A fully funded independent investigation must be established to probe crimes against Indigenous people at residential schools, two NDP MPs say.
At a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Ontario MP Charlie Angus called for Justice Minister David Lametti to appoint an independent special prosecutor immediately who has the power and resources to conduct a thorough probe of what happened at the schools.
The Trudeau government has faced calls from Indigenous experts, including former Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) chair Murray Sinclair, to ensure that the country funds an independent probe to determine whether crimes took place at the schools.
Ottawa has not explicitly committed to offering funds for such an investigation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet have said that they are open to an independent probe to discover the truth of what happened at the institutions but say Indigenous communities should lead next steps in the process.
Ms. Qaqqaq, who is Inuk and represents the federal riding of Nunavut, said almost everyone she knows has been affected by the trauma of the residential-school system. Canadians must understand that Indigenous people have suffered and continue to suffer from abuse, policies and “cover-ups” that have damaged or killed generations of youth, Ms. Qaqqaq added.
“Indigenous people need truth and justice,” she said.
David Taylor, a spokesperson for Mr. Lametti, said the federal government is committed to working with affected Indigenous communities across Canada to protect graves and burial sites at former residential schools using all available measures, including the criminal law. The government is listening to Indigenous communities and will ensure that all “responsive measures are Indigenous-led, survivor-centric and culturally sensitive,” he said.
“While the Minister of Justice does not have the authority to initiate criminal investigations, as this is an exclusive power of the police, we will consider all options that will allow the survivors, their communities and the country to move forward on the path to healing and reconciliation,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Angus, the MP for Timmins-James Bay, said Thursday that both the Catholic Church and the federal government have focused on limiting their own liability. Residential schools, which operated for more than 120 years in Canada, were government-funded, church-run institutions where abuse was widespread, according to the TRC final report.
In an interview last month with The Globe and Mail, former TRC chair Mr. Sinclair said a team of experienced investigators need the power to subpoena records from governments and the churches that ran the schools, as well as access to the locations of former residential schools.
Mr. Sinclair said the TRC wasn’t empowered to go through the government’s archives with a subpoena, adding this was also the case for church records, which meant the TRC could not determine whether there was relevant information in any church archives, particularly those of the Catholic Church. The commission was concerned that some of the Catholic Church’s records might have been shipped to the Vatican for storage, he said.
Mr. Sinclair said the purpose of an investigation should be to “determine whether crimes occurred – not only in terms of the cause of death, but whether crimes occurred in terms of cover-ups.”
The number for the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419. British Columbia has a First Nations and Indigenous Crisis Line offered through the KUU-US Crisis Line Society, toll-free at 1-800-588-8717.
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