Madam Speaker, 13 years ago next week, the chamber of the House of Commons was filled with tears and a lot of raw emotion. Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the apology for the treatment that residential school survivors experienced at federally funded schools across the country. It marked a milestone in the healing and reconciliation process for former students.
One of those former students is Bill Sunday, a member of Akwesasne, which is in my riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. At that time, the grand chief of the council, Chief Tim Thompson, brought seven survivors from the community of Akwesasne to hear the words of the Government of Canada that day. I am thinking of Bill tonight and the number of residents of Akwesasne who, over the course of numerous generations, have faced hardship and discrimination.
What came of the apology at that time was the idea of establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. As alluded to in other speeches, its report came out with tangible calls to action back in 2015. To give context, that is six years ago, or 2,100 days that our federal government has had to respond to and enact the change that has been called for.
We are here today with nowhere near the pace and volume of completion and tangible progress that Canadians want us to have. A few more than a handful of calls to action have been marked as completed; others are under way. However, if we were to speak to indigenous Canadians, first nations leadership and any Canadian, they would agree that the pace of change and of enacting reconciliation has not moved in the past six years as fast as it needs to.
On Monday, our leader, the leader of the official opposition, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, and over the course of the last couple of days, after the advancement of Bill C-5 regarding a day for truth and reconciliation, which is positive, all parties have worked together to advance that legislation. It was one of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Our leader also wrote in that letter that the legislation we are debating here tonight should come back up, be moved forward, as it will be tonight, and eventually be passed. It will pass with support from our caucus and I believe from all of Parliament.
This is an important measure; do not get me wrong. However, and I say this respectfully, when we look at all the measures we need to do, the tangible, real, meaningful reconciliation is yet to come. There are a lot of big items that we as a Parliament and we as a country need to confront and address in a timely manner.
I want to acknowledge the discussions of another piece of legislation, Bill C-15, which has had many hours of debate here and in committee and is now over in the Senate. I had the honour and privilege of speaking to it, and with my perspective as a young Canadian; as somebody who has a first nations community, Akwesasne, in his riding; and as part of our Conservative caucus, I took a look at the details of the legislation. I want to speak about the opposition to Bill C-15, not because of a lack of support for reconciliation, but to illustrate to Canadians that our work as parliamentarians is far from done and we know that. What I took note of today, as we talked about the motion, is that the work we do here needs to be better.
Let us consider Bill C-15, and a lot of the words and descriptions in it, such as the description of free, prior and informed consent and its definition, or lack thereof. The NDP's opposition day motion today is an important one that I am proud to support. The first few parts of the motion speak to ending litigation in courts, where the government, first nations communities and residential school survivors are spending years and years and millions and millions of dollars, with more and more emotion going from there. That has been exacerbated because we are not taking the time for consultation and the details.
I completely support the idea of UNDRIP and the principles behind it. The details matter on that. I think it is important for Canadians, as the NDP motion said today, as Parliament will be calling on when that vote comes up in the coming days, that we see real, meaningful changes in this country, not more lawsuits, more delays, motions and millions of dollars being spent on lawyers, but rather on frontline differences to first nations communities and indigenous Canadians in every part of this country.
I want to focus some of my time tonight on the fact that we are expediting this legislation with all-party co-operation to move forward, because there are other parts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that need to move forward now, urgently, and Canadians are saying that.
Thinking of the news that every single Canadian has had to take in over the course of the last week, of the discovery of 215 children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops residential school, I look, from a personal perspective, at my life and my lived experience. I am 33 years old. I have an amazing, loving family that helped raise me. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I received in public education: the teachers, staff and students at Inkerman Public School, Nationview Public School and North Dundas District High School. My family and my experience in public education helped make me who I am today.
I could not imagine being a child torn away from my parents never to see them again, going to a school hundreds of kilometres away and receiving horrific treatment. We have an example that was laid bare before us last week. Children ended up buried in unmarked graves, only recognized recently. These children did not have the opportunities that so many of us were fortunate to have, surrounded by loving and caring parents in an education system and experience that were second to none. To have them deprived of that, to have that ending, is completely unacceptable.
In the letter I referenced, we talk about the work we need to do as a Parliament. We need to address this specific, dark part of our history. I was rightfully corrected after one of my social media posts where I was struggling to come up with the proper thing to say about this news. Somebody said that it is not all history, that there are still residential school survivors here today living the experience each and every day. It is not history to them. It is lived experience that they have to deal with and struggle with each and every day.
I think parliamentarians from all parties in every part of this country will hear that, yes, we need to move forward on Bill C-5. We need to move forward on this piece of legislation and on Bill C-8. We need to fund the investigation of all former residential schools in Canada where unmarked graves may exist, including where the 215 children were already discovered in Kamloops. We need to ensure that proper resources are allocated for reinterment, commemoration and the honour of any individuals discovered at any of those sites, according to the wishes of their family. We also need to develop a detailed, urgent and meaningful way of educating Canadians on the real and lived experiences of those there.
I am going to wrap up my comments tonight by bringing them back to my community in eastern Ontario. As I wrap up, I think of Leona Cook, an elder from Akwesasne. She actually lives on the American side of Akwesasne, but her story goes a long way. She was sent from Massena to western New York in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area to a residential school. This tragedy goes even beyond borders. They took her shoes away when she went to school. Her brothers also went there, but they were placed on a different side of the campus, and she rarely, if ever, saw them.
I watched a video earlier today as I was preparing my remarks, and Leona was in it. She said, “I don't want their apology. I don't want anything from them. I would hope that they learn to treat people better than they treated us. You can't make people be somebody they don't want to be.”
We can take the lessons and the words of Leona Cook, embody them in our work and move forward on major sections of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will matter to Canadians.
I look forward to the questions and comments and supporting the legislation before us.