Madam Speaker, I wish to acknowledge the unceded Wolastoqiyik territory from which I speak today and the immense privilege I carry as a settler in this land.
I would like to begin by extending my deepest condolences, and to send strength, to all who will be retraumatized by this new and devastating information regarding the realities of Indian residential schools in Canada. The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., using ground-penetrating radar, confirming what families and communities have known but could not substantiate until now. This new knowledge is truth. We need to confront our past and our present with truth before we can build reconciliation.
I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of residential schools. It was during my post-secondary studies, largely on my own and in conversations with family and friends. It was not taught to me in school. We only learned that Canada was a land of peacekeepers and apologetic people whose brave pioneer ancestors defied the odds in a barren land to build the country we have today.
We have worked very hard to erase the history and culture of indigenous peoples. We have also worked very hard to erase the people themselves, as well as the evidence of these crimes.
Prime Minister Harper’s historic apology was largely in response to mounting potential litigation as rumours and horror stories became all too real, with well-documented acts of genocide bubbling to the surface. Yes, genocide: not simply cultural genocide, preventing language and tradition from flourishing, but the United Nations’ definition of genocide.
From the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, article II, of the United Nations:
…genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
“(a) Killing members of the group,” like throwing a child down a flight of stairs or out a third-storey window, as outlined in Isabelle Knockwood’s incredible novel Out of the Depths.
“(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” like separating children from their parents and communities, like threatening those who witnessed abuse with the same fate, like force-feeding expired food, shaving sacred hair and stripping children of their given names and mother tongue, as so many experiences across the country have documented.
“(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” like deliberately exposing children to fatal diseases and being proud enough, or brazen enough, to take photos and share them in textbooks for years to come in celebration of the efforts undertaken to address the Indian problem. The problem of course in Canada was their existence.
“(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” like forced sterilizations, forced abortions and infanticide targeting specific family bloodlines, like those of hereditary chiefs or strong leaders.
“(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Sadly, we are seeing this continue, with more indigenous children in care today than were enrolled in residential schools at the height of their operation in Canada.
There were schools in almost every province and territory in Canada. New Brunswick likes to gloss over this fact, but we too had institutions where children were treated like animals or worse, and parents were stripped of their rights right here in our backyard. It was simply before Confederation, so Canada washed its hands of accountability.
In doing my own research, I studied survivor testimonials, historic news articles and official records. It took me two years to pore through the information. I wept. I was angry, and ridden with guilt and frustration.
I particularly remember watching the film We Were Children with my high school students, as their cultural teacher. I was six months pregnant with my second child: an indigenous child who would be born with the same beautiful brown skin his father has. I could not contain my emotion, as I cannot right now. My baby seemed more and more like a miracle, the descendant of survivors.
My sons have never met their great-grandparents. They died too young. We call them survivors because they came from Shubenacadie alive when so many did not. However, the nightmare of their experiences would follow them. It would continue to eat away at their souls. It would be present in their parenting styles, in their substance abuse, in their domestic violence, in their internalized racism and in their pain.
The discovery of the remains of 215 innocent children is beyond devastating. For Canada, apologies, payouts and even days of recognition will never be enough. There are 215 families who were given no answers about their babies, some as young as three years old, which is the same age as my youngest child.
When senators, leaders of political parties and everyday Canadians suggest these schools had good intentions, were not all bad or were a product of the times, I say how dare they.
Systemic murder, often in front of other children, followed with threats and intimidation and a disgusting cover-up of the use of mass graves, forged records and death certificates, this is not an isolated incident for the school. One child’s death and erasure are criminal, despicable. There are 215. With the potential of more gravesites across Canada to be found now more likely than ever is genocide.
We are so quick to step on our pedestal and wave our fingers at other countries for their transgressions when our stool may well sit on the graves of indigenous children killed by church and state right here in Canada, shame, shame. There is no apology in the world that will take this pain away.
There has been a lot of talk of reconciliation with indigenous peoples in Canada, but truth must come first, and the truth is that most Canadians have no idea of the full impact of residential schools, the residual effects and the intergenerational trauma.
Bill C-5 is a necessary step to fulfill the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to bring much-needed awareness to the horrors of the past as well as those that continue.
Make no mistake: Missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and two-spirt peoples is part of this legacy. Joyce Echaquan’s death is part of this legacy. Chantel Moore’s death is part of this legacy. A national day of reconciliation is only as good as the space it creates for truth, truth about what has been and truth about what is.
I fully support Bill C-5 and I stand with my colleagues in the House today to see that it becomes law. It is long overdue. It is reactive rather than proactive, however. For those children and their families, please, we must do better.
Madam Speaker, absolutely the legacy of paternalism continues. I very boldly voted against Bill C-15. I know it came as a shock for a lot of people, but it was a protest. It was because we still have the Indian Act in Canada.
The parents of those children were unable to seek legal counsel because it was illegal in our country to do so. We have not done the work of reconciliation, and to pass a bill to say that it may happen with the stroke of a pen is irresponsible and it continues that paternalistic approach.
Indigenous communities have the capacity and the leadership to determine their own fate. They must be given the resources they need to do that, and that is the way forward.
Madam Speaker, I very much thank my colleague for those kind words. I mentioned my role as a teacher. I worked in a middle school in the city of Fredericton. Outside it is a very famous large cemetery. It is for members of the community from days gone by, but the children often make comments about looking outside and how sad it is to see a cemetery rather than, say, a playground or something more uplifting.
The truth is that for so many children in residential schools that was the reality. Every school had a graveyard. That reality alone should shock us all into action. The action is the key. We can be as upset as we want, we can be as moved as we want, but unless those actions follow, we are still failing.
Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague is right. There is no justification for inaction on the missing and murdered indigenous women file. If anything, the pandemic has exacerbated issues specifically for women already from vulnerable communities. To see we are potentially using that as an excuse is beyond upsetting.
We also failed to follow through with the recommendations from the royal commission. We failed to follow through with the recommendations from the TRC. We have ticked off a couple boxes, but we are nowhere near what we need to achieve, so I am so frustrated.
Again, I have to mention Bill C-15, and I hope people can understand what I was trying to do with that, which was to educate. We are not there yet. We have to continue these really difficult conversations.
Madam Speaker, I have to say her name as many times as I can. Chantel Moore’s family deserves answers and justice, and our province can no longer sit on that report.
The report has been completed for some time now, and the family needs to see every crossed t and dotted i about what what happened that night. We also need to look across Canada at what wellness checks bring on and what kinds of threats they bring to people of colour and indigenous people across the country. We continue to fail.