By Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press on December 20, 2023.
OTTAWA – Canada has been so slow to carry out recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that an Indigenous-led think tank says it has decided to stop publishing an annual report tracking its progress.
“At first, the project invoked hope and determination. If only the Canadian public knew about their government’s lack of action, we believed, perhaps things would change,” said the annual report from the Yellowhead Institute, a research and education centre based at Toronto Metropolitan University.
“That hope, as those who have followed us on this journey may have noticed, has begun to diminish in the fifth year of this project.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent years investigating and documenting the history, and lasting harms, of church-operated, government-funded residential schools that more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend, often far away from their families and communities.
Thousands suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse and the Winnipeg-based National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says more than 4,000 children died.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 calls to action in its 2015 report, with recommendations for every level of government and other institutions, including academia and the media.
The 2023 report by the Yellowhead Institute released Wednesday found that no calls to action were completed over the course of this year. It says that if Canada continues at this pace, it will not finish the work until 2081 – 16 years later than the projection it gave in its report last year.
The report said “there are limits to how many times you can write a report about how Canada, once again, has failed to make any meaningful progress.”
The Yellowhead Institute considers only 13 of the recommendations complete.
The centre said it is unclear how best to compel Canada’s federal government to complete the calls to action, accusing Ottawa of being an unwilling partner.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree and Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.
In September, Hajdu’s office pointed to what it considered progress on calls to action this year, such as announcing in June that a site had been chosen for the Residential Schools National Monument on Parliament Hill.
Not all the calls to action are the sole responsibility of the federal government, including the papal apology that came in July 2022. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had personally asked Pope Francis to issue the apology in Canada, and the federal government spent at least $55 million to support the visit.
But the Yellowhead Institute considers that call to action to be incomplete, noting in its report last year that the content of the apology was considered lacking, including by making no mention of sexual abuse.
The report said there are five main challenges to reconciliation: paternalism, structural anti-Indigenous discrimination, reconciliation as exploitation or performance, insufficient resources and the economic interests and apathy of non-Indigenous people.
While saying none of the calls to action were completed in 2023, the report pointed to significant legal victories for First Nations, including a landmark $43-billion child-welfare settlement and a $10-billion settlement reached with 21 First Nations in Ontario for unpaid treaty annuities dating back 159 years.
“When there is concrete action, it does not come from Canada “¦ but from Indigenous Peoples, who fiercely advocate for themselves and resist the full weight of Canadian intransigence,” the report says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2023.