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Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, seen here in Ottawa, on April 17, 2020, said the government has taken steps to address the TRC’s calls to action, but it recognizes there is much work to do as a country.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault introduced legislation on Tuesday proposing that September 30 be designated a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and observed as a statutory holiday for federally regulated workplaces.

The government said the proposal is in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which called for a holiday that honours First Nations, Inuit and Métis survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

The holiday would help ensure public commemoration of the residential school legacy, the bill notes.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent six years probing Canada’s residential school system, which it described as “an education system in name only for much of its existence.”

The TRC’s final report, published in 2015, said residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Indigenous children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages and to indoctrinate children into a new culture.

Mr. Guilbeault said the government has taken steps to address the TRC’s calls to action, but it recognizes there is much work to do as a country.

“By establishing a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we will have a day every year to reflect and honour the survivors of residential schools, ensuring they are never forgotten,” he said in a statement.

Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the commission, told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that establishing the national holiday is important because doing so will cause people to stop and pay attention.

“It also gives an opportunity for Canada to organize activities around that and that’s also very important,” he said.

Sept. 30 is already Orange Shirt Day. Created in 2013, the event is designed to promote awareness about residential schools and their lasting effects.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, along with the Orange Shirt Day Society, has nearly 500,000 students and teachers registered for the event on Wednesday.

In the last Parliament, then NDP MP Georgina Jolibois put forward Bill C-369, which also proposed naming a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday.

It passed through the House of Commons but died in the Senate in 2019.

Creating such a statutory holiday is a significant milestone, Ms. Jolibois said Tuesday.

The work on her private member’s bill was driven by a belief that Indigenous people would welcome the important day, she said, adding that the legacy of residential schools is dark and painful.

She would have appreciated the Liberals reaching out to inform her about the proposed legislation.

“As an Indigenous woman who worked hard on the bill, I would think I would be given the respect and some recognition. Their version of reconciliation differs from mine."

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