Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

The Senate chamber on Parliament Hill is seen on May 28, 2013 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A bill creating a statutory holiday to commemorate the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada was passed unanimously Thursday by the Senate.

Bill C-5 was expected to receive royal assent later Thursday, in time for Sept. 30 to become the first national day for truth and reconciliation.

Both houses of Parliament were prompted to fast-track the bill after last week’s grisly discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Story continues below advertisement

The bill creates a statutory holiday for employees in the federal government and federally regulated workplaces.

The Kamloops residential school’s unmarked graves: What we know about the children’s remains, and Canada’s reaction so far

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told the Senate on Thursday that the objective is to create a chance for Canadians to learn about and reflect on a dark chapter in their country’s history and to commemorate the survivors, their families and their communities – as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indigenous leaders.

The “terrible” discovery of children’s remains in Kamloops is “a stark reminder of the heavy toll of our colonial past,” Guilbeault said in French.

“Addressing the consequences of colonial violence needs to go beyond words ... Bill C-5 is an important step in the path towards reconciliation, which won’t be achieved in the blink of an eye.”

Over the course of more than 100 years, some 150,000 Indigenous children were ripped from their families and forced to attend church-run residential schools, where many suffered physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition and neglect. More than 4,000 are believed to have died.

Although unanimously supported in the Senate, Guilbeault did face some questions about the cost of creating a new national holiday and whether it is simply an empty symbolic gesture.

Conservative Senate leader Don Plett noted that the government has been slow to implement the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including those dealing with locating and commemorating grave sites at residential schools.

Story continues below advertisement

“Why, minister, did you choose to focus on this call of action [to create a national day for truth and reconciliation] and not on other ones?” Plett asked.

“Minister, is it because it’s easier to give bureaucrats [a holiday], because really it’s bureaucrats that get the day off here, than to work on the more pressing but difficult issues that are facing Indigenous communities every day of the week?

Plett further questioned how the government can ensure it is day of commemoration and not simply a “day to stay home and put up our feet and watch TV.”

Guilbeault acknowledged that the government can’t force people to use the day to reflect on the trauma caused by residential schools. But he expressed hope that it will be similar to Remembrance Day, creating an opportunity to educate and remind Canadians about the history of residential schools, honour the victims and celebrate the survivors.

“Let’s use that day as a day of reflection but also a day of learning,” he said.

Guilbeault could not offer any details of federal plans to mark the first truth and reconciliation day on Sept. 30. Commemorations should be Indigenous-led, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Officials estimated that the day off will cost the federal government almost $166-million each year, mainly in lost productivity, and another $223-million for federally regulated employers.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies