Mr. Speaker, in the 1973-74 school year, when she was six years old and went to St. Joseph Mission residential school for the first time, a young Phyllis wore a beautiful orange shirt her grandmother had just bought her.
Just imagine being five or six years old and getting a present from your grandmother, and think about what a special gift that would be.
As soon as she got to the residential school, officials there stripped off her clothes and took away her orange shirt, and she never saw it again.
That should be enough to spur us to action to try to repair the damage caused, as is our ultimate duty. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories like that of young Phyllis. Thousands of children like Phyllis had everything taken away from them—the light that was inside them, the peace and love they had once enjoyed, the great and noble values of their nation that already defined who they were, the comfort provided by their families.
That is what hurts the most: when everything that comforts us and defines us is lost. These victims and their families endured immense, terrible grief. This huge void will remain if we do not find a way to help heal the memories of first nations peoples,
Often the best way to fill such a void is to draw on the teachings of our elders. From my grandfather, I have kept the memory of an expression that has always stayed with me and, believe it or not, is directly related to Bill C-5.
On this particular Friday, where there seems to be unanimity, I will share the origin of this expression. My grandfather Bouchard had his rituals. A 90-year old proud retired seaman and farmer, he spent his afternoons sitting on his rocking chair on the porch of his home on Chemin des Coudriers. Every day after his midday prayers he would be joined by his old friend and best audience who was nicknamed, and I am not joking, “Canada”. Grand-papa would tell legendary stories of treacherous winter crossings in an ice canoe, his anecdotes about horses chomping at the bit and his tall tales of the water's edge. He had an endless supply of these stories to the great delight of tourists who would greet him with, “Hello. Your stories are great. We do not often hear stories told that way these days. Can we record you?”
So many people would gather around the porch that sometimes there would be a bottleneck in the street. One day a tall, tanned man, with very dark eyes and hair, stopped, listened for a long time and took a great interest in the way my grandfather spoke, in the accent typical of Île-aux-Coudres. The indigenous man approached him and said, “Memory is a treasure that allows us to build a future of peace. It is most important that you tend to it, sir.”
My grandfather repeated this phrase every day until he died. He was not ill and, as he liked to say, he died from living. His indigenous friend's phrase were his last words to us: “Memory is a treasure that allows us to build a future of peace.”
There is a good chance that the memory we are referencing today in the House and that bears the heavy burden of the past is the most valued tool that will help us take another step, and then another, and then others towards this reconciliation that is often mentioned but too infrequently made.
There were 3,200 children who died in residential schools and who were abused in every sense of the word. Their bodies, their hearts and their spirits were abused. What about the families and parents who had their children snatched from their arms? What about all the wounds of the past, but also those of today, that are very real, absurd and so sad?
Our memories harbour a thousand and one reasons, and it is up to us to make the present better.
Bill C-5 is a small step, compared to everything that needs to be acknowledged, reconciled and repaired, but it is a meaningful one. We hope to see many more steps, but this is at least something.
The idea of voting in favour of a national day for truth and reconciliation will be met with arguments about the economic costs of legislating another statutory holiday. However, how can we put a price on the more than 150,000 children and families who were torn apart and stripped of the very nature of their existence?
I want to address all of the parents here today. How much are our children's lives worth? What price would we put on their mental and physical health, their laughter, their joy, and their hearts? How much is that worth? Let us think about it. How much will this legislation cost? We can compare.
Let us get back to what really matters. I want to read an excerpt from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada:
The federal government's policy of assimilation sought to break the chain of memory that connected the hearts, minds, and spirits of Aboriginal children to their families, communities, and nations.
Survivors shared their memories with Canada and the world so that the truth could no longer be denied. Survivors also remembered so that other Canadians could learn from these hard lessons of the past. They want Canadians [and Quebeckers] to know, to remember, to care, and [most importantly] to change.
In order for us to know, to remember, and to care about what can be done to bring about deep and lasting change, we must designate this day dedicated to truth and reconciliation. The Bloc Québécois has repeatedly pledged to be an ally of first nations peoples. That is why we will vote for this bill in principle, because it is part of the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. It responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations because it will keep the memory of the tragedy experienced by residential school survivors alive and foster an ongoing public dialogue about our national history.
As part of its work, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada refined its definition of reconciliation, and that, in and of itself, is an important sign of progress and a willingness to act. These principles, which can guide us toward reconciliation, are based on and supported by four pillars. They are the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation, and the guarantee of non-recurrence, which is the ultimate goal of this process.
This day should be an impetus for us to carry out our individual duty on the other 364 days of the year by carefully assessing the importance of our own actions in fulfilling our obligation to wholeheartedly, honestly and diligently participate in the advancement and improvement of the quality of life of first nations and peace and harmony between our respective nations. That is what it means to take care of something, and caring heals.
In closing, I invite everyone to take out their cellphones, open the “Notes” app and type in this precious memento from my grandfather Bouchard: “Memory is a treasure that allows us to build a future of peace.”