The latest newsletter of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast features an analysis of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which just last month released its report. It’s written by Christina Williamson, a Visiting Research Associate in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, and a Doctoral Student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada at the Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture.
I’ve blogged previously about the Canadian TRC, and its bold recommendation that the Pope should apologize – in person on a trip to Canada – for the Catholic Church’s role in the abuse of children in residential schools.
As Williamson notes in the first sentence of her article, Canada is often praised internationally for its leadership internationally in human rights.
But she goes on to cast doubt on whether the current Canadian government will follow through on the findings and recommendations of the TRC, which describe the residential schools system as ‘cultural genocide.’
The media, with some noteworthy exceptions, has taken up the TRC report with energy, many op-eds discussing the IRS as ‘Canada’s shame,’ and some even arguing that IRS constitutes ‘regular’ genocide. The Federal Government, led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been conspicuously silent on the TRC results. The government’s official response was a statement that no action would be taken until the final report (a six-volume document) is released later in the year. In contrast, other political parties have declared that they would implement all 94 of the recommendations. Since his 2008 Apology to Residential School Survivors, Prime Minister Harper seems to believe that he has done enough and has resisted making any genuine moves to reconcile the Federal Government with IRS survivors and their families.
While the government may not seem inclined to engage with the TRC, there is movement elsewhere. For instance, a number of Indigenous Activists have come together arguing that the media needs to be more accountable when discussing Indigenous issues, particularly after an article written by Conrad Black stated that IRS were unfortunate but that ‘natives and their champions are making a terrible mistake if they think that Canadians, indulgent as they are, will roll over for any charge of genocide’. One activist, Chelsea Vowel (Métis), argues that people need to educate themselves about the history of IRS before writing articles that are factually incorrect and racist. She objects to the defence that uninformed positions are ‘opinion’ and therefore valid. In response to this, a twitter hashtag #ReadTheTRCReport was created and over 100 people volunteered to read the report out-loud to make the report more accessible.
Williamson concludes by quoting TRC Commissioner Murray Sinclair, who says that ‘Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem … it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.’
The reluctance of Prime Minister Harper, some of those in the media, and presumably many citizens of Canada to embrace that vision certainly resonates on the island of Ireland, where the systemic aspects of sectarianism and conflict are often ignored and those who were not involved in direct violence deny that reconciliation should indeed involve all of us, as well as our social, political and economic systems.
The Canadian TRC has not yet convinced the nation of the need for reconciliation — nor have the many piecemeal measures we have taken on this island for ‘dealing with the past.’
Through its TRC process, Canada has at least taken a first step in furthering reconciliation – even amongst those who do not recognise the need for it. In the absence of a similar process on this island, as we wait (in vain?) for the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, we still seem to be waiting to take a step.