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.


Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her speech and also for the elegant and powerful voice she brings to the House on behalf of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. She is a remarkable representative of such an important part of our community. When she speaks on this matter, she speaks with authority.

Having listened to the debate, I am reminded of the powerful testimony of the effect of aboriginal schools on people in the wonderful work by Tomson Highway, Kiss of the Fur Queen. Mr. Highway is a constituent of mine and a very respected member of our community. When he describes the suffering of his people and his personal suffering, we can understand that, just as we can understand in this House when members, like the last member, speak and allow us to see these issues through the lens of their own experience.

I would like to ask a specific question about the relationship between compensation and an apology. It seems to me that the Government of Canada has now accepted the compensation issue. It seems to me that churches like the Anglican Church of Canada, which was led by great primates like Ted Scott, Michael Peers and Archbishop Hutchison have accepted not only the issue of monetary compensation, but a responsibility and apologized.

Now that that matter is not there, and as the government has accepted the responsibility to compensate, why would it not make sense for the government to also take the step, being a human step, of apologizing on behalf of the Government of Canada? We, the members of Parliament, I am sure will adopt this resolution tonight to do that very thing in the House of Commons. Perhaps the member could provide her view.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for mentioning an important, artistic contributor to this country, Tomson Highway. His home community is in my riding.

There are many people from my riding with whom I have a dialogue. I have been raised with a deep understanding of the residential school experience. I am well aware of the trauma and the intergenerational impact. Certainly, from our elders and our artists we hear about the experience. As the member said, this is a human step, this is part of the human process. It is part of a healing process. It is difficult for me to understand how it is that the government can justify not making an apology.

I heard the minister today say that after a fact finding exercise of the truth and reconciliation process the facts would be presented to the executive and at that point they would decide.

We also heard the minister in the past month say publicly that an apology was not necessary, that this process was a matter of trying to educate people and that the residential school system was an effort to educate children.

I shared this with one of the prominent academics from my riding. She did her Ph.D. work on residential schools and her own residential school experience. I shared with her what was happening in the House today. Today as we speak, a national residential school survivor conference is taking place in Winnipeg. Professor Young said she felt that this was belittling. It belittles the process. It belittles the motion. It belittles the truth and reconciliation process.

It is beyond my comprehension. Certainly, I do not think we have had a fair answer from the other side of the House as to how the Conservatives justify that decision.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the motion of the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Peace River.

Under the watch of Canada's new government, the Indian residential schools settlement agreement received its final court approval on March 21. This historic agreement will foster reconciliation between aboriginal people who resided at these schools, their families and communities, and all Canadians.

It was the current Minister of Indian Affairs who challenged the former Liberal government to take real action on achieving resolution to this sad chapter in Canadian history. It is that minister who has shepherded the agreement to where it is now.

I believe that it is most important at this time to take all the steps necessary to ensure that the agreement is implemented as soon as possible so that former students and their families who decide to remain in their settlement may benefit from it. That is why we are working hard toward the implementation of the settlement agreement, which includes elements such as the truth and reconciliation commission, a common experience payment, and funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

While I agree that this specific initiative requires immediate and sustained attention, I also believe it is essential to look beyond this one issue to the wider array of challenges that face all aboriginal people and communities in Canada. I can point with pride to the significant progress that Canada's new government has made in working in partnership with aboriginal groups and it is making progress in these areas to address a number of challenges.

For instance, let me discuss Bill C-44, an act to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The bill was introduced in the House on December 13 last year and is currently being considered by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, of which I am very honoured to be a member. Bill C-44 would end an exemption included in the original legislation when it was put into force 30 years ago, a measure designed to be temporary. Here we are 30 years later and this temporary measure remains in place. This needs to change.

In order to investigate and adjudicate alleged acts of discrimination, the Canadian Human Rights Act established two bodies: the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Over the past three decades the Canadian Human Rights Act has served to strengthen democracy in this country. Unfortunately, not all Canadians enjoy access to the legal instruments provided by the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act states:

Nothing in this Act affects any provision of the Indian Act or any provision made under or pursuant to that Act.

This simple sentence effectively denies some Canadians access to the remedies granted in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 67 shields the Indian Act and any decisions made or actions taken under the Indian Act from the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Under section 67, potentially discriminatory decisions made by agencies mandated by the Indian Act, such as band councils, school boards, as well as the federal government itself are exempted from the Canadian Human Rights Act. These decisions often touch on crucial aspects of day to day life, such as education, housing, registration, and the use and occupation of reserve lands. In effect, section 67 puts into question our claim to be a fair and egalitarian society.

As a consequence of this exemption, individuals, mostly residents of first nation communities, have had limited recourse under the Canadian Human Rights Act should they feel that their rights have been violated. This fundamental injustice is a blemish on Canada's democracy. Section 67 clearly permits discrimination against particular groups of citizens.

The exemption creates an odd irony of sorts. Legislation designed to promote equality effectively sanctions discrimination. Under section 67, thousands of Canadians cannot fully avail themselves of the legal instruments that combat discrimination. What is particularly unsettling is that section 67 affects many of Canada's most vulnerable citizens, the residents of first nation communities.

Support for the repeal of section 67 comes from a wide variety of groups, including the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which called for the repeal of section 67 in its 2005 report on matrimonial real property on reserves, “Walking Arm-In-Arm to Resolve the Issue of On-Reserve Matrimonial Real Property”.

Support for the committee's position on the matter at that time was based largely on the testimony of representatives of several key groups, including the Native Women's Association of Canada. Over the years, calls for the repeal of section 67 have come from several other groups, including the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

It is a simple issue of human rights. Canada must not perpetuate the discrimination inherent in section 67, and nothing will change unless action is taken. The time has come to ensure that all Canadians are treated equally before the law. Bill C-44 proposes a fair, realistic approach to ending nearly three decades of sanctioned discrimination. We must seize the opportunity before us and ensure access to full human rights, ensuring that those rights are provided to all.

Now is the time to act and to end the injustice that was created as a so-called temporary measure 30 years ago. The repeal of section 67 is just one of many examples of Canada's new government's commitment to resolving the challenges that face aboriginal people in Canada and to improving the quality of life in aboriginal communities.

The member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River has touched on a subject of equal importance today: the fair and expedient implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. It is through this agreement that the healing and reconciliation needed will in fact be fostered.

As I stand in support of the member's motion, I urge his party to stand up for the rights of all aboriginal Canadians and support human rights on reserve. I urge the party opposite to support Bill C-44. Aboriginal Canadians are counting on us to do the right thing. They have waited for far too long to have this injustice corrected. It is time to act.

We have a choice. We can delay and study and then further delay, but 30 years have passed. Recently the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and stated its absolute and unequivocal support for the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It went on to say:

The fact that the Indian Act has substantially escaped human rights scrutiny for three decades is unacceptable in a country that is otherwise held up throughout the world as an example of successful and prosperous democracy.

Therefore, while I agree with the motion before us today, we cannot afford to hide behind more words. Now is the time for meaningful action, and our minister has shown over and over that we are getting things done for aboriginal Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for supporting the motion. I do not have a question, so he can respond how he wishes, but I want to put on record an excerpt from a March 27 letter from the Anglican Church of Canada to the Prime Minister. It states:

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, I am writing to convey to you my strong disappointment and sadness at your refusal to offer an apology to Aboriginal Canadians who are former students of Indian Residential Schools, and to their families, as reported this morning in The Globe and Mail.

The writer goes to talk about an apology made by the former primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, in 1993, which stated:

I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God. I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family. I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking you from your language and the signs of your identity. I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally. On behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, I offer our apology.

The letter states:

Mr. Harper, I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to refuse an apology to [Indian Residential Schools] former students and their families.

I want to congratulate the Anglican Church for its statement.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will just remind the hon. member that even when we are reading letters we do not use proper names of members but their ridings or titles. I know that usually he is very good about it.

The hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that this government is working on behalf of aboriginal communities all across Canada. We have had a number of initiatives that the minister has worked on to effect the positive changes that are necessary.

It is also clear that in the past different aboriginal groups have accepted the fact that this settlement does in fact indicate that we have accepted our responsibility. I will quote Mr. Fontaine. After the December 2006 compensation deal, he 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.

We can see that it is clear.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of today's motion from the Liberal member.

Canada's new government has always been and will continue to be committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the Indian residential schools. We are determined to move forward in this partnership with aboriginal communities nationwide toward a better quality of life and a brighter future.

One vitally important means of making this progress is through greater economic development opportunities in aboriginal communities. This government has always said that there is no single catch-all approach to addressing the issues in aboriginal communities, and the question of economic development is no different. Each community must follow its own path toward improved economic and social well-being, collaborating with those partners who can help it reach its goals.

In order to better assist communities in searching for and securing their own economic future, this government has brought together the expertise of Aboriginal Business Canada, or ABC as it is commonly referred to, and the economic development programming function of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, to form a new unit. This will improve the coordination of programs across the country to better support aboriginal business development.

The match is appropriate. ABC and INAC programs have already complemented one another. Aboriginal Business Canada provides the financial and other supports to individuals at community based firms, as well as to aboriginal business development and financial organizations, while INAC programs work more broadly with the community at the community level by funding the business plans and feasibility studies needed to launch successful projects.

This amalgamation of functions is a timely one. Aboriginal entrepreneurs operate a growing number of businesses in a full range of economic sectors. They are more willing and better able than ever before to initiate new partnerships on these projects and in these programs.

We currently find ourselves at an historic crossroad. A booming economy and a youthful aboriginal population are presenting unprecedented economic opportunities for aboriginal people. It is incumbent upon this federal government and the provincial governments, as well as aboriginal business people and organizations, to ensure that aboriginal communities are able to make the most of these opportunities.

A generation of baby boomers is beginning to enter its retirement years and Canada faces a potentially lengthy period of labour shortages, particularly in the skilled trades. This shortage, combined with the close proximity of many aboriginal communities to major resource development projects, provides the preconditions for robust economic development in these communities and among these individuals.

We firmly believe that these conditions must be fostered and supported by real resources. That is why budget 2007, introduced in the House on March 19, committed $105 million over five years to the aboriginal skills and employment partnerships. This includes $35 million in the first two years. As a result of this investment, an additional 9,000 aboriginal individuals will receive skills training and an additional 6,500 will secure sustainable skilled jobs.

We know that with the guidance of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board we will be able to make important innovations and improvements in aboriginal economic development in the years ahead. In fact, just last Friday, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development named Chief Clarence Louie chairman of this board. There is no aboriginal leader in Canada today who is better known for his commitment to aboriginal economic development.

The national board will be re-energized as a result of the appointment of this exceptionally qualified chair and the other outstanding five new members of this board. This government is anxious to work with them to pursue economic measures that will benefit all aboriginal people in Canada.

As we also know, progress can be made. Indeed, we are already seeing it happen. In the Northwest Territories, the Aboriginal Pipeline Group owns a significant share of the Mackenzie gas project, the largest development ever proposed in the north. From the Nisga'a in the west to the Membertou in the east, communities are ensuring a prosperous future by taking advantage of economic development opportunities. This surge benefits all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.

Recent examples of the federal government's support for economic development in aboriginal communities are numerous. From making investments that strengthen the tourism industry in Yukon to forging aboriginal employment agreements with leading private sector firms such as Siemens, Capital Health, the city of Edmonton, the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union and the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council, we have worked with our provincial, territorial, aboriginal and other business partners to fulfil our pledge to bolster entrepreneurship and economic growth in aboriginal communities.

Robust economic opportunities help to provide a solid foundation on which thriving communities are built. They are the basis for business development, the impetus for skills and job training initiatives, and the way forward toward a self-reliant, meaningfully employed population. Aboriginal people in this country are ready, willing and more than able to grasp these opportunities. I am proud of the government's progress thus far, working in partnership with these people to access these jobs.

We are happy that the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement has happened. It received final court approval on March 21, 2007. It will bring a resolution to this unfortunate chapter in history, but we also know and acknowledge the necessity for looking to the future and working with aboriginal people to build strong and flourishing communities.

Economic development is a key means of accomplishing this. AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine recently pointed out that the first nations population is “a huge untapped resource”. This government agrees. That is why we are pleased with our budget 2007 investment of $105 million over five years, which will more than double the size of the aboriginal skills and employment partnership initiative.

As everyone in the House can see, Canada's new government and its partners are making progress along this road in working together to create the conditions for economic success. That is why we are looking forward to even more achievements.

I would encourage the members opposite to support these initiatives, much like they supported the budget in which our government announced $2.2 billion for addressing the legacy of residential schools.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments. I certainly agree that on this side of the House we are supportive of the motion to issue an apology for the survivors of the residential school situation.

However, instead of continually looking back, I think what we really need to do now is begin to look forward. I think the member addressed that beautifully in his comments.

I am certainly aware of a number of different initiatives with first nations groups that are making significant strides in improving their own economic situation. I have heard of the Membertou group in the east. I know of groups in British Columbia that have had great success.

I wonder if the member would have any specific examples from his more immediate area in northern Alberta in terms of situations that he might be able to point to where success is being achieved by simply removing some of the obstacles that are in the way of aboriginal groups finding a way out of their own difficult situations.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Kitchener—Conestoga for his work on this file as he sits on the committee and works to find solutions to some of the issues that come before that committee.

The question is with regard to the aboriginal communities in terms of the geographical area of my constituency. As many of the members of the House will know, I have great oil and natural gas reserves in my constituency. Obviously that makes for a number of things, and we do have a need for skilled tradespeople and labourers to work in our communities.

We have identified a number of roadblocks for aboriginal people in our constituency. Quite frankly, we have zero per cent unemployment as far as the general population goes, but unfortunately that is not the case in some of our aboriginal communities. We want to ensure that they can become part of this great success and this economic boom we are experiencing.

I have been working with the local college, Northern Lakes College, which reaches out to aboriginal people. I met with college officials just recently to discuss some of the things that have held them back. I am working with our provincial counterparts to try to reduce some of the things that keep individuals from remaining in school once they do enroll. On that front, we are working to try to resolve that.

However, certainly there is no question that if we can just get over some of the hurdles in terms of providing education and trades training to these individuals, they will be more likely and better suited to be able to take advantage of some of the economic opportunities we are experiencing.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kenora.

I would like to take a second and recognize our critic on this file, our colleague from Winnipeg South Centre, and our colleagues from Churchill and Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River who have also been doing a phenomenal job on a very important file.

I am pleased to speak to this motion regarding the residential schools situation in Canada. It is obviously a very important issue in Manitoba. I believe Manitoba is probably one of the provinces that was the most negatively affected of all the provinces in this country.

It is important to understand the history of residential schools and why Canada's new government should apologize.

The Canadian government played a prominent role in the development and administration of residential schools since 1874 by funding them under the Indian Act. Many churches had a significant role in operating these establishments. These churches are today taking their responsibility and have apologized for their role and they have all chastized the government for not doing the same.

In 1920, Canada amended the Indian Act by making it mandatory for children between the ages of 7 and 15 to attend residential schools, mostly for 10 months at a time. The conditions were often quite appalling and the government had a direct responsibility to improve these conditions. However, it did not make any improvements in 1909, despite Dr. Peter Bryce's report of a high number of children's deaths.

In fact, Bryce, the general medical superintendent for Indian and Northern Affairs at the time, whose reports did not even get published until 1922, stated that between 1894 and 1908, 35% to 60% of students had died in residential schools in western Canada alone. That is quite an appalling figure.These deaths were mostly due to poor living conditions, physical abuse and psychological abuse that led to suicide and other repercussions.

In the nineties, many survivors' testimonies began to surface and we heard unimaginable horror stories that contributed to the loss of aboriginal culture.

I will briefly tell the House of one survivor's experience but to please keep in mind that I have chosen the least disturbing and traumatic experience to share today. It is the story of Flora Merrick who attended the Portage la Prairie residential school in Manitoba where she stayed for 11 years. She states:

We were treated worse than animals and lived in constant fear...I cannot forget one painful memory. It occurred in 1932 when I was 15 years old. My father came to the Portage la Prairie residential school to tell my sister and I that our mother had died and to take us to the funeral. The principal of the school would not let us go with our father to the funeral.

My little sister and I cried so much, we were taken away and locked in a dark room for about two weeks...I became a totally humiliated, confused, subjugated person.

The effects of these experiences on the victims as well as on their descendants are incredible, a vicious cycle that constitutes the legacy of residential schools. This legacy is comprised of multi-generational trauma which occurs when the effects of trauma are not resolved in one generation, thus perpetuating abuse. They are also referred to as intergenerational impacts that are passed along through generations.

If the survivors are seeking a formal apology, and if they need it for their healing process, why not provide it? The compensation alone, as it will be mentioned time and time again, will not heal all of these negative effects and besides, it is a matter of principle and honour that the government may know nothing about.

We hear much about the physical and sexual abuse endured by the survivors of residential schools but what about the neglect and the unsanitary living conditions that created the spread of diseases, such as TB, and resulted in thousands of deaths, unreported deaths and unmarked graves? Many have disappeared, and that is unacceptable. Many are living with painful memories and both emotional and physical scars that have negatively impacted their lives, and that is unacceptable. Many survivors live with the shame and guilt that is not theirs, and that is unacceptable.

I am convinced that monetary compensation will not appease the pain and anger but an apology from the government could go a long way toward providing some closure to this sad period in our history. The Conservative government should issue an official apology and fulfill the commitment made by our previous government to reconcile with aboriginal peoples and admit the errors of past governments.

The previous Liberal government did not ignore all of the aforementioned issues. In 2005, we signed an accord with the Assembly of First Nations that recognized the need for reconciliation and healing. We went further, six months later, to reach a settlement intended to compensate the victims, which the Prime Minister has decided to implement, with a slight change, that of not apologizing.

We believe that the government's refusal to apologize demonstrates, yet again, the disrespect and betrayal of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples; an unjust and dangerous Conservative trend that began with the cancellation of the Kelowna accord.

As we remember, all provinces and territories had agreed to the Kelowna agreement, which was clearly outlined and defined by the Liberals, with the help of the aboriginal communities, but that the Conservatives failed to implement. The Kelowna accord would have narrowed the gaps between aboriginals and the rest of Canadians with respect to health care issues, education, housing and drinking water issues, and providing economic opportunities.

Now the Conservative government is refusing to apologize. This lack of courtesy, this inaction and stubbornness seems to be, in my opinion, the ultimate proof of the government's lack of consideration for the aboriginal peoples.

Although the Minister of Indian Affairs claims that the agreement negotiated by the previous government did not call for an apology, he should recognize that, in principle, the Liberal government did agree to it. However, this should be irrelevant. The Conservatives should take all the facts into account and just do what is right. Surely they must realize how important it is to formally apologize to the aboriginal peoples on behalf of all Canadians. They must show respect and compassion. The Prime Minister's stubbornness needs to stop.

The contradiction is quite remarkable. The Conservatives are willing to agree and pay out the Liberal compensation initiative but they are not willing to agree to an official apology.

As we all know, compensation is money given for suffering or loss. The Liberal government negotiated a compensation package as a part of its Canadian aboriginal action plan and offered the statement of reconciliation acknowledging the Canadian government's role and offering an apology to those who suffered in residential schools.

The next step is an official apology for the systematic wrongs and the permanent, long term damage done to our aboriginal peoples. The Canadian government is one of the culprits. We have claimed responsibility for a damaging policy and now it is time to take the next step and apologize. How can we say that we did it without saying that we are deeply sorry for what we have done?

The current Minister of Indian Affairs has also been reported as saying:

...the underlying objective had been to try and provide an education to aboriginal children and I think the circumstances are completely different from Maher Arar or also from the Chinese head tax.

I would like to point out to the minister that removing children by force from their homes and families does not seem to be nurturing or educational. The schools should have been closer to home. The children should have gone home more often. Siblings should have attended the same institution. The children should have been able to speak their mother tongue outside of class and, at the very least, express their culture without fear.

Those are but a few examples of what should have been the case.

It also seems a bit odd to have had those children do more labour than school work. In fact, they engaged in the schoolroom for only half a day. The children were responsible for the complete maintenance, cooking, cleaning, laundry, groundskeeping and farming, of the school for the remainder of their day. This is especially true of the 1950s, a time when residential schools were even more underfunded and relied on the forced labour of the pupils they were supposed to educate. Those chores could have been learned at home.

What about pride, social skills and the sense of belonging? Were those part of the curriculum as well?

The Conservatives need to stop lying to themselves and recognize that the underlying objective of residential schools was to assimilate and not to educate and, for that alone, they should apologize.

According to the 1857 Gradual Civilization Act, which implemented the system, the schools' purpose was to “take the Indian out of the Queen's Red Children”. In my opinion, that stated mission had serious flaws and racist undertones. If that is not worth apologizing for, I do not know what is.

As to the minister's inability to comprehend comparisons between this issue and that of Maher Arar or of the Chinese head tax, he should only know that in all these cases the state recognized its role in these tragedies and acted responsibly to mend the situation and reconcile with the victims.

If that is still too difficult for him and his team to grasp, they should just take our word for it and apologize or, better yet, they should listen to the aboriginal citizens they represent. These people are asking their Prime Minister to apologize.

The national first nations leader, Phil Fontaine, is also demanding an official apology to the survivors of Indian residential schools.

I would suggest that our Conservative colleagues across the way rethink their position. Well, actually the Prime Minister does all their thinking for them so I would ask the Prime Minister to review the abuse and the improper treatment imposed on our aboriginal peoples and offer a formal apology.

I certainly assume that the House will take its responsibility this evening and apologize, and the Prime Minister, in a minority situation, should take his lead from a Parliament created by Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the debate today, we cannot help but be sympathetic to the horrific things that have gone on. The residential schools is one issue but a variety of things have gone on in the last 100 years that many of us as Canadians are not necessarily proud of. I do not think asking for an apology from the government is a big thing. I think, in many ways, the current government and the previous government moved to try to correct some of the injustices.

I think the words “I am sorry” from parliamentarians and the government is a big thing for a lot of the victims and families that continue to suffer, as my colleague has pointed out.

I would ask my colleague a question about the ongoing future of many of these young people who continue to struggle and who I see in the city of Toronto and in the area that I represent. What else can we be doing to try to overcome the horrific injustice that happened to many of these families?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, the first thing is that I am hearing, in a lot of the speeches from the other side, about what they are doing for the aboriginal community financially. The debate today is not about investing so much money. It is about an apology.

I agree with the member. The government does have a responsibility to apologize when people are wronged, whether it is in the present or the past. Hopefully, that is what this Parliament will do this evening.

I think there are very important programs. In the city of Winnipeg it is a huge issue right now. There are aboriginal people with fetal alcohol syndrome and children are being abandoned. I think this is a legacy of what we have created over the years.

I think all governments in the past, including our own, are guilty of not having done enough. We need to listen to what the aboriginal people have to say, and the Kelowna agreement did exactly that. It was us listening to what they wanted. That $5 million agreement was a major step toward finally respecting the needs of our aboriginal communities.

I believe that a return to the Kelowna accord, with all it was doing in health, economic development and education, is the way to go. I do not think we can forget the question of the aboriginal situation in urban areas. We talk a lot about reserves but I can say that the aboriginal situation in urban areas is very severe and I hope that we will deal with those issues as well.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I want to read one more small paragraph from the letter I quoted about 20 minutes ago from Andrew Hutchison, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, to the Prime Minister.

The Anglican Church of Canada was complicit in implementing the policy of assimilation. A total of 26 Indian Residential Schools were run by the Anglican Church, functioning as an agent of the Government of Canada. We are ashamed of this part of our history. In 1993 our former Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, offered an apology on behalf of the whole church for the harm done by the residential schools system. Here is an excerpt from that apology.

I would appreciate it if the member would comment on what I just read and, if the member did not finish his speech, he may have other things that he wants to comment on.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think that is very important. I was very much involved, not in the negotiations, but in the discussions. In my riding of Saint Boniface, a lot of the churches were in Saint Boniface. It is interesting to hear that some of the first people to accept that they did do inappropriate things were the churches.

I had discussions with the Oblates in my riding. It is important to note, however, that not everybody is guilty. The churches were hired to do a job and it is important to note and to put it on the record that a lot of people were there for the right reasons and doing the right thing. I know a lot of good people who dedicated their lives to the aboriginal community and did a fantastic job. I know Chief Fontaine says that as well.

I believe the churches were there in a secondary role because it basically was the government that organized all this. If all the churches have enough heart and integrity to apologize, and I believe they all did individually, for the wrongs that were caused, then it seems to me that the government should certainly take a lead from that and not be afraid to apologize.

We know the Prime Minister has a difficult time apologizing but I think he would be seen as a bigger person if he did apologize. We are hoping that during the vote this evening the Prime Minister will apologize to these people who are such an important part of our communities.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to this motion.

I would first like to take a moment to thank the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for the initiative and his relentlessness in demanding that the Conservative government fulfill the commitment to apologize to the survivors of the residential schools.

In November 2005, the Liberal government reached a historic agreement intended to begin the healing process for the survivors. This agreement was comprehensive. Compensation for survivors, the creation of a truth and reconciliation process, and funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation were the pillars of this agreement, but most importantly for the survivors, whom I have had a chance to meet, was the inclusion of an apology.

Someone in this cold heartless government needs to sit and hold hands with the elders as they recount their painful stories. They believe that we can start over. They want to start the healing and they want to move on. They deserve what was promised, a simple human apology from the government, acknowledging their pain and suffering, but the Conservative government has backed away from this important part of the agreement. It has refused to apologize.

I would like to share with members of this House the experience I have had conveyed to me by my constituents. I have had the opportunity to sit down with many of the survivors who have relayed to me their stories of being taken away from their families, from their communities, from their culture, and from the only way of life that they knew, to be brought to these residential schools without fully understanding what was taking place. In some cases, children would have been taken from some of the remote reserves, never having been exposed to too much beyond their own communities, and this only added to their trauma.

In the Kenora riding, there are a number of large communities that are in the northern, fly-in area of my riding, and I will mention some of these now to explain later. There is Sandy Lake with Chief Pardemus Anishnabie, Bearskin Lake with Chief Rodney McKay, Big Trout Lake with Chief Donnie Morris, and Pikangikum with Chief Charlie Pascal. Many of these people know the pain first-hand.

Most of the reserves in the riding would have been a distance from town in the southern part. The remote reserves are accessible only by air, so though it may have been possible for parents in the south to visit the school and visit the children, if the schools would allow it, it was almost impossible for the parents of the remote reserves to visit, only adding to the anxiety of the situation.

It is difficult for me to imagine my children living apart from me, much less forcibly removed from my community or my home. Not having a say in their education or their well-being, and not being able to visit them would be extremely painful. If we can recognize that a policy such as this would be wrong today, why is it impossible for the government to acknowledge that it was wrong in the past?

The government would have us believe that an apology is not necessary because the children would have benefited from the education that these institutions provided. This is only another example of the pattern of blatant disregard and misunderstanding that the government has toward aboriginal people.

The first example of this pattern came when the government cancelled the historic Kelowna accord. This accord gave hope to aboriginal Canadians that they were going to be a part of Canadian society and that the gap between first nations and non-first nations Canadians could some day be narrowed. First nations people were hopeful for their children's futures, very different from the experiences that they had to endure themselves.

Residential schools survivors were placed in institutions of sickness. The government would rarely provide enough resources, so that every child would be provided with the basic necessities and hunger was common. So not only were these children taken from their families, they were placed in unhealthy, overcrowded institutions.

How could the government not acknowledge that these well documented conditions existed? By not apologizing, it is doing just that. It is saying to the survivors that their experiences did not matter, and this is shameful.

I would say to the government that the residential schools were more than boarding schools. They were a place where the government carried out its policy of assimilation and the destruction of the aboriginal culture, a culture that existed and persisted long before the Europeans arrived on this continent, and with a relatively short timeframe, the Government of Canada sought to destroy it.

I have always found it ironic how the Government of Canada thought it was necessary to educate aboriginal Canadians, considering the vast knowledge that aboriginal Canadians had to offer us. Take the environment as an example. Sustainability is a word that we have been hearing a lot of in the recent years. The environmental degradation of our planet has reached an alarming level, but sustainability is a concept that is a foundation of aboriginal culture. The need to respect the land is paramount. Non-native cultures are only waking up to this concept at a time when it is almost too late for us.

We may have been in a different situation had we only listened to the knowledge that was being offered to us by the first nation aboriginal communities, but the government is incapable of listening to them, and that is the problem. If it would only listen to the survivors, it could not deny that an apology is necessary to start the healing process.

The government has decided to perpetuate the cycle of mistrust and that has been devastating to these communities.

This is a black mark on Canadian history, one that has left a legacy of despair and suffering for aboriginal Canadians. We need a government that is willing to move forward. We need a government that understands that to acknowledge the mistakes of the past it must take the first step and apologize.

Consider some of the situations some of these communities had to endure. Whether it was 100 miles away by road from the school or a 1,000 miles away by air, families were separated. Parents did not know how their children would fare. Communications were almost non-existent back in the days when this started, and for many in the remote sites, communication is still difficult.

These families who were separated need an apology. Really, this is what started the era of mistrust between some of these communities, the ones in the south and the remote ones in the north, and mistrust of the outside world and other religions. They did not know, everything that happened to them would be a problem. Communities started to split apart, some for religious reasons.

Today, as I travel in northern Ontario I can still see those divides over some of the issues that were created by residential schools. Nibinamik, Neskantaga and North Spirit are communities that split off from the original six large communities in the north and generally split along religious lines by some of the difficulties that they were trying to work through.

There are many instances where not only families were separated, entire communities were separated from each other as they fought to strive and deal with some of the situations. These communities, when we think of it, had been together for centuries. For literally centuries they had managed to co-exist, work together and live together. The residential schools have driven them apart forever.

The mistrust of the outside communities and some of the religions is very apparent in my riding. We have communities that only follow one religion and basically have split off from other communities, simply because of the pain and suffering through residential schools. Really, they are ready to start over. They need and want a process that will allow them to put this behind them and allow them to start the healing process. What they need to start this off is an apology.

What about today's problems? When we consider what is going on in some of the communities and some of the challenges they have of distance, geography and language barriers, now they have the challenge of generations that grew up in the residential schools and the damage that was done to the family unit.

Those children were taken out of their homes or close-knit communities. Now they are back raising their own families. It is not just a situation of one group, one generation, it is more than that. We continue the problem every day as these former children of residential schools raise their own families. So many were damaged for life and the damage continues. We need to stop the damage. We need to start the healing process that we all talk about. We really need to have an apology from the government, so we could start moving the issue forward.

The children who came from residential schools were sent back to their own communities. They were further divided and it put more distance between them. Poplar Hill, North Caribou and Fort Hope were communities that split off because the children who came home to raise families in either community were damaged by the residential school issues. All of them, in every community, cannot understand the reason why the government cannot apologize.

There was an agreement put in place by the former Liberal government. We wanted to do the right thing. We wanted to make sure the process was followed, that the three pillars were followed. We wanted to ensure an apology was issued by the Prime Minister, so the residents knew that we were starting the process.

What do we have now? We have no apology. We have a process that is only partly completed and we have families, communities, elders, grandparents, and leaders of the community that see that the process will not be fully completed. They really want to hear that the Government of Canada is for them. They really want to know that the Prime Minister will apologize which will allow the process to start. We do not need any more problems. We need these families to make their futures brighter and their family lives stronger.

Now, when we actually finalize the Liberal solution to the dark days of residential schools, all we are asking for is one simple last thing for the Prime Minister to do, which is to apologize. Aboriginal Canadians were forced out of their homes, their communities. They were forced to go to a place they did not want to go to and forced to participate in something they did not want to do at the time. They are all asking the same question, what can we do now? We can apologize.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the previous speaker's comments. One of the statements he made is that this government has shown a blatant disregard for aboriginal people. I find that ironic coming from a member of the Liberal government that was in power for 13 years and could have addressed many of these issues.

I want the member to know that I requested to serve on the aboriginal affairs committee out of a desire to see improvement in the lives of all of our aboriginal peoples. How can the member indicate that we have a blatant disregard for aboriginal people considering the number of initiatives that the minister has already implemented?

There is the home ownership concept where aboriginal people will begin to build their own equity and have a sense of pride in ownership and investment, and the initiative to reduce the number of high risk communities. Recently, we received a report that showed that the number of high risk contaminated water communities has been reduced from 197 to 93 in the space of one year. There is the initiative to implement Bill C-44 which will end 30 years of discrimination on reserve.

There are these and many others I could outline indicating our support for aboriginal peoples. How can the member honestly say to the Canadian people that this government has shown a blatant disregard for aboriginal peoples?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, the disregard is shown very clearly in many ways particularly in the programs the government cancelled, especially the Kelowna accord. That was a major step backward for all aboriginal Canadians.

I find it amazing that my colleague tries to take credit for reducing some of the backlog in the water issues, something the Liberal government worked on. In my first 18 months here I had the opportunity to bring many of those issues forward. A lot of the issues the government takes credit for were in the process before.

I applaud the government for every effort it takes to make communities better, but it has to be inclusive. It cannot pick and choose what it wants to do. It has to do it for everyone. I appreciate any steps forward. I know the member works hard on the aboriginal affairs committee. I appreciate that kind of work, but we have to take everybody forward. We have to involve everybody

The first step is to apologize, put the issue of residential schools firmly and finally behind us, and start the healing process.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to read another compelling paragraph by the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Andrew Hutchison, on March 27 in a letter to the Prime Minister. It states:

The Anglican Church of Canada has been participating in the current Alternative Dispute Resolution Process. We have been sending a church representative to ADR Hearings in the role of listener, to hear and receive the story of the survivor, and to offer an apology on behalf of the church. We have learned that for many survivors, the apology is at least as important as the financial compensation, if not more so. People whose lives have been shattered through no fault of their own, are immensely helped by having their suffering acknowledged and validated, and by hearing the words of apology.

I wonder if the member would care to comment.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, that says a lot. It says that while an apology is not the biggest word we could use, it is a beginning to the end. We can see how really important something can be. We just heard mention that financial compensation is not the answer. The answer is a simple human apology to start this process.

I believe, as I stand in the House, that this issue is not going to be closed until there is an apology issued. At some point, some day, an apology is going to be issued. We hope it will be tonight by the Prime Minister of Canada. If not, it is going to take another elected government to make that apology, and that will happen because that will be the beginning of the end and the beginning of the healing process.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I know the member has something else to say, so I will let him say it.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just cannot fathom why we cannot move forward. We all know how difficult constituency work can be in our ridings. People understand what is coming forward on the matter of the residential schools issue. We have to tell them that everything is going to be done and resolved but that we cannot get an apology.

I look into these faces every time. I have one of the largest populations of first nations in my riding. It is a common issue that is saved for the end of meetings by the elders. They want to know when Canada is going to step up to the plate, end this, and apologize through the Prime Minister.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to begin with a story, but first I want to talk about what happened in the 1960s.

In 1960, I was living in Amos, where I am from. It is a small municipality that, at the time, was the regional centre for education. In Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Amos was where students went to learn the liberal professions. They were going to be lawyers, priests, notaries and so on.

Not far from Amos was the little town of Saint-Marc-de-Figuery. Around the 1950s—I am not sure of the exact date—the federal government decided to build what we called the Indian residential school there, on the edge of a lake.

We here are all young. We can remember when, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we played with the Indian children, and that was okay. Near Amos there was an Algonquin village called Pikogan. We wondered why the Indian children were taken to the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery instead of to Pikogan, close to Amos, which also had schools. We did not know. I did not know.

But not knowing is no excuse for not acknowledging today what happened at that little residential school. This is what happened there.

At the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery, the students were Indians. They were called that. They were even called redskins. They were taken from Obidjuan, an aboriginal village closer to Lac-Saint-Jean. At the time, the Grand Trunk railway connected Cochrane, Ontario, to Quebec City and Montreal. The railway passed through the Gouin reservoir, where the Algonquin people fished and hunted.

What happened in the 1950s and the 1960s? At the end of the summer, someone from the Department of Indian Affairs would travel by train, arrive in the villages, collect the Indian children and take them to the Indian residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery.

They even collected the Indian children from Pikogan, an Algonquin village five kilometres from Amos, and took them to the residential school so that all the Indians would be cared for and educated at the same place and in the same way.

What happened to the Indian children when they were taken to the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery? I can attest to that, because I saw it. We were young. At that time, in the 1960s, I was in scouts. We would go to the residential school to see the Indians and talk to them about scouts. When we arrived we saw that they were all Indian children. They all had black hair and it was short. The first thing that happened when they arrived at the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery was that their hair was cut off, under the pretext that they had lice.

Their heads were completely shaven and kept that way for the entire school year. These children were taken to the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery in August or September and they stayed there until the end of the school year. That was where they were educated.

Here is what used to be done. First their hair was cut. Then their traditional clothing was taken away—because the authorities at the time felt this needed to be done—and they were given white man's clothing. What else happened? They were prohibited from speaking Algonquin. I am talking about the residential school that I knew, the one in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery, near Amos. Their Indian clothing was taken away and they were formally prohibited from speaking Indian, as it was called at the time. They had to speak French. All the classes were in French. They were taken away at age five or six from the Obidjuan community or whichever community they were from along the railway line. There were Indians in Senneterre, Amos and all over. The Algonquin were taken to these residential schools to be educated. Their hair was cut, they were prohibited from speaking their language and, most of all, they were prohibited from thinking like Indians. From the age of five they had to think like white people because apparently we were intellectually superior and we, the whites, had to educate them.

I hope the picture I have just evoked here in this House—a picture that is true—will call to mind certain events that happened in Europe just a few decades ago. I would not go so far as to use the word “genocide”. I will not use that word, although I could not be blamed for thinking it. In fact, the Kistabish, the Mohawks, the McDougalls I now know have all lost their language and their culture. They were subjected to things that I will not describe here in this House, horrible things, such as rapping their knuckles because they ate with their fingers.

When they were in their communities for the entire summer with their parents and elders, they learned to hunt and fish. They learned how to gut a fish, how to trap a rabbit, hare, deer or moose, or how to feed wolves, because they learned from the wolves where to find the deer. Yet, they lost all of this as soon as they went to the residential school.

I am sure you can imagine what happened. The children were five, six, seven or eight years old, and we know this happened every year. What happened? Horrible things happened in that Indian residential school. Here in this House, I will not talk about the sexual assaults endured by the Kistabish, the Mohawks, and the McDougalls, and I could name others. They went through some tremendous difficulties, which they hid for the most part. They could not talk about it to their parents.

What did Jackie Kistabish say when she returned to Pikogan? She said everything was fine, that it was not so bad. Her mother and grandmother were surprised to see Jackie or my friend Kistabish come home with their hair cut up to their ears. That was not the aboriginal way. At that time, they typically had long hair, although the children lost their hair in September. Their hair was cut off or shaved. When they returned home in June, they did not even understand their parents and, worse, their parents did not understand them. That is the worst of everything that was done.

I am talking about children of five or six, but this went on for about 10 years, until they were 15 or 16. They lost their whole culture, say the Anishnabe Algonquins from Pikogan and Winneway and Lac-Simon and Obidjuan.

I could name them all, and I will tell you why. I grew up to become a criminal lawyer. It is strange, but my clients included the Kistabish, McDougalls, Mohawks and many others. They wound up in court, and no one could understand why they had become alcoholic and violent. They could not go back to their home communities, places like Pikogan, Obidjuan or Pointe-Bleue.

Some time ago, I asked a question of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I received the answer today. These are recent statistics. In 2001-02, 738 aboriginal people were admitted to penitentiary to serve sentences of more than two years; in 2002-03, there were 775; in 2003-04, 752; in 2004-05, 802; in 2005-06, 891. These individuals are generally in their thirties and are serving their first sentence. Why? Maybe because they were unable to live in their home communities. Imagine their parents. We are talking about the 1950s and 1960s. These people were deprived of their rights and their culture. They were no longer able to communicate with their own parents because they were forbidden from speaking their own language.

Since 1876, 150,000 aboriginals have experienced what I just described and suffered the hell that was residential schools. Today, there are just 87,000 survivors of these residential schools. Unfortunately, they are disappearing at an average of 30 to 50 a week. Today these people are 70 to 75 years old. Some, but very few, are slightly younger at ages 55 to 60. Most of them are between 65 and 85 and they remember.

I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of these seniors—because they are seniors now—and they congratulate this House for taking provisions to resolve the residential schools issue by financially compensating the communities, and more specifically the aboriginals who experienced this hell. However, I think we need to go further. I am making an appeal in this House today. I am asking that we stop thinking in terms of political parties. Indeed, I am from the Bloc and yes, there are Liberals, our friends the New Democrats and the Conservatives. However, in light of this terrible experience aboriginals had, I think we could pass the motion today.

The motion of the Liberal member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River asks 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, and so forth.

In my speech, I do not want to blame the government for its inaction nor blame the previous government, which may have done nothing for 13 years; that is not what we are debating. Today, the issue is that the first nations experienced horrible things on our soil. We must not only recognize that fact and compensate them for it, but I believe we should also apologize. We did not know. We did not think this was going on. We never believed that this could have gone so far.

Unfortunately this went as far as complete assimilation of a people and as far as offensive sexual assault against children between the ages of 5 and 10. One of them told me that at the Indian residential school he saw a young boy—whom I will not name, but whom I know personally—leave the brother superior's room bleeding from a place that decency prevents me from naming in this House. But we are old enough to understand that what he experienced was appalling. This went on night after night for days and months.

How do we think these people survived for all these years? For they are people, despite the fact that for many years, right into the 1950s, some believed that Indians were not people.

Enough is enough. The Bloc Québécois and I think that the House should say enough is enough.

Apologizing will not erase what happened, nor will it make these communities forget what they went through. Suicide rates are high. One man told me that his father committed suicide and that he did not understand why until his mother told him what his father had told her—until his mother told him that his father had gone to the Saint-Marc-de-Figuery Indian residential school.

This kind of thing happened all over Canada. We have to acknowledge it, and I believe the day will come when Canada will admit that it made a mistake. Canada must apologize for what it did to the first nations, and I think the time to do so is now.

I think that with all due respect, the first nations now have everything they need to take charge of their future and to grow. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, of which I am a member, is studying bills, such as Bill C-44. It is not perfect, but are working to improve it.

We acknowledge the rights they have won. They had to fight the government for their rights.

I will end by saying that overall, the report submitted to the committee was based on recognizing aboriginal peoples as self-governing nations that occupy a special place in Canada. However, before we can truly acknowledge that, the House must apologize sincerely to residential school survivors for the trauma they experienced.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba


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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue for his impassioned speech. He obviously has a lot of personal experience on this dark chapter of Canadian history. I thank him for what he has presented today.

As people in the House realize now, the Minister of Indian Affairs indicated this morning that members of the Conservative Party would support this motion. This is an excellent step that we are taking today.

Does the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue feel that the Government of Canada, subsequent to the 2006 election, has not acted with haste on this important topic? Have we not taken the agreement, which negotiated by a previous government, and ratified it as soon as possible? Would he not agree that this action was taken as quick as possible?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not wish this House to politicize the extremely sensitive issue of residential schools.

I agree that the previous government and the current government did take steps to acknowledge the facts. We worked for that. It was the first nations in particular that forced the government to realize what happened in Indian residential schools. I do not want this issue to be politicized. As an aside, I did not even know that the Chinese had to pay a head tax to enter Canada.

With regard to the first nations, I did not know what went on when I was young and went to the Indian residential school to see the young Indians whose hair had been cut and who spoke French.

This matter must not be politicized. Let us acknowledge that action has been taken. There is one step that must be taken and that is a sincere acknowledgement of the abuses perpetrated. Perhaps an apology from this government is required, but what I think the first nations are waiting for is an apology from the House.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential SchoolsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue for an excellent well-thought out speech with lots of experiences. Because he is a lawyer, I will quote from a court. However, before I do, I want to congratulate the churches. I think all of them have apologized for these harmful actions in which they were complicit. They are doing their best to try to help out with the healing.

I will quote one last paragraph of the speech by Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. In this paragraph he notes that it is not only his church that has asked for the apology. He states:

Noting that we are not alone in requesting that an apology be made, I quote from the judgement issued by the Honourable Chief Justice Brenner, in the Supreme Court of British Columbia: “[35] Although I am making no order and am issuing no directions, I would respectfully request counsel for Canada to ask that the Prime Minister give consideration to issuing a full and unequivocal apology on behalf of the people of Canada in the House of Common.

Does the member believe that it is only the members of Parliament in the House of Commons who would like this apology, or are there other people who have asked for the apology?