moved that Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging that the House sits on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe.
It is a great honour to rise today and speak to Bill C-5, an important bill that seeks to create a new federal statutory holiday, a national day for truth and reconciliation. It is important that we recognize and thank Georgina Jolibois for bringing this bill forward in the last Parliament, but more importantly for being a strong advocate for indigenous rights and a voice for indigenous peoples not only in her riding, but across all of Canada. I also want to thank and acknowledge the hon. member for Burnaby South for supporting this important piece of legislation.
I have had the honour to speak in the House on our country's path toward reconciliation, and I know that reconciliation does not belong to a single political party or single individual. It is a shared responsibility for each and every one of us.
This bill is an important step on the journey that we are taking together. I am proud to work with members of all political parties on this legislative measure.
Some members of the House may have had the privilege of hearing the testimony given before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage when it examined Georgina Jolibois's bill in the previous Parliament. The testimony we heard strengthened our conviction that it is important to pass this bill.
Much of that moving and powerful testimony focused on the potential benefits of a national day for truth and reconciliation. For example, National Chief Robert Bertrand of the Congress for Aboriginal Peoples said:
A statutory holiday will be an important opportunity to reflect upon the diverse heritage and culture of our people, which remain so vitally important to the social fabric of this country. In doing so, each and every one of us will be working towards the reality of true reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
Similarly, Mrs. Theresa Brown, the chair of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation's Survivors Circle, spoke powerfully about the importance of a national day of reflection for residential school survivors. She said:
A special, separate day when our grandchildren could go out and lay a wreath, lay tobacco, pray and remember is important to me and other survivors. It is also a time for this country to remember and say “never again”. We want to know that when we are gone, our spirit of truth and reconciliation will live on in our future generations.
Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, testified as follows:
...the creation of a statutory holiday provides a greater weight and allows for more education and a bigger platform for us. If you think about holidays, statutory holidays, and how they've been allocated over time, they have been colonial in nature and they have thought about the founding of this country, not necessarily about indigenous peoples within Canada. This would be a marked departure from that legacy.
He went on to say the following:
This holiday can go a long way to making sure that from a very early age, all Canadians have a positive association with first nations, Inuit and Métis.
Mr. Obed's first point speaks to the importance and status of national holidays in Canada, and I would like to remind this chamber that the act of creating a new statutory holiday is, in itself, quite significant. Right now there are nine federally legislated statutory holidays in Canada. A national day for truth and reconciliation would join in rank of importance with holidays like Labour Day and Remembrance Day, highlighting the significance and scope of this day.
During the testimony we heard, many groups expressed points of view similar to those I just quoted about the meaning and impact of a day of commemoration.
The residential school system was indeed a national tragedy. Over the span of 130 years, more than 150,000 first nations, Inuit and Métis children were placed in residential schools. These children were forcibly separated from their parents, their homes, their culture, their language, their land, their relations and their communities.
This day is important. It is an opportunity to reflect on the harm inflicted on first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples throughout our history and to this day by the legacy of residential schools. We are working to repair that harm by responding the the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's calls to action.
Call to action number 80 calls upon our government to:
establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
Today, we want to answer that call to action.
After careful consultations and respectful consideration, September 30 was the date chosen deliberately for its significance. Currently, September 30 is the date of the grassroots movement called Orange Shirt Day, started by the formidable Phyllis Webstad. It was named after the orange shirt that Mrs. Webstad was given by her grandmother on her first day of residential school, only to have it forcibly taken away from her upon her arrival. Her orange shirt is symbolic of the vibrant cultures, languages, traditions, identities and childhoods that were repressed within the residential school system. It is also a symbol of survivors like Phyllis and the monumental efforts by first nations, Inuit and Métis in protecting and revitalizing their cultures and languages for future generations.
From testimony in committee we learned that September is a symbolically painful time for indigenous families and communities. Every year during the month of September children were separated from their loved ones and their community to go back to school. It is important to acknowledge this pain with a solemn day to remember the past, reflect on it and learn together to gain a better knowledge of the history and legacy of residential schools.
It has always been my belief that one of the pillars of reconciliation is education. Establishing a national day for truth and reconciliation is education in action. For all those living in Canada, this would be a day of commemoration, but also a day to learn about a dark chapter of our past. It would serve as a reminder to never forget and never veer from the path toward reconciliation.
Students still go back to school every year in September. The proposed date, September 30, for a national day of truth and reconciliation not only has symbolic importance, but it also provides an opportunity for learning within our schools about our journey toward reconciliation. Teachers across the country will be able to build on discussions about residential schools that are already under way in many schools. Families will have a reason to talk about reconciliation at home. Canadians will have a day to reflect on our history and our values as a society.
I like to think about the day when schools across the country will mark this holiday with ceremonies, as a day of learning. I hope they will invite elders or survivors, indigenous knowledge holders and educators to come into classrooms to talk with the children.
I think of the way that schools across the country use Remembrance Day as an educational tool for children of all ages to learn about the historic conflicts that Canada has been involved in, to understand the horrors of war and, above all, to honour the women and men who have sacrificed so much in serving this country. I believe that a new day for truth and reconciliation is an excellent learning opportunity for this equally important part of Canada's history.
Unfortunately, only half of Canadians know the history of the Indian residential school system and its long-term effects on indigenous peoples.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states that too many Canadians know little or nothing about the the deep historical roots of these conflicts. This lack of historical knowledge has serious consequences for first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and for Canada as a whole. Setting aside a special day each year to take the time to acknowledge this painful history will help everyone learn and understand more about the realities of the residential school era. This is a positive step on our path toward reconciliation. This type of commemoration is a collective, public act of recognition.
This will also be a day of listening and healing for the entire country. Together we can continue our conversation on social justice.
As Dr. Marie Wilson, former commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, noted in her testimony to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage:
It makes it everybody's call to attention, call to remembrance, and call to respect, and hopefully...there is ongoing education about it. We don't just talk about wars; we talk about peace in the context of talking about wars. In the context of residential schools, we can talk about mistakes of the past and what we are trying to do to address things going forward.
Mr. Tim Argetsinger, political advisor to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, agreed. He said:
I think there's a way of achieving that balance where the focus of a day could be a focus on the past human rights abuses that indigenous peoples have experienced and have worked to overcome. At the same time, it could be the day to focus on the agency that we all have to take positive actions to address some of the challenges that flow from those past experiences.
I want to underscore that reconciliation and advancing indigenous rights remain a constant priority for our government. Some people will say that a single day will not resolve the horrors of the past and will do nothing to improve the unacceptable living conditions that still exist in some communities to this day. I believe, however, that remembering the past is an effective way to ensure that history is not repeated.
Systemic racism and overt racism exist in Canada. They are not and will never be acceptable. Recently, we were reminded of the horrific consequences they can have. The events that preceded the death of Joyce Echaquan shocked us all. They outraged us, but should not surprise us. They are not isolated events.
Addressing systemic racism in all our institutions requires active listening, strong public policy and making more equitable representation at all levels of society. Honouring the victims of institutional racism, whatever form it may have taken throughout history, is a first step. Making sure that these atrocities against indigenous peoples cease completely is our everyday priority.
This national day for truth and reconciliation will be an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on and question their own individual biases and assumptions. Working on them will require a continuous and collective endeavour beyond September 30.
I implore members of the House to listen carefully to the testimony of the survivors and indigenous leaders who are telling us how a national day of recognition would help heal the wounds of the past, honour survivors and move forward together towards reconciliation.
We must also continue to work tirelessly to quickly resolve the many problems faced by indigenous communities today. Access to drinking water, for example, is vital.
Our government is committed to eliminating all boil water advisories, in the long term, in first nations communities living on reserve. We recognize and affirm the right of communities to have access to safe drinking water. As a result of this commitment, 95 boil water advisories have been lifted since 2015.
In the preceding parliament, we passed an important law to reform child and family services with the goal of reducing the number of indigenous children in care. The law also allows first nations, the Inuit and the Métis to have full authority over child services so they can make the decisions that will ensure the well-being of their children, families and communities. There is a crisis in indigenous communities. Too many children are taken away from their homes and communities.
We are also committed to the reclamation, revitalization and strengthening of indigenous languages. A historic piece of legislation, the Indigenous Languages Act, received royal assent on June 21, 2019. This legislation was developed in collaboration with indigenous peoples. It recognizes the language rights of indigenous peoples and sets out how we will support these languages.
Canadian Heritage is working collaboratively with indigenous partners to implement the Indigenous Languages Act. The department is consulting with indigenous governments, governing bodies and a variety of organizations on the appointment of a commissioner and three directors of indigenous languages, as well as the development of an indigenous languages funding model. These are important successes, yet we can all agree that there is so much more we need to do.
I look forward to continuing to work hard with indigenous peoples across the country to make further progress on these and other crucial issues.
Canada has embarked upon a path to reconciliation. With each step, Canadians are able to better understand the lives, challenges and points of view of indigenous peoples from the past and present.
In introducing this bill to create a national day for truth and reconciliation, the Government of Canada is hoping to encourage people across the country to learn about indigenous history, come together and get involved to support these efforts and help their communities move forward on the path to reconciliation.
Although we all have different journeys and experiences, every Canadian has a unique and essential role to play as we walk together on this path toward reconciliation and a stronger, more resilient Canada.
I think it fitting to close with the words of Ms. Georgina Jolibois, who said, “People in Canada are capable of mourning the past while also celebrating the present and looking toward the future.” I urge all members to support this legislation so that our country can honour survivors and mark the history of residential schools with a day for recognition, reflection, commemoration, education and engagement.
We must recognize that others have come before us to chart this path. The commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave so much of themselves to ensure that the voices of others were heard. Those who testified, leaders and indigenous communities across Canada, as well as current and former parliamentarians, including Georgina Jolibois, called for a national day, as is set out in this bill. I thank them all.