, and to make consequential amendments to another Act.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be seconded in the introduction of Bill C-437, the new national sustainability act, by the member for Hamilton Mountain, who is a long time environmentalist and is very active in the environmental movement. I am happy that she is supporting me in this endeavour.

The proposed national sustainability act draws on the work of Dr. David Suzuki and the Suzuki Foundation. He put together, working in close collaboration with environmentalists who work for his foundation, what is essentially a blueprint for how with a national sustainability strategy we can have an overall environmental component to all governmental policies.

This bill for a national sustainability act talks about comprehensive national sustainability goals, measurable targets and the preparation of a single, integrated national sustainable development strategy. It would include the appointment of a cabinet committee on sustainable development and also would ensure and bolster the work of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. This bill for a national sustainability act essentially takes us light years forward in having environmental policy as part and parcel of all of governmental plans.

It is not surprising that this bill comes from the NDP. The NDP has shown environmental leadership through our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth and, as a result, this is another component to the overall thrust of the NDP to put the environment first and foremost in this Parliament.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canadian ForcesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition signed by 4,179 Prince Edward Islanders concerned about events relating to friendly fire incidents in Afghanistan. Because of the nature of these unfortunate incidents, the integrity, professionalism and reputation of members of the Canadian Forces have been called into question.

Therefore, the petitioners call upon the minister and the Prime Minister to take immediate action to ensure that members of our Canadian Forces be given the full respect they deserve, that they are not treated as common criminals, and that all efforts be made by the Canadian government to protect the reputation, livelihood and mental health of those individuals when such incidents occur.

LiteracyPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table two petitions today on behalf of my constituents of Hamilton Mountain. The first petition is especially timely, as I had the opportunity on Saturday to participate in the regional spelling bee organized by the Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association in my hometown of Hamilton.

The petitioners are in support of a bill I had the privilege of seconding last year, Bill C-276, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (literacy materials), which was brought forward by my good friend the NDP finance critic and member for Winnipeg North. The petitioners share our belief that literacy is a necessity and therefore must not be subject to taxes.

In our knowledge-based economy, the bar is constantly being raised higher on the basis of skills needed to access decent jobs, to function in daily tasks, and to participate in social and political life. Despite our technical sophistication, nearly 50% of Canadians still have difficulty working with words and numbers. It is in everyone's interest to raise Canadian literacy rates. For many Canadians, the added cost of the GST can be a real impediment. There are far too many barriers to literacy already.

The petitioners point out that removing the GST on books and audiovisual materials for literacy training in fact complements existing tax relief given to organizations that conduct literacy work. They call on Parliament to immediately pass Bill C-276.

Excise Tax ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with another bill that I had the privilege of seconding last year, Bill C-275. The petitioners share my belief that taxes on feminine hygiene products are discriminatory. Charging GST on feminine hygiene products clearly affects women only. It unfairly disadvantages women financially solely because of our reproductive role.

The petitioners know that this would benefit all Canadian women at some point in their lives and would be of particular value to women with lower incomes. If a proper, gender-based analysis had been done when the GST was introduced, this discriminatory aspect of the tax would never have been implemented. The petitioners urge Parliament to remove the tampon tax by giving speedy passage to Bill C-275.

SeniorsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions for the Government of Canada regarding seniors. The signatories wish to remind their government that the unification of seniors with their families through immigration is a core aspect of forming strong and vibrant families and communities. Newcomer seniors currently suffer discriminatory eligibility criteria within Canada's income security program. For example, there is a one year residency for some, while others have a 10 year requirement. Canada's old age security, guaranteed income supplement and social assistance programs are age, capacity and needs-based programs, not individual contribution-based income security plans.

The petitioners call upon the government to amend the Old Age Security Act, regulations and policies to eliminate the 10 year residency requirement for OAS and GIS; waive the enforcement of sponsorship obligations through government cost recovery schemes as a condition of financial support of genuine immigration breakdown involving a senior; establish a nominal public transit charge for all seniors in Canada, like the $45 per year charge for B.C. seniors; and provide government funding to support more ethno-specific affordable housing for seniors who need and desire it. I support this petition.

SeniorsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member knows that whether she supports a petition or not is irrelevant and that she is not supposed to indicate that in the course of presentation of petitions. I would urge her to comply with the rules the next time she does this.

The hon. member for Vegreville-Wainwright.

Age of ConsentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present, on behalf of the good people of Lloydminster, a petition which states that the protection of children from sexual predators must be a top priority of the government. They note that studies show that 14 year olds and 15 year olds are the most vulnerable to exploitation, including recruitment from pimps.

The petitioners call on Parliament to enact through the Criminal Code an act to protect these vulnerable members of our society, and they ask that this Parliament raise the age of sexual consent from 14 years to 16 years of age to help protect our most vulnerable.

Child CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with pride that I present a petition in some numbers from the people of the great city of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The petitioners call on the government to rectify the drastic and increasing shortage of child care spaces in this country. The petitioners draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a critical shortage of affordable quality child care spaces in Canada and that parents cannot work or pursue educational opportunities without child care. This is a strong petition that communities across our great land have been receiving, particularly the northwest.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

moved:

That this House apologize to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools for the trauma they suffered as a result of policies intended to assimilate First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, causing the loss of aboriginal culture, heritage and language, while also leaving a sad legacy of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand today before this House to put forward a motion to offer an apology to the survivors of the Indian residential schools. It is my sincere hope that this motion asking Parliament to offer an apology to these survivors helps to facilitate the healing process, which has taken much too long to complete.

In her book, Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, Canadian author Erna Paris examines the manipulation of history, using examples from all over the world, and how countries shape historical memory in the aftermath of tragic events. She argues that decisions made by those in power cast long shadows into the future and that countries must confront these painful historical episodes in order to resolve them and heal as a nation.

The process of reconciliation and justice is necessary to heal, but it can be difficult for a country to confront these painful episodes of the past. It is often easier to purposely forget unpleasant or distressing things, sweep them under the rug, so to speak, and move on.

Whether the sorrow involves a group or a nation, a national collective amnesia is often seen as the simplest solution; however, this does not work. Time and again, history has provided us with examples of nations trying to reinvent themselves after such dark and tragic periods in their history.

Canada is learning this lesson firsthand. Injustices of the past do indeed cast long shadows and always have a way of humbling a nation.

I applaud and deeply respect the survivors who persisted in telling their stories and reminding Canada of its long shadow.

Many positive steps have been taken in recent years to help reconcile the Government of Canada's past actions regarding the residential schools. However, a full apology is still missing.

A critical aspect of facilitating the healing process is to admit that a wrong was done and to apologize. Without an apology, healing is never completely achieved.

I stand here on behalf of my people, who suffered unspeakable abuses because of federal government sanctioned residential schools.

I stand here for my community, Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, and all first nations communities in Canada.

I stand here for the Métis and the Inuit, nations proud of their cultures, heritage and languages, nations whose suffering concerning residential schooling has often been ignored or overlooked.

I stand here for the countless parents who stood by watching powerlessly while some stranger, aided by the force of an unjust law, took away their children, took away their heart and soul, and took away their future.

Once taken away by strangers, separated from their own brothers and sisters, they would be made into strangers themselves, strangers to their parents and strangers to their own culture and their own language. Many of these children would eventually become strangers to their own identity.

I stand here for numerous victims whose stories will never be told, whose remains are scattered across our land in unmarked graves, scars on the land and even larger scars on our nation's psyche.

Many died in those schools because of illness and mistreatment. Many of the survivors witnessed scores of their contemporaries never making it home from these institutions. The survivors' lives have been marked by the tragic and unpleasant living memories of not only their own abuse, but also of the images of children who died. According to some reports, students in the early to middle part of the last century often had to help bury their classmates, their friends and their relatives.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, children buried children.

Above all else I stand for the children, now our elders, who have been denied their culture, their parents and the innocence of childhood, children who were made to feel inferior mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, children who were degraded and forced to live in unsanitary conditions that were criticized even for that period in time.

This motion, which fills me with pride to present today, also strikes a chord deep within me. It speaks to my people, who are again struggling to reassert their voice and reaffirm a heritage and a culture that have withstood terrible attacks, but I am also deeply proud of how strong first nations, Métis and Inuit people are. There is a strength and a resilience that will ensure they prosper far into the future.

It is not only the ties to my culture that make this motion so significant. It is that my own family has withstood this attack, an attack on our unity, our values and our identity as a family.

At the heart of this issue are people: regular people, average people and everyday people. We can call them whatever we want. They were parents who were forced to lose their children and their children were forced to go to these schools. They were parents who were not informed of the fate or the status of their children for weeks or months at a time.

This motion is for them, the strongest words I can offer. We offer these words to console them for their incredible loss, but to also offer them hope for a future based on truth and reconciliation as we seek to overcome the past.

With this apology, we hope to offer another necessary step at healing the collective intergenerational trauma that has lingered to this day. This is the legacy of the residential school era, but do Canadians truly understand? I think Canadians want to understand.

We have to ask ourselves if, as a country, we told the truth to Canadians. It is a tragic story. It is not pleasant and it is difficult to hear, but hear the truth we must, and it must begin with this government. We must confront these painful episodes of the past with the highest level of respect and honour.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail in July of last year by John Ibbitson, the Prime Minister delivered a speech in the United Kingdom in which he lauded British legacies of common law, parliamentary democracy and an open economy, declaring that “much of what Canada is today we can trace to our origins as a colony of the British Empire”.

It is unfashionable, the Prime Minister acknowledged, to speak of colonial legacies as anything other than oppressive. He said, “But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant”. British magnanimity, he argued, ensured the survival of the French culture and British approaches to the aboriginal population, “while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period”.

I am not sure how the francophone community feels about the statement of British policies protecting the French culture, but I know for a fact that aboriginal people would not be too impressed with his assessment of past colonial practices as fair and generous.

The policy of the federal government at the time was to assimilate and to have Canada rid itself of its Indian problem. In 1914, a department official who was later put in charge of Canadian Indian policy, a man named Duncan Campbell Scott, stated in a report that it was quite within the mark to say that 50% of the children did not live to benefit from their education. Students died in massive numbers, due in large part to tuberculosis. I do not think this was seen as fair and generous then or now by aboriginal people or by Canadians.

To me it appears as though there is a disconnect between the version of history put forth by a Prime Minister to a foreign audience that British approaches to the aboriginal population were some of the fairest and most generous of the period. This greatly diverges from the version of history put forth by the testimonials of the survivors, federal government departmental officials from the time, and the extensive work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, among others.

This disconnect is precisely what Erna Paris wrote about. That is how the past is managed by those in power today to suit present day needs. I have to ask whose perception and whose needs the Prime Minister's statements suit. I can say that they are not tailored to suit the truth.

In some quarters and in some places, there is an unresolved struggle for the truth, a struggle concerning who gets to decide what actually happened in the past and who gets to decide how the tales are told. There has been recent exposure in the media about the lack of records of the fallen children from the residential schools and how countless forgotten victims are buried in unmarked graves. The loss of their stories is a loss of our history, and further weakens our ability to reconcile these past injustices.

The federal government has woven a version of past events which fits the perception it wants Canadians and the world to see. The government wants, as Erna Paris stated, to shape the historical memory of this period to minimize what actually occurred.

It is within this context that this government unequivocally stated that an apology is not necessary, suggesting that the settlement is enough. I ask myself, “Why the double standard?”

Suggestions have been made that, “Aboriginal people should get over it” and “What else do they want?” These statements are another form of abuse. I hope that these statements come from misunderstanding and not from a more sinister place.

I have seen and I have heard of survivors who received the advance payment. They simply turn it over to their adult children, saying that they were sorry for screwing up their lives, that they should have been stronger while in the residential schools, and that they should have been better parents. They blame themselves. They were children.

What is so difficult to understand? Simply, an apology would represent the manifestation of listening and hearing the truth, and understanding the hurt caused. An apology would say that Canada cares, that Canadians care, and that we are sorry.

But there are supposed barriers to this apology. Let me address some concerns I have heard regarding whether an apology to residential school survivors is necessary.

First, some would argue that the churches were the ones to blame and that government was an impassionate observer, simply an entity that provided funds.

Yes, the churches had a culpable role, but the Government of Canada cannot deny its role in the residential schools era. The Government of Canada acted as both the funding entity for the system and the provider of the overall policy guidelines that attempted to educate and colonize a people against their will.

Worse still, government inspectors and officials knew for decades about the inhumane conditions at these schools, including disease, overcrowding, hunger, disrepair, yet little was done to rectify the situation, and for many it was too late.

Second, I have heard that some people believe an apology had already been given. This is not the case.

It is true that the former Liberal government issued a statement of reconciliation in 1998. This was an important milestone, an important acknowledgement of the abuses that had been suffered and marked the beginning of the process that led to the Indian residential school settlement. However, it was not an apology.

The third reason not to offer an apology, which was offered to me when I asked, was that it was a legal issue. However, the minister has now stated he is not refusing to apologize because of any legal issue.

Finally, I have heard that since an apology was not part of the Indian residential school agreement, it should not be given. This is a rather absurd argument to make, for many reasons.

First, it has been recognized that in 2005 the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations had agreed that there should be an apology. The deputy prime minister at the time stated:

--there is a need for an apology that will provide a broader recognition of the Indian Residential Schools legacy and its effect upon First Nation communities [once the agreement was finalized].

With the Conservatives becoming government, it fell to them to honour this commitment by the Government of Canada to issue an official apology.

First nations, Métis and Inuit people have since, collectively and individually, called for this apology. The Conservatives have refused to uphold this duty and have denied that there is even a need for an apology. The Indian Affairs Minister went so far as to say that since the goal of the schools was to educate aboriginal children there is no need to apologize.

Again, we have an example of how this government is trying to reshape historical memory to suit the needs of those who are in power at the expense of all. Not only is this remark ignorant to the realities of the residential school era, it also demeans and disrespects those who survived, and those who did not.

I hope the minister finds his comment to be personally regrettable, as it is simply not true. I hope he respectfully withdraws his remarks and reconsiders the need for an apology.

The residential school agreement was the right thing to do. The minister and the government can take all the credit in the world for it, it does not matter to me. It was simply the right thing to do.

First nations, Métis and Inuit people sacrificed much to establish this country that we are all very proud of and call home. Canada is a country that attempts to be the most humane and generous in the world. People come to this great land to experience Canada's compassion and are proud to become new Canadians. It is ironic that the compassion that this country is known for, compassion first extended by the original peoples of this land, will not be extended to them by this government.

It is simply about this: an apology to residential school survivors for the calculated, intentional government policy of the day that specifically targeted children in order to undermine forever first nations, Métis and Inuit languages, traditions, beliefs, spirituality, family and community ties, in effect, to paraphrase a senior government official of the day, to rid Canada of its Indian problem.

Now I know that many of the examples I have given and the language I have chosen sound harsh and some would suggest that I crossed the line. Perhaps I did. However, historical records have not been all that accurate in documenting this aspect of Canadian history. Also, I am shocked that the federal government would want to reshape historical memory minimizing the impacts of the residential school era.

If it were not for the survivors demanding to be heard, if it were not for the groundbreaking work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, if it were not for the outstanding work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, many of these harsh truths would remain swept under the rug.

The reasons for an apology are clear. The Government of Canada cannot deny its role in establishing and sanctioning the residential schools. Until an apology is made, this dark period in time will continue to cast a long shadow that we cannot run away from.

I humbly ask all members of this House to support my motion apologizing to the survivors and calling upon the government to move forward with an apology to all residential school survivors past and present. Let us remove the long shadows of injustice.

I hope the government will join me in offering this apology. I extend it to the Conservatives as an offer of partnership and respect. In the Cree language there is a phrase that I want to repeat.

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

Roughly translated this talks about respect between peoples, respect of our pasts, respect of our histories, respect in a deeper meaning than we probably even understand right now. This is what the survivors are asking for, respect for the experiences they went through and an apology.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are not proud of our history in our dealings with the first nations community. It is something we in the House have indicated that we do not condone. I hope we have learned from our history so that these things never happen in the future.

There is a first nation community within my constituency. I meet with band members when I have the opportunity. I was on the regional treaty advisory committee for several years. Chief Robert Louie and some of the other band members are very progressive in the Okanagan. They are some of the most progressive bands in Canada. I applaud their initiatives for providing safe drinking water, clean and affordable shelter, education and economic opportunities and, something we all hope to foster, development within the first nations as they continue to be a big part of our future, as they have been in our history.

I listened to the member opposite this morning and there was indeed an apology issued. I would like to read for the House the aboriginal first nations National Chief Phil Fontaine's acceptance of the 1998 statement of reconciliation:

It took [the government] some courage to take this historic step, to break with the past and to apologize for the historic wrongs and injustices committed against our people. It is therefore a great honour for me, on behalf of the First Nations, to accept the apology of the government and the people of Canada.

Last week in my office in Ottawa I had a meeting with Richard Jock and some of the other members of the AFN. We continue to work on fostering relationships with our first nations community.

I would also like to point out to the House that since then, many churches, the institutions that actually ran the schools, have made formal apologies and have gone to the brink of bankruptcy to pay compensation.

In December 2006 Phil Fontaine commented on the residential schools settlement agreement. That agreement was concluded by this government under the excellent leadership of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Phil Fontaine said:

We have in this agreement recognition that harm was done to our people and that those who harmed our people are prepared to accept their responsibility.

These comments allude to the fact that our government is very sensitive to this issue and is getting the job done. The Liberals did not get the job done on the residential schools settlement. They also seem to be denying something they did. In 1998 Jane Stewart, then minister of Indian affairs, issued a statement of reconciliation titled “Learning from the Past”, in which she declared:

To those of you who suffered this tragedy at residential schools, we are deeply sorry.

That sounds a lot like an apology to me. I ask the member opposite, does that not sound like an apology to him?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, publicly and officially the Government of Canada issued a statement of regret. Parliament and the Prime Minister of this country have never formally said, “I am sorry”. The Assembly of First Nations is meeting in Winnipeg today, as I understand it. It is calling on the government to formally apologize to the residential schools survivors.

It is easy to blame the churches. As I mentioned in my speech, the churches had a culpable role, but very clearly it was the federal government which drove the policy. It was federal government policy that put forward the concept that these people be civilized against their will.

To this day this House, the Prime Minister and the government have not formally said that they are sorry.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, seeing as some of the other parties are not rising to ask questions, I am happy to ask the member a second question on behalf of the government.

In his speech the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River claimed that he himself perhaps had crossed the line in some of his statements in relation to the government. I would ask why he would be ascribing blame to the government in the language that he has.

For over a decade and a half, the government of the day was his party. The Liberals had many opportunities to move forward on so many first nations issues but they did not. Why would he ascribe so much of the blame to the Conservative government when, upon gaining office, one of the first things the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development did was finalize this agreement?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting question in that it speaks to the lack of understanding and lack of knowledge about the real history of this country. It suggests that perhaps the members across have never had the opportunity to truly learn about what occurred at the residential schools. That is unfortunate.

Yes, I was worried about crossing the line, but the small sampling of what I talked about was nothing compared to the pain and suffering that those people went through.

In May 2005 the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada signed an accord to reach an agreement and to move forward. Six months later they reached a settlement that called for a national apology, but it was not ratified because of an election.

I am trying to make this issue as non-political as possible. It has taken way too long for us to get to this point. As I said, the Conservatives across the way can take all the credit in the world for ratifying the residential schools agreement. I bow before them and thank them. However, the government has not apologized. It was clearly called for. Whether it is this government or a future government I will ensure that I keep the pressure on. That is the simple reality.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice ConservativeMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, in beginning I dedicate my words to something that has previously been written in this country by one of my favourite authors, Aritha van Herk in the book, Mavericks, where she wrote:

Demolished by diseases like smallpox and tuberculosis, struggling with byzantine and ridiculous rules, fighting to stay alive, Alberta's First Peoples have enacted an astonishing feat by refusing to fade away and vanish. For all the deliberate or accidental attempts to erase their presence--

I thank the hon. member for bringing this matter before the House today. I hope in my comments to raise our discussion beyond partisanship to frame a debate that will carry Parliament and indeed this country beyond partisanship and the pointing of accusations. For the sake of all of us, for the sake of Canada, I hope that we can all rise to the level of that requirement. I hope that we all avoid crossing the line. In dealing with this sad chapter of Canadian history, we will all require that. Both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians will require that we do that. At the end of the day, the truth and reconciliation commission that is so fundamental to the process in which we are now engaged will require us as parliamentarians to rise to that level.

I observe, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu did in a previous context, that neither genuine repentance nor atonement on the one hand, nor forgiveness on the other is possible in the shadow of partisanship.

I begin therefore by saying that the government will support the motion of the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. The House should apologize and I am confident at the end of the day that this House will apologize.

The obligations on the other hand of the executive branch of government tied inextricably to the terms of the residential schools agreement and to the eventual results of the truth and reconciliation commission require some discussion in the House. I propose to deal with that in my comments.

It is important that the historical record reflect accurately upon this matter. I have not been in the House for much of my life, but I have been here for three years at this point. I am somewhat taken aback at how quickly revisionism has taken over what has transpired with respect to the residential schools matter. While partisanship can be forgiven in that I suppose all members of the House from time to time seek refuge there, the revision of Canadian history is an entirely different matter which I am not prepared to countenance in this House.

It is this government that brought an end to the denials of the past. It is this government that executed on May 8, 2006 the residential schools agreement, negotiated after much effort with the lawyers involved on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, the class action plaintiffs representing some 12,000 individuals in this country, the Assembly of First Nations and the churches of Canada.

An apology on the part of the House of Commons is necessary and the truth and reconciliation commission, of which I intend to speak, will deal with this in some detail. However, as we begin, I have been reading a book entitled A National Crime by John Milloy. In asking why the House of Commons should apologize, I would simply quote from the introduction, which in part is a conclusion of the book. Mr. Milloy asks:

How did this happen? How were responsibility and Christianity perverted?

He concludes as follows:

--one conclusion becomes unavoidable: despite the discourse of civil and spiritual duty that framed the school system, there never was invested in this project the financial or human resources required to ensure that the system achieved its “civilizing” ends or that children were cared for properly. Nor was there ever brought to bear the moral resources necessary to respond to systemic neglect or to the many instances of stark physical abuse that were known to be occurring. Furthermore, it is clear that throughout the history of the system, the church-state partners were aware of these sorrowful circumstances and, moreover, that they came to understand the detrimental repercussions for all Aboriginal children of their residential school experience.

That in summation encapsulates what we will probably hear more of from the truth and reconciliation commission over time.

All of this began in Canada many years ago. This school system was conceived in the period leading up to 1892, was brought to fruition in the years thereafter and was not entirely dismantled in this country until the last 1970s.

The apportionment of blame and responsibility in that context is one in which many Canadian governments have a responsibility to share. This system was conceived and carried forward under successive Canadian governments for close to 100 years, so it is part of our collective history. This sad chapter of what happened in our country is something that we will collectively need to come to grips with and, to return to my comments, it is something that we will only come to grips with if we do so in a fair way, without accusations, recriminations, and without the pointing of fingers in that respect. The truth and reconciliation commission, which I wish to speak to at this point, will be fundamental to all of that.

The history of this matter is that there were approximately 130 residential schools in this country operated by four major church denominations, the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the United church and the Catholic church. The total attendance at these schools was over 150,000 aboriginal Canadians. There are 80,000 aboriginal Canadians alive today who attended these schools. The descendants of those people number somewhere between 250,000 and 350,000 Canadians.

In 1990, the first lawsuits were filed against the Government of Canada in respect of this matter. In 1998, as my friend has pointed out, in a statement of reconciliation Canada acknowledged its role in the Indian residential school system. In 1998, much was accomplished with the creation of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which had a $350 million endowment and $40 million in additional funding provided thereafter. This foundation administered in excess of 1,300 individual community projects to come to grips with this chapter in Canadian history.

In 2003, a national resolution framework was launched to contribute to reconciliation but at that time the matter continued to move forward in this country by way of litigation, class action lawsuits between first nation claimants and the Government of Canada. At that time, an alternate dispute resolution was put in place.

In the 38th Parliament of Canada, which is where I am concerned about some of the revisionist history that has taken place here, the Conservative Party was in opposition. I would point out for the record, for posterity if I may, that the Conservative Party not only has led the way on this matter by finalizing the agreement of May 8, 2006, but the Conservative Party, together with the other opposition parties in the House of Commons at that time, fundamentally drove the process that led to the residential school agreement.

One need look no further than the report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which was finalized on April 7, 2005 with the cooperation of the then opposition parties in the House of Commons, the Bloc, the NDP and the Conservative Party. At the end of the day, it was opposed by the Liberal government, opposed by the Liberals at committee and during a concurrence motion that passed by one vote in this House of Commons. If we wish history to be clear, one need only look at the report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of April 7, 2005.

At that time, the state of affairs in this country was that we had an alternate dispute resolution process which had been the subject of continuing pressure and questioning in question period because it had been disclosed that of every dollar spent in dealing with the claims of people who had been wronged by the residential school system, 80¢ was spent on bureaucracy, civil servants, lawyers, experts, adjudicators and only 20¢ made its way through to the victims of this sad chapter in Canadian history.

At one point it was a celebrated case that disclosed these facts. The system was so hamstrung with rules that an elderly woman in her eighties had taken her ADR case forward and it turned out that her allegation of physical cruelty was that she had been confined in a closet, as I recall, for three days with her sister. Her claim was disallowed on the basis that she had not been confined solitarily. That is the sort of thing that was going on only three years ago in this country before this government concluded this agreement.

The April 7, 2005 report of the standing committee left nothing to the imagination. It documented the failings of the process at that time, the absence of any even-handed process; the absence of adequate compensation, terming the compensation to be grossly inadequate; documenting that “the process was proceeding too slowly allowing too many former students to die uncompensated”; and that it used a dispute resolution process that was disrespectfully humiliating and unfeeling and which revictimized former students.

I recall being in committee when members of the Conservative Party pointed out to the government at that time that they had never in their time in the House of Commons as members of Parliament heard testimony as moving as what they heard in the work leading up to this report.

It was pointed out at that time that there were high structural costs and an egregious burden of proof and that it was a process that students did not trust. The committee, at the end of the day, in a report that was quite straightforward and was three pages in length, expressed its regret at the manner in which the alternate dispute resolution process was being administered and provided eight very straightforward recommendations at that time.

The first was that the government proceed with urgency. The second was that it terminate the alternate dispute resolution process. The third was this. If one wants to find the source of the residential school agreement that today provides some hope for this country and some reconciliation of where we are going to go, it lies in the third recommendation of the report, which is as follows:

That the Government engage in court-supervised negotiations with former students to achieve a court-approved, court-enforced settlement for compensation that relieves the Government of its liability for those former students who are able to establish a cause of action and a lawful entitlement to compensation.

For the first time, a recommendation from the House of Commons, approved in a concurrence proceeding, that there be court supervised negotiations with former students, court approved and a court enforced settlement. At the end of the day that is exactly what this government did on May 8, 2006.

In addition, there were comments with respect to legal fees. A recommendation was made that there be an expedited settlement of those claims involving aggravated circumstances, such as sexual and severe physical abuse. Again, at the end of the day that is precisely where this government has arrived at.

However, I wish to emphasize in particular Recommendation No. 6:

That the Government, to ensure that former students have the opportunity to tell their stories to all Canadians in a process characterized by dignity and respect, cause a national truth and reconciliation process to take place in a forum that validates the worth of the former students and honours the memory of all children who attended the schools.

Therein lies of the birth of that concept as a way forward for this country. It is a concept that I feel strongly about. A little known matter in this House is that I spent some time in South Africa in the days after apartheid as South Africa moved from apartheid to its current form. I was a constitutional adviser to an organization there that was dealing with the dismantlement of the apartheid structure.

I watched as the truth and reconciliation commission that was struck in South Africa unfolded. I watched how it assisted South Africa in coming to grips with a very sad chapter of its history. I became a believer in the importance of that kind of an approach as a method for this country to come to grips with the sad chapter of Canadian history, a forum that would allow all Canadians, but in particular first nations citizens who had been victimized by this process, an opportunity and a way to come forward to tell their stories to ensure that their stories were recounted and recorded in Canadian history and a method, at the end of the day, for all of us to come to grips with a chapter in Canadian history that belongs to no single party, to no single government, but to all of us as Canadians as a result of 100 years of history.

In the days following that, Mr. Frank Iacobucci, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was appointed as the government's representative and the search for a court supervised settlement process began and an interim agreement was announced, as I recall, on November 23, 2005, having been concluded on November 20, 2005.

That, of course, was in the shadow of the election of December 2005. During the election, the Conservative Party indicated at that time that it would be supportive of such an agreement provided two conditions were met. The first was that the final agreement needed to be concluded, and the second was that court approval needed to be secured. Neither of those steps had been taken in February 2006 when the Conservative government was elected.

I can assure the House that although the residential school matter was not, strictly speaking, the responsibility of the Minister of Indian Affairs, in the days following the formation of the government, responsibility rested elsewhere in the government. I took the completion of this agreement very seriously and I can tell the House there were extensive meetings in my office with Mr. Justice Iacobucci and Mr. Phil Fontaine with the Assembly of First Nations and we struggled to bring this to a close. We struggled to bring the resolution of the terms of the agreement such that it could be taken forward for a court approved process.

There were extensive negotiations dealing with a number of outstanding difficult questions at that time: how to arrive at a final agreement, how to ensure adequate financial provisions were made in budgetary sense for this agreement and how to arrive at an agreement that would be in the best interests of all Canadians. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, I should say for the sake of the record, was very involved in this at that time.

At the end of the day, the agreement that has been concluded required extensive work over the last year to complete. The court process involved proceeding forward with nine jurisdictions to secure court approval. That process is not entirely finished at this stage. It has been approved by all nine jurisdictions but the terms of the agreement provide for an opt out period. The essence of the opt out period is that if an adequate number of first nations claimants decide that they do not wish to be part of this agreement, then the agreement is voidable at the option of the government. Therefore, the legal process is not yet completed and is moving forward.

The agreement, as everyone knows, is a very fair and generous agreement, one which I take immense personal satisfaction in as a Canadian in seeing come to fruition and one in which this government takes pride. It provides, importantly, for a truth and reconciliation commission that will be established together with a research centre with a budget of $60 million and a five year mandate. The government is currently engaged in the process of selecting the three commissioners, one of whom must be an aboriginal Canadian.

It is my sincere hope, as happened in South Africa, that this matter will be dealt with, that the whole issue of apologies, the whole issue of how this country is to find a way forward will be dealt with by the truth and reconciliation commission, that it will be dealt with in a manner that speaks to the dignity and the integrity of the Canadian people in wanting to come to grips with this chapter of our history, and that the executive branch of government will need to see that document because the full history of this will not be disclosed. We will not have explored the full depths of the history of the residential school agreement of this chapter of Canadian history until the work of that commission has finished.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for his dignified statement, but I have three questions.

Having told us that his party will support the motion put forward by my hon. friend, could he clarify whether this amounts to a government apology or merely parliamentary support for a motion introduced by the other side of the House? I was unclear as to what the intention of the government was in that respect.

I ask this question because I have been in the House on numerous occasions in which the minister has been asked directly whether the government and the Prime Minister will apologize about this matter, and an apology has not been forthcoming. Therefore, I need clarification as to what the minister has just told us.

I ask this furthermore because the government has been very quick to apologize on other matters, such as the Chinese head tax, but has been, I think it is fair to say, curiously resistant about a public apology in this crucial matter of our history. Therefore, I am unclear and would be grateful for the minister's clarification.

Finally, would it be fair to say that this commendable action by the minister to support the resolution of our side of the House would not have occurred at all had we not presented this motion? It seems to me that he should clarify what the government's precise intention is. Is this a government prime ministerial apology, or simply support for an opposition motion? Exactly what has he told us this morning?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his thoughtful comment and his gracious response.

What I have indicated to the House is that the government is prepared to support the motion put forward, calling upon the House to apologize. As I have said in my comments, I anticipate that the House will apologize. I anticipate that the motion will pass successfully. I acknowledge it is a motion brought forward by my hon. colleague.

In my comments I have tried to indicate, however, that the position of the executive branch of government is a separate issue. We are in the midst of the implementation of the May 8, 2006 agreement, an agreement which is still very much before the courts and which still requires the completion of the opt-out period, in respect of which advertisements are currently taking place in major newspapers across the country.

I have also indicated that I attach enormous significance to this. I have personally believed, from the time I became involved in this chapter in Canadian history as an opposition member in this House, that the truth and reconciliation commission is the key to the way forward for us as a nation. It is there that we will come to grips with what happened. It is there that we will come to understand the damage done to aboriginal people and to the country by the misguided efforts that were undertaken.

I have looked to South Africa as a comparison. I note in that context, and have noted previously, that when the reconciliation commission completed its work, it called, in one of its recommendations, for an apology by the government at that time to those people who had perpetrated violations of human rights.

It seems to me that the task at hand as a nation is, in a non-partisan way, to move forward, to try to really understand this chapter of Canadian history, to look at the damage that was done to our first nation and our aboriginal people and to do it with a reconciliation commission, which will consist of three very respected Canadians. In fact, we have just now embarked on the process to select those Canadians to ensure that they are beyond reproach, that they are people who are nationally known for their integrity, for their commitment to this beautiful country of ours and people who will get this right.

My hope is we will better understand what needs to be done through the work of this commission. The government looks forward to receiving the recommendations of those parties of the commission after they have completed their work. To be fair, only at that time, once the full facts are known, can the full response from the Government of Canada, at the executive branch, be offered.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I guess it is difficult to hear this sometimes, and people will argue that it is revisionist. It has to be understood that for the most part of written history in the country aboriginal people did not control the pen. The statements I talk about are statements from survivors, from past victims. If it is indeed an accusation of revisionism, then I guess so be it.

The question I have is the minister made a curious comment of “until all the facts are known”. The facts are known. The facts are in black and white. They are written in some cases in blood by many of those people who appeared before these various bodies to talk about their experiences.

I would ask the government to proceed with an apology and still proceed with the truth and reconciliation. The government should take lessons from the truth and reconciliation process in Africa and other countries and improve upon it in our country. I distinctly and truly believe the facts are there.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, with respect to revisionism, this is a sensitive topic for me. I believe the way we are dealing with this currently as a nation speaks well of our system of government and, frankly, of this Parliament and of this House of Commons.

I am concerned that we not get into accusations on this. Frankly, there are members in every single party in the House of Commons that deserve some credit from bringing this matter forward through to the resolution of the May 8, 2006 agreement.

As I pointed out in my comments, it was really only through the efforts of all three opposition parties in the 38th Parliament that this matter was forced through to a completion. There are several members in the House that deserve some share of credit for that. I do not want us to go too far down the road of revising Canadian history. I wish those facts to be known.

With respect to my colleague's statement that the facts are known, I respectfully say that all of the facts are not known. If they were all known, we would not be investing $60 million as a nation in a truth and reconciliation commission with respected Canadians who will travel the country and speak to everyone who wants to speak with the commission over a five year period.

Once those facts are known, I think there will be recommendations clearly that come forward at the time from the commission. The executive branch of the government at that time will have a heavy responsibility to follow through with what I hope will be the closing chapter of this era in Canadian history and deal with the recommendations.

I would be very surprised if those recommendations did not deal, as the South African commission did, with the context and the concept of an apology.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the minister on some of the comments he made, particularly where he asked that this very sensitive and important issue be dealt with in a non-partisan way. He suggested that we not point fingers and that we get on with some constructive positive action. He suggested that, indeed, the House might support the resolution. I believe a majority of the House will support the motion. It will be interesting to see if the government caucus will at the end of the day support it. I hope that they do.

The minister talked about us being careful not to cross the line and to be non-partisan. Yet in his speech in some places he was very partisan in pointing a finger at the previous government, particularly where he got into a description of the form of dispute resolution mechanism.

Would the minister share with me what he meant by not crossing the line?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I refer the hon. member to the April 27 report of the previous standing committee, which I think is a seminal document in terms of the steps by this Parliament to come to grips with the issue and to search for a way forward.

At the time, the very concept that we would move forward with a court endorsed omnibus settlement was something which had not been contemplated in a serious way within Parliament or government. I did not wish to be partisan in any way in my comments. I certainly have the capacity to be quite a bit more partisan than anything I might have said, but I tried to be as statesmanlike as I could.

I point out that many people were involved at that point in time. I do see what has been achieved here. We are not finished, but I do see it as a measure of the success that we can have in our country moving forward.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Laurentides—Labelle.

I am pleased to speak to the House today on residential schools. This will allow us to move things forward for the most affected parties, namely, aboriginals, Inuit and Métis, who, not all that long ago, were referred to as Indians and were seen as somewhat different from us.

I am familiar with residential schools, although not as much as the people I will be telling you about today. Nor were my experiences the same as theirs. I believe I know a little about these institutions from having attended them throughout my childhood, since I was an orphan. The family that raised me could not find the means to give me what they considered a reasonable education on their own. They therefore went to the local bishop for help. At the time, that was the only way to get any help.

I still remember returning to school every September, at a residential school not far from Quebec City, where I would stay for the entire school year, that is, from September of one year to the end of the following June. I am originally from Bas-du-Fleuve, more specifically the Matapédia valley. Of course, the return trip home would have been too expensive for the family that raised me. I swore to myself at the time that my own children would never go to such a school, because every time I went home, I felt like I had new parents and new siblings whom I had to get to know all over again during my summer holidays, which were always too short. I think this could be described as “learning the hard way”.

When I was 13, two months shy of my 14th birthday, I went to work in Abitibi. I did not see my parents again until 10 years later. My first job was loading planed wood onto rail cars. My partner was an Indian, as they were called at the time. He was the kind of man who never raised his voice. Around four in the morning, working a shift that had started at six the night before, when he saw that I was having a hard time handling 8 x 8 x 16 lumber, he would take one end of the board to help me, then load his own, and that went on until six in the morning. I worked at that job for five months, and I never heard him complain. He had been working there for eight years. He had gone to a residential school until he was 15. He did not live with the other employees because he had a little camp on the river. It was not until I went to visit him there that I began to learn about his life story.

When I moved to Val-d'Or, I drove a taxi a lot. Nights and weekends, I often drove one or two aboriginal families who were taking their children back to the residential school near Amos. They spoke French to me, but among themselves, they spoke Indian. To me, Cree and Algonquin were the same language. However, when they cried as they left their children behind, no translation was necessary. The residential school was not very far from their reserve. It took about an hour and a half or two hours to get there, but they had other children and could not afford the trip except to go back for their kids the following summer.

At the time, it seemed obvious to me—and I kept thinking about it because it was so striking—that while I could not understand them on the way there, I had no trouble understanding them on the way back because they were speaking French. Please understand that my pleasure at hearing them speak French was not selfish. From my perspective, I thought that since the English had forced us to speak English, it made sense for them to learn French. My thoughts on the matter were well intended.

Nevertheless, when they arrived at their reserve, it was astounding to observe the parents translating what the children were saying to the grandparents. At that time, my first thought was that the poor old folks had not been lucky enough to learn French like the young ones. Perhaps we were also an oppressed people at that time.

It was not until many years later that I truly understood the magnitude of what I had experienced, even though I counted some aboriginals among my friends.

In the 1980s, I played hockey with one of these friends, who had attended the Canadian junior training camp. I liked to tease him because he did not want to go out for a beer with the others; quite often I would have a soft drink with him. One evening he said I should help him to find some courses in Anishinabe and Cree. I was incredulous. He said that his entire education had been provided at an Indian residential school and that they had taken away his language, his culture and his family. He could not read or write in either Cree or Anishinabe. Therefore, he had no access to his history and his culture.

It was at that moment, I think, that I understood the scope of the experience without even knowing the other abuses suffered. It is somewhat embarrassing to admit this kind of thing. I have come to understand, since being elected, that I did not yet know everything. Today, I am even sure that had he not been aboriginal, he would have been a member of the Canadian junior team because he was really good.

I still see him. In fact I saw him not too long ago when we got the first nations pavilion on the Val-d'Or campus. It was really something to see the look on his face. It was a look of complete satisfaction and hope. He knows that the university will train first nations teachers in their language and their culture. I know that he will try to be there, maybe not to teach—although you never know—but rather to learn to read and write in his mother tongue, Cree, and in the language of his father's side, Anishnabe.

Have they suffered? I think so. Have they healed? I do not think most of them have. I am not an expert, but to hear them speak, if they can learn to master their language, it would be a positive step.

The Bloc will support this motion that the House apologize to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools for the trauma they suffered as a result of policies intended to assimilate first nations, Inuit and Métis children, causing the loss of aboriginal culture, heritage and language, while also leaving a sad legacy of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.