Thank you very much, everyone, for having us.
Good afternoon. My name is Ry Moran. I'm the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation located at the University of Manitoba.
I'm joined here today by Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, vice-provost of aboriginal initiatives at Lakehead University. Cynthia is also a member of the centre's governing circle and is an intergenerational survivor. The governing circle ensures that we approach our work in a respectful and appropriate manner, and provides excellent guidance to the centre.
In the next 10 minutes I intend to discuss both the activities and mandate of the centre, in addition to concluding with some thoughts and observations on the efforts of reconciliation broadly under way across the country.
I will make my presentation in English, but you can put your questions to me in French.
Before we begin, however, for context I will give you a little more information about myself. I'm a Métis of the Red River Métis. I was raised in Victoria, B.C., and relocated to Winnipeg in 2010 to work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
I'll now turn to the mandate of the centre. The mandate of the NCTR is derived from the Indian residential schools settlement agreement. This was the broad agreement that established the common experience payment, the independent assessment process, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and now our organization.
The centre was awarded to the University of Manitoba and its partners by the TRC on National Aboriginal Day, in 2013, after a lengthy consultation and a call for proposals process. We carry all of the statements, all documents, and other materials collected by the TRC.
In addition to this, we also carry a number of significant responsibilities related to education, ensuring that the material and survivor statements find their way into the hands of educators and students across the country, in addition to ongoing public education activities; research, stimulating new insights into our history through use of the collection, while also continuing to advance understandings of reconciliation; and lastly, community and survivor engagement.
While the archives are the foundation of our work, our forward looking mandate places us at the centre of many conversations on reconciliation. We hold the TRC's eagle staff, the ceremonial rattle for missing children, and the vessel that carried the sacred ashes from fire to fire across the country.
The start-up of the centre, without a doubt, has been challenging, as, while we take on responsibility for the issues above, we have also gone through the wind down of the TRC, the transfer of documents and responsibility between the TRC and our organization, and finally, the start-up, staffing, and related activities necessary to build a new national institution. That said, I am pleased to draw your attention to a number of significant accomplishments of the centre.
In November 2014, we moved into a freshly renovated building on the University of Manitoba campus. This high profile heritage building, on the banks of the Red River, is intended to mark the deep commitment of the university to the centre. As a former home for a number of university presidents, it also reminds us that the creation of a sense of home is what is asked of all of us in this work of reconciliation. We must help rebuild those homes and families attacked and hurt through the residential school system, while making every effort to ensure Canada is a safe place for indigenous peoples.
In November 2015, we officially opened our doors and launched the public databases of the centre. The launch of these databases marks the first time that site specific information on every residential school is available in one place. Information on the schools is combined with close to 20,000 photographs, in addition to thousands hours of survivor statements.
We launched this database as part of a two-day opening ceremony at the university and the Winnipeg convention centre. We were thrilled to launch this to close to 2,000 middle and high school students, with over 350 educators from across the province of Manitoba as part of a province-wide education day on residential schools.
We launched to students because this is what survivors asked us to do, to ensure their statements and histories got into the hands of young learners so that we, as a country, could never again repeat the terrible failings of the residential schools. Since that point, we held a subsequent education day in Regina, again with thousands of students attending.
I'm also pleased to say that we ran a very inspiring initiative recently entitled “Imagine a Canada”. This national essay and art initiative saw indigenous and non-indigenous students from kindergarten to post-secondary levels share their vision on the future of the country through a lens of reconciliation. His Excellency Governor General David Johnson hosted the top 10 students at Rideau Hall in a ceremony involving many of the TRC honorary witnesses and other dignitaries from across the country.
We were also successful in bringing together representatives from ministries of education and teachers federations across the country for a focused workshop on implementing the call to action on education. This meeting was intended to lay a foundation for a national reconciliation education framework, and included individuals such as former Prime Minister Paul Martin and education partners such as the Canadian Teachers' Federation and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.
Working in close collaboration with a number of education partners across the country is critical because, as was so often stated by Senator Murray Sinclair, “education is what got us into this mess, and education is also what's going to get us out of it”.
Partnership and collaboration are woven throughout the fabric at the centre. We now list over 20 national partners that include organizations such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the National Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. We are directly partnered with a number of large universities in the country that include the University of British Columbia and Dalhousie University, giving the NCTR reach from coast to coast. We are actively building a network of reconciliation-focused researchers that will further enhance the collective understanding and path forward on reconciliation. New partner institutions continue to join the centre on a nearly daily basis.
Building and strengthening these relationships is the foundation for a national framework for reconciliation across the country. Through all of this exciting work, we can never forget where the centre derives its original mandate. That original mandate comes from survivors who fought hard to have their voices heard and to make the country aware of what they experienced and suffered through in the residential schools. Connecting communities, survivors, and intergenerational survivors with their records is a critical part of the reconciliation process.
To ensure that we are able to deliver upon the complex mandate given to us to protect and to provide access to the information, we worked closely with the Province of Manitoba to develop a National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Act. This act provides us with the tools we need to ensure that survivors and their families can gain access to the collection when they need to.
We also held a series of 18 community engagement sessions across the country, visiting survivors and intergenerational survivors in remote and urban locations to discuss their hopes and dreams for the centre. Central among these discussions was an in-depth conversation around privacy and access to the collection of materials amassed.
Emerging from these and other discussions is an ever-widening desire for communities, organizations, and individuals to share additional records with the centre. While ambitious, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the centre will grow into Canada's indigenous archive and the agency that will hold materials in a respectful manner by and for indigenous peoples, in accordance with indigenous principles and protocols.
Central to the work in front of us are a few fundamental questions. Where are we going? How are we doing? Will we know when we have arrived? These questions are at the heart of an important conference we are partnering on called Pathways to Reconciliation. This conference, taking place in Winnipeg this June, will bring together a diverse audience to discuss three core topics: understanding reconciliation, measuring reconciliation, and implementing reconciliation.
Without a doubt, this conference is intended to be a catalyst for a coordinated approach to future national action on reconciliation. This event will be framed by a soon to be released national public survey detailing perceptions of non-indigenous peoples towards indigenous peoples. While not yet released, the report highlights many positive developments, but also the significant amount of work that is yet to be done in this country.
It's in regard to this last point that I will use my remaining time to make concluding statements.
Friends, the path of reconciliation that lies ahead of us is not a straight line, and it will not be easy. It will take real care and attention to bring it about. The TRC issued 94 calls to action, in addition to giving us 10 principles of reconciliation. Some of these, such as call to action 78, call for core funding for the centre. I would hope that this call to action is implemented immediately. Calls to action 72 and 76 discuss the need for ongoing efforts to identify and name those children who never returned home from those schools and are buried in unknown locations across the country. This work squarely involves the centre. The centre has begun tracking uptake and activity around each call to action, in addition to laying the foundation for a national reconciliation report on the state of affairs in this country.
Without a doubt, there's much much more work to be done on this front. Through the TRC's work, we have seen the power of survivors' voices. They have moved this country to a new understanding of who it is and what it is, but even now we are actively discussing destroying the evidence of the abuse that occurred in the residential schools. A recent Court of Appeals decision ruled that all survivor statements given during the IAP process will be destroyed in 15 years following an enhanced notice program. There is an option to appeal this decision before June 3 to the Supreme Court. Canada supported preservation in the first two rounds, and I ask that you give serious consideration to an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Reconciliation is a national effort and bigger than anything we have undertaken before in this country. It demands that we think of our history and our future in new ways. We need to ask ourselves what information we need to create and track in the present to set us on a path for success. There are a number of specific calls to action that point us in this direction.
If we're serious about reconciliation, we need to take real action on establishing frameworks that will allow reconciliation to flourish and succeed. None of us can do this on our own, but it is my sincere hope that, through coordinated and committing action, we will look back on this time and be amazed at what we have accomplished.
I want to state that we are willing and able to assist in the realization of this national framework. We have the partners, we have the potential, we have the leadership of a fantastic governing circle, and we have the truth that our centre rests upon. We have much to contribute from the centre, but we'll need your help in bringing this to reality.
Thank you. Meegwetch. Merci.
Those are very important, very legitimate questions.
The TRC that was established as a result of the Indian residential school settlement agreement was instructed in its mandate to establish the then-called National Research Centre. In 2011, the TRC hosted a significant international conference bringing together scholars and practitioners from across the world to explore what the centre could be, what it should be, and best practices from across the world.
We distilled that conference into a series of questions that we then presented to the country. We circulated 10 questions in a fairly significant engagement process that asked bidders to tell us their vision of the centre; their partners; and how they were going to pay for it, because the funding was not yet totally certain or clear; their experience in managing very sensitive collections of materials; and where they were going to put it. That call for proposals resulted in a number of very strong applications, from which the University of Manitoba and its partner's bid emerged as the winning bid.
However, without a doubt, this is not the national centre of the University of Manitoba; this is the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation for this country. We just happen to have a great partner that believes in this and has stepped up to the plate and has provided core funding, a home, staffing and resources, legal help, access and privacy help, which has enabled us to get going out of the gate.
The continued growth of the network of partners is critical, and the partnerships we have are developed through a series of conversations. We have a legal agreement that's signed between partners. While I list 20 or so that we have right now, we work with a number of other agencies on a regular basis, including the ITK, the AFN, the national churches, a whole host of organizations that we're actively collaborating with. Through this concept of partnership, of collaboration, the centre is going to be able to achieve its full mandate.
The governing circle is composed of seven members selected from across the country: three members representing first nations, Inuit, Métis, survivors or their families; two members representing partners of the centre; and two members from the University of Manitoba itself to assist in the administrative discussions and everything related to the operations of the centre.
We're also about to create a survivor circle, which is another advisory circle that we need to create.
Certainly, we see a whole series of other circles coming down the road, other tables, some of which were created through the TRC's processes and others we will need to create to bring communities of like-minded individuals together around matters of national importance.
I think that is a fundamental question. One, we have to think about things just in the basic public interest. The IAP process has been a massive disbursement of public funds, and it has been a massive process of justice and alternate dispute resolution that's happened in this country. That, in and of itself, should warrant scrutiny in the future, period, both domestically and internationally. Because the cold hard reality is that we won't be the only country that faces these mass human rights violations, and there's much to be learned just in the administration of the process.
Beyond that, though, the IAP records, while incredibly sensitive—and while survivor concerns around that sensitivity can and must be respected with the highest levels of respect—provide a window into the residential schools that no other set of records can do. It is the record of abuse. Anything that I've heard from survivors in that record of abuse is absolutely harrowing. We don't actually fully understand, I believe, as a society, how bad it was in the schools.
Here's the scenario that happens right now. Under this particular decision, the records will be preserved for 15 years, while a notice program goes out and asks survivors whether or not they want to opt into preservation. That's a pretty high test, truthfully, because you have to track people, you have to get hold of them, you have to talk to them, and you have to convince them. As well, survivors are spread across the country. Many of them live in remote areas. There are language barriers. Also, survivors are aging rapidly.
What's going to happen is that these records are going to get held for the better part of 15 years, which takes us to around 2031-32. That's the date. They will have been held. Nothing will have gone wrong with the records. They will have sat silent on some computer server somewhere, perhaps at the centre, perhaps at the IAP secretariat, and somebody is going to have to walk up and hit “delete” on that entire set of records.
I've thought about what that day looks like, and I would challenge all of us to think about whether or not, as parliamentarians or advocates for indigenous people, you would want to be the one making the speech on that day. I know that I would be extraordinarily conflicted about what kind of speech I would make on that day. Would I say that it was justice served?
Thank you for inviting us to attend.
I'll give you a little bit of my background. I practised in the field of so-called aboriginal law for about 27 years in British Columbia in something of a nation-wide practice. I was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court in 2001 and to the tribunal initially in 2008.
The Specific Claims Tribunal Act represents something of a conversation between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada. The creation of an independent tribunal was a long time in coming—at least 30 years of that conversation. Members of the tribunal are drawn from the superior courts of the provinces and, in particular, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. My colleague Justice Mainville is from the Quebec Court. The intent behind real judges becoming members was to ensure the independence of the tribunal. It was also important to the Assembly of First Nations and other indigenous stakeholders that we had a stand-alone department providing us with the full array of corporate services.
We got started in consultation with stakeholders to develop our process and rules of procedure. We had some early challenges, such as a lack of effective administrative support and concerns over institutional independence, but we managed to get the doors open in June, 2011. Thankfully, the concerns over direct administrative support were resolved in time, thanks to an extremely talented corporate head of our sole service provider, the registry of the tribunal, a government department under the ministry of aboriginal affairs as it was then known.
We have 76 claims in the inventory. Seventy are active. There have been decisions on the validity of 11 of those, and five more decisions are coming in the next week or two. I am not pleased with the pace of progress in the performance of our mandate. One can expect delays in building a foundation for the operation of a new adjudicative institution, but we've been hampered ever since mid-2014—actually earlier—by a chronic shortage of judicial members despite two annual reports in which I've indicated that the tribunal would fail if we didn't get an adequate complement of members.
Now 76 claims may not sound like much, when you consider the volume that goes through the courts, but we don't have back-to-back hearings in a single building. We take our hearings to the community of the claimant, and we all consider that to be extremely important given that part of our mandate is reconciliatory. It's important that the people who own the claim see who the decision-makers are and see the process that we go through, which, by the way, is informal relative to processes in court.
At present I'm the sole full-time member and we have a supernumerary judge, Justice Larry Whalen, Ontario Court, part-time. He's giving us more than he's required to as a supernumerary, and of course we have Justice Mainville who is on a six-month rotation in and out of the Quebec Court.
Today the Auditor General tabled a report relating to Governor in Council appointments, and we participated in the workup of that report. I've set out a number of the extracts from that report that tell the story of the frustrations we have encountered.
We have volunteers from the B.C., Ontario, and Quebec superior courts. A judge will volunteer, and if approved by the chief justice of that court, will be nominated by the chief justice. We have Justice Grist, B.C.; Justice MacDougall, Ontario; and Justice Mayer, Quebec, all waiting for appointments. They've been waiting for two years in some cases.
One major difficulty here is that chief justices are naturally reluctant to nominate members from their courts when their own judicial complements are well short of the required number. It took four years after the date I was first appointed for cabinet to give the B.C. court a judge to replace me. As I was a senior judge of that court, that was a serious matter. The B.C. court currently has nine vacancies. I don't know how many vacancies Quebec and Ontario have, but one can only be sympathetic with the concerns of the chief justices whose first responsibility is to ensure that the work of the court gets done. I think that needs to be addressed if we're to operate at a full complement, and it's independent of all these delays in the appointment of members to the tribunal.
I finally received a call from the chief of staff to the Honourable Carolyn Bennett last night, having written to her on April 15 to advise that I'd been invited here to speak about these very things. I'm now told that the three appointments will be made on an expedited basis. I was told this yesterday, May 2, on the eve of my appearance here.
The simple fact of the matter is that there are just a few judges are nominated for membership on the tribunal, for reasons that I generally canvass. All qualify, as they're sitting judges. At this time, they represent the pool from which judges are to be appointed to the tribunal.
There's no personal benefit to a judge who takes an appointment to the tribunal. We continue to receive our remuneration and benefits as if continuing full time as judges of the courts. So there's no difference, other than the burdens of travelling all over the country and spending time in Ottawa, which is a hard sell to judges who live in Vancouver, for a lot of obvious reasons.
I'm going to ask my colleague, Justice Mainville, to speak of the challenges in the Quebec court around appointments.
That is a decision that addressed several of the more complex issues around crown fiduciary duty, particularly with British Columbia.
I expect they were driven to take the matter to the tribunal because of an expired limitation period. We're dealing with historical claims, and for virtually all of them, if they were in the courts, they'd be statute barred, so they came to us.
We heard oral history, we had a large number of historical documents, we had full and capable submissions from counsel for the claimant and the crown. I, as the presiding member, released a decision that's overly long, but addressed all those complex issues. The matter went to judicial review in the Federal Court of Appeal. The Federal Court, with respect, thought they were dealing with an appeal, and not judicial review, and reversed my decision.
I can tell you that I don't think any more of their decision than they do of mine, and there is an application for leave to the Supreme Court of Canada.
It's probably important that at some point one of these decisions gets to the Supreme Court of Canada, but looking at it from the claimant's perspective, of course, where do they get the money to engage in a judicial review in the Federal Court of Appeal, much less the Supreme Court of Canada? They've filed their leave application and, of course, we're watching that. That's Williams Lake.
Of course, the indigenous peoples there did not get a reserve until 30 years, or whatever, after others were allotted. They were virtually homeless, having been dispossessed of their traditional village by settlers who were pre-empting the land they routinely used as village sites and resource-gathering places.
That's the kind of claim we get.