Mr. Speaker, let me start by congratulating you on your 10-year anniversary in that chair as Deputy Speaker and your distinguished service as a parliamentarian in this chamber, respected by every one of your 337 colleagues.
I want to speak today about something that is critically important, not just now but all of the time, that has come to the forefront given this opposition day motion that we are discussing, and that is the events at Kamloops in terms of the shocking discovery of the mass grave of 215 children who belonged to the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
After hearing about it on the radio, and the sheer magnitude, my first reaction was simply one of horror, and I had to explain to my kids why I was reacting the way that I was.
My second response was as someone who came to this chamber as a lawyer who has some experience with international law, particularly with Rwanda at the UN war crimes tribunal. I thought of how we usually associate mass graves with foreign conflicts and not with Canada. Then I started to think of what we have done vis-à-vis indigenous people of this land and how sometimes it is not much different in terms of the overt assimilation that we have propagated against them, and when the declared policy of the government at the time was to “take the Indian out of the child”.
I also reacted as a parliamentarian who has not been in this chamber as long as you, Mr. Speaker, but for six years now, who feels like he has gathered some understanding of the situation. I had gone through the calls to action, but I was still shocked and surprised. However, we do not have to dig too far to realize that there were a lot of people who were not surprised, and a lot of those people are indigenous people of this land, particularly elders.
This led me to the question of how we value knowledge and recognize its legitimacy, and how this Eurocentric idea has been passed down that unless something is reduced to writing or photographic or video evidence, it probably did not happen. This is a bias that we bring to the table that we have to acknowledge. I thank a constituent of mine who wrote to me about the issue of Canadians, including Canadian parliamentarians, who need to learn to embrace oral histories as legitimate histories so that we can truly come to terms with the magnitude of what we are dealing with.
I also reacted as a father, as I mentioned, when I heard the news that morning on CBC Radio while my children were eating cereal in front of me. My boys are very dear to me. I mean, everyone's children are dear to them. My wife, Suchita, and I are raising two young boys, Zakir and Nitin, and we try and do right by them. However, it one thing for me to imagine my children being removed from my home against my will, but it is another thing entirely to imagine them never returned to me and to never know their whereabouts, which is exactly what has transpired over and over again with indigenous families of this land. This is the true tragedy that needs to be dealt with and understood, and it needs to be accounted for, which can only start with a very strong, historical, educational exercise.
There are some people in this House who are younger than I am, which is the tender age of 49, who had the benefit of actually being educated on this. However, I went through every level of school, including post-secondary education and through law school, and never once was I instructed about the history of the residential school legacy in this country, which is quite shocking for a guy who graduated law school in 1998.
I know that people are now getting that education, and that is important. I also know that people are taking steps, and we heard the member for Kings—Hants talk about what was happening in his community in Nova Scotia. In my community of Parkdale—High Park in Toronto, there was a vigil just yesterday about this very issue, which raised awareness, and that is important. I thank my constituent, Eden, for organizing the vigil. She took the reins on doing so, because she felt so strongly about it. I took my oldest son to that event, because I wanted him to be there to understand, to learn, and to see how others were reacting to what we had learned on Friday morning.
It is one thing to read stories, and I do read him stories, particularly the orange shirt story of Phyllis Webstad, the woman who wore that infamous orange shirt, which was removed from her at that residential school. She is also a member of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. However, it is more than just the stories, and I wanted him to get that. It is not just past or distant history, it is still unfolding around us, which is very important, because we should not deem it relegated to the past. It was also important for him and for me to see the turnout, the number of young people who were there, and to hear the demands, and there were many.
There were many directed at the federal government, the government that I represent. There was outrage, shock and horror, but it was important for me to hear the demands. It was important for my son to hear the demands. If I could summarize it, which is difficult to do, but they want justice, accountability and transparency and they want it now, not at some date to be determined in the future.
I hear that sentiment and I very much share that sentiment. I say that in all sincerity in this chamber for those who are watching around the country. In particular ,what I think is most critical is just having a sense that if this happened to the Tk'emlúps First Nation, in Kamloops at that former school, we know that there are 139 sites around this country where it may very well have happened there as well. That forensic investigation, that radar investigation must be done and it must be done immediately.
I know that we have dedicated as a government almost $34 million to address some of the calls to action we have heard extensively about during the course of today's debate. If more money is needed, it must be provided forthwith. That is what I am advocating for.
Others have also said to me just get on with every single one of those calls to action, get it over with now. It has been far too long. I hear that outrage and that sense of urgency. I pause because I know in looking at the calls to action that some of them relate to us at the federal level, us as parliamentarians in the House of Commons. Some of them relate to provincial governments, city governments. Some of them relate to institutions and school boards. Some of them even relate to foreign entities.
I, for one, would be dearly appreciative to see a formal papal apology. That is call to action 58. That is a call to action that the Prime Minister squarely put to the Pope on a visit to the Vatican and that has not yet been acceded to. I think that stands in stark contrast to what we see with other denominations of Christian churches in this country that have formally accepted and apologized for the role that the church played in terms of administering many of these residential schools. That needs to be forthcoming and Canadians are demanding that, rightfully so.
Others I believe have been met at least in part if not fully. I count myself as very privileged to have served in the last Parliament when I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Heritage. We worked on and co-developed with first nations, Métis and Inuit leaders what became Bill C-91, Canada's first ever Indigenous Languages Act.
I personally count that as one of my most significant learning opportunities as a parliamentarian. It took that lawyer who was not educated about this stuff in law school and it turned him into a parliamentarian who was dealing directly with first nations, Inuit and Métis leaders about the difficulties of not having that connection to one's language and what that does to one's psyche, one's level of mental anxiety, one's connection to one's culture.
We have remedied that. It speaks directly to TRC calls to action 13, 14 and 15. We have also made great strides with respect to indigenous child and welfare legislation. That was Bill C-92 in the last Parliament. The most important piece there is that the norm now based on that legislation is if we must remove a child, then we keep them within their group, within their first nation, among their community and only as an absolute last resort would they be removed.
We have worked on UNDRIP with members of the opposition parties including the NDP. We have worked on Bill C-22, which I count myself privileged to have worked on as parliamentary secretary to the current Minister of Justice. It deals with curing the overrepresentation of indigenous people in this land. Much more remains to be done. I do not discount that and it needs to be done quickly. We need to do that work together.
I welcome this debate. I welcome the discussions we have been having literally all week, not just today about this important topic, because they are critical. I do feel at my core that we will only gather sufficient momentum when all Canadians are talking about this stain on Canada's history and Canada's legacy. That is critical to see. We have seen it over the course of this pandemic where people, non-white and white, people who are racialized or not racialized have taken up the call for addressing systemic racism and systemic discrimination in wake of George Floyd and in this country people like Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
I am seeing that again now. I am seeing that massive outreach now and that is a good thing because it gives us momentum. It gives us the initiative to keep working hard at these issues and to keep focused on these calls to action in addressing the needs of indigenous people, but always in a manner that is led by indigenous people and done on their terms, because gone must be the paternalism where Ottawa dictated to indigenous people the appropriate remedies. We must be listening and responding.