In a gesture of ongoing reconciliation efforts, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that Ottawa will repeal the portions of the Indian Act that first mandated residential schools.
"I want to eliminate forever the portions of the Indian Act that caused such suffering among aboriginal families," he said on Wednesday.
Many of the residential school provisions have been on the government books since the 19th century. Sections 114 to 122 of the Indian Act concern schools, with one line granting truant officers the right to "convey the child to school using as much force as circumstances require."
Mr. Strahl later confirmed his sincerity with emotion, telling a circle of people affected by residential schools that, as a father of four and a grandfather of nine, he couldn't imagine the pain caused by forcibly separating children from their families.
"We took away your culture and your language and we apologized and asked for your forgiveness," said the minister, eventually tearing up. "When the burden should have been ours, you shouldered it alone. We can only look on with wonder at the strength that you have."
The move continues a path that began in 2006 when the federal government approved the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which granted cash to former students and established the TRC.
Two years later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to former students on behalf of all Canadians. The Winnipeg event is designed to publicize the commission's work as well as record the stories of anyone who attended, administrated or staffed the church-run schools that operated in Canada for some 150 years.