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Canada must establish a National Council for Reconciliation

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has completed its mandate, the federal government must establish a National Council for Reconciliation, says lawyer Pierre Baribeau.

Baribeau, who represented the 50 Catholic entities that were parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), said unless this council is created the momentum for reconciliation “will still be there but in slow motion.”

At the closing ceremony of the TRC where it released its final report Dec. 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government “will work with leaders of First Nations and the Métis Nation, Inuit, provinces and territories, parties to the residential schools settlement agreement and other key partners to design a national engagement strategy for developing and implementing a national reconciliation framework including a formal response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.”

Asked if the prime minister’s promise means the 50 Catholic entities corporation will continue to exist to participate in this new phase, Baribeau said no, it will wind down in January 2016 since it was created to meet the financial requirements of the IRSSA litigation and it will have fulfilled its mandate.

“If the (prime minister) is asking for co-operation, I assume he will get it,” Baribeau said, but it will be directly from the Catholic bishops and religious orders.

“It will be through bilateral and multilateral requests,” he said. “The bishops have been offering their co-operation. The religious groups have not only offered but also are implementing reconciliation across Canada. They have not been waiting for the report.”

“We have hundreds of initiatives of reconciliation and compassion that have been taken by Catholic entities and organizations,” he said. “This has never been stressed or pointed out by anyone.”

Baribeau pointed out the creation of a National Council for Reconciliation is one of the calls to action. Now that the TRC has completed its work, “it doesn’t have any structural basis to continue.”

What’s needed is a council created by the prime minister, with appointments by the prime minister, with a budget from the federal government to become a “permanent, dynamic structure of Canadian leaders who were honorary witnesses to the commission, with a great profile of Canadians who want to participate in the movement,” Baribeau said.

The lawyer, who spent 22 years on the file related to residential schools and dioceses and religious orders that ran them, said he feared media attention “will evaporate if there’s not concrete action that would make that council accountable to Canadians and accountable to Parliament.”

Baribeau said it would be “great” if former Assembly of First Nations chief Phil Fontaine were appointed chair of the council. “He is the first Canadian to have publicly taken the leadership on reconciliation,” he said. “He started with the truth, and then went to healing, and observing Phil in front of the pope (Benedict XVI in 2009) he is the prototype of reconciliation that Canada needs.”

Former prime minister Paul Martin might be another choice, he said.

The National Council for Reconciliation is #53 in the Calls to Action the TRC published last June. This call to action demands Parliament, in consultation with Aboriginal peoples, enact legislation to “establish the council as an independent national oversight body.”

This council, comprised of members appointed by Canada and Aboriginal organizations, would “monitor, evaluate and report annually to Parliament and the people of Canada on the Government of Canada’s post-apology progress on reconciliation to ensure that government accountability for reconciling the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown is maintained in the coming years.”

At a news conference Dec. 15 after the TRC ceremony, TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair told journalists: “What we’ve called for is we need to know how they’re going to go about looking at the Calls to Action that we have identified for the federal government such as the Council on Reconciliation . . .”

Sinclair also mentioned the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

“We know that it’s going to take a concerted effort for all of the parties working together to implement all of the Calls to Action, and that’s how I understood his indication that he was going to be calling together the parties on how to implement our calls,” he said. “But specific parties have specific abilities that they can do on their own and that’s what they should be doing.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told journalists the government has begun work on “the pre-inquiry of the Truth, of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and we are beginning the work on the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how we will begin that implementation across all government departments, provinces and territories, municipalities, the private sector.”

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