I apologize for connecting late. The technology and connection information I was given was not as full as it could have been, and therefore I spent the last 25 minutes with your tech people, trying to get into this forum with you. I also apologize to my colleagues Commissioner Littlechild and Commissioner Wilson for missing anything they may have already said. It would have been good for us to have heard each other speak.
When I was invited to participate in this event, I debated with myself for a while, the better part of a day and a half or so, as to whether or not I wanted to participate in this, mainly because I hate the possibility that something as significant as this, as personal as this and as triggering as this is could become a political football or could become an issue that gets embraced in the political action that's going on in Ottawa. I was pleased to see and hear that the Prime Minister and the leader of the official opposition have joined together to indicate that they will develop a plan about how to move forward on this. I also want to commend each one of them for having reached out to me to indicate that they wish to talk about what that could entail. I've advised my colleagues of that.
The fact that it also gets played out so publicly in the media is both a good thing and a bad thing. I've spoken about this before. It's good for Canada to understand that we still have to come to terms with a lot of what occurred during the residential school era and that there are still a lot of uncovered truths out there that we need to look at. This is one of them that we identified in the course of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. At the same time, I recognize that this has been a huge trigger to the survivors.
I shut my phone off to all media requests—with the exception of one or two, mainly because the number of media requests was significant—and allowed the survivors to reach out to me. I have to say that I have spoken with probably about 200 survivors who have contacted me over the course of the last few days to express their reaction, their grief, their feelings of anger, their feelings of frustration, but also their huge emotion and their sense of the depth of what they're looking at for themselves and trying to come to terms with. The fact that there are very few and, in most places now, no healing resource programs available to them is a huge chapter that unfortunately has ended with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the commitment by the Government of Canada to provide healing centres and programs for survivors. It's one that I spoke about in the public statement I issued this week.
I think we really need to take that to heart. I compared it to how different it was for Canada when it provided some gathering services and resources for veterans of the Second World War when they returned. We ensured that they had places where they could gather and talk with each other, because nothing heals survivors more than other survivors.
They're now in great pain as a result of this story, and they will be in even more pain, because as we go forward, I'm sure we're going to discover additional places where bodies are buried and unmarked gravesites are found. More information is going to come to light. I will begin with those thoughts.
One of the questions that people in private conversations keep asking me is, what has the government been doing about this to this point in time? I point to the calls to action that we issued—calls to action 71 through to 75, I think—in which we identified this as a major issue that needed to be done.
The volume we issued as part of the TRC's final report, volume 4, identified the work that we were able to do in the course of the TRC. Even with the limited amount of research that we did, we were able to safely say that we believe that there are several unknown burial sites that can be discovered and located with the use of proper geological researchers and experts. Scott Hamilton, who did that work for us, has indicated on the maps and the database he was able to develop where he thinks those sites currently are.
Nothing has been done by the government to follow that up, and we think that that's a sad commentary upon the commitment the government has—or the lack of commitment the government has—to try to close the story on what happened at residential schools, because despite the fact that it may not be important to some Canadians and maybe to government officials, it's of huge importance to residential school survivors and to the families of those who did not come back.
When we were doing the work of the TRC and listening to testimony, we heard from many survivors who told us some horrendous stories about deaths at the schools. We heard stories from survivors who talked about what they believed to be acts of murder and what they believed to be acts of negligence. We were not able to test that in terms of looking behind the evidence and searching out further information. We simply allowed the survivors to tell their stories, because we knew that the depth of feeling they had about that and what they were telling us was a huge burden that they needed to have lifted—and be allowed to have lifted from them—so we wanted them to have that opportunity.
In addition to that, we know that there is additional information out there in the records that have been lost to the process, because much of our information about what records might exist shows that school records were destroyed. Some were lost to floods or fires, but many were destroyed that would tell us that information.
We do know that the Bryce report disclosed, of course, that the death rates in schools in Saskatchewan were somewhere between 25% in some schools, in one school, and 49% in another school. That tells you that if this was the death rate in that era for those schools, and if anything even approaching that 25% continued to be the death rate in residential schools for any period of time, then that was a huge problem. The Government of Canada would not accept his report. It would not allow him to continue further studies and in fact turfed him from the public service as a result of his information and the fact that he insisted on continuing to talk about it.
There was a lot done to cover this up, and that's an aspect of this story that really needs to be investigated. The fact that there are still church records that have not been revealed—that have not been made available to the national centre or to us at the TRC—related to this is also a sad commentary on the lack of commitment by the Catholic church to allow us to investigate this further. We need to have that question looked at as well.
I understand that in British Columbia.... I got a call early this morning, in fact, saying that the RCMP have now declared that a major investigation is going to occur into the bodies that have been located in Kamloops, and they are now beginning to question those who have made this story available. Unfortunately, in the typical, heavy-handed and ham-handed police way, they are simply intimidating people, rather than helping them. We need to have a discussion with the police about how they're handling it, because they should not be pursuing those who are revealing the information. They should, in fact, be looking at and looking for those records. They should be looking at what we know as opposed to trying to pursue witnesses.
The young lady who did the research on the ground-penetrating radar, for example, is quite scared of the approach that the RCMP have taken with her, and I don't blame her. My advice to her—and others—has been to make sure she has legal counsel available to her so that she is not mistreated going forward.
We have a huge task still remaining ahead of us, and we identified that as a remaining task in work with the TRC. In order for us to deal with this properly, we need to ensure that there is an independent study done into that question of those burial sites, where they are and what the numbers are going to tell us. That investigation should not be conducted under the auspices of the federal government but should be overseen by a parliamentary committee that will ensure that it is done in a proper way, as opposed to having anyone within the justice department or the department of indigenous affairs controlling that process.
I would encourage you to think about that as we go forward, because I think there are still many questions that remain to be answered. I think it's not only survivors of the schools who need to know this. The survivors of those who worked in the schools also need to know what happened, because this is hurting them as well. Several of them have reached out to me about how much anguish they are feeling over knowing that their grandfather, grandmother, father or mother worked in the school and they didn't know, or never talked about it if they did know anything. They want to know what they can do to help them as well.
I'm sure you will have a lot of questions for us, so I'll leave it at that. I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.