USGE Commends the Work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Charting a New Way Forward

Ottawa: In the wake of the release of over one hundred recommendations from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Union of Solicitor General Employees commends the Commission for its extraordinary and groundbreaking work.

The Commission, funded by a class action settlement between survivors of the schools and the federal government who oversaw them, was directed to undertake a six year study into the treatment of First Nations children who were forced to attend residential schools. Seven generations of children attended the schools.

The Commission concluded that “current conditions such as the disproportionate apprehension of Aboriginal children by child-welfare agencies and the disproportionate imprisonment and victimization of Aboriginal people can be explained in part as a result or legacy of the way that Aboriginal children were treated in residential schools and were denied an environment of positive parenting, worthy community leaders, and a positive sense of identity and self-worth.”

Stan Stapleton, USGE President, recognizes the historic contribution the Commission has made in its goal to facilitate improved understanding and respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

“Given the role that many USGE members play in supporting the management and rehabilitation of federal offenders, USGE wishes to recognize the tragic role that residential schools have played in the incarceration of so many Aboriginal people,” notes Stan Stapleton, USGE President.

“It is incumbent upon us as labour union to support national efforts towards reconciliation with our First Nations colleagues,” he added.

Some of the recommendations from the Commission include addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal people in prison through the use of community programs (vs incarceration), the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, vastly improved access to cultural services for Aboriginal offenders who are serving time in prison, as well as better access to Parole for Aboriginal offenders.

Over six years, members of the Commission, led by widely respected former Manitoba Judge Chief Murray Sinclair, provided the opportunity for individuals who had attended residential schools to give firsthand accounts of the treatment they received.

Commissioners heard thousands of heartbreaking stories of systemic physical and sexual abuse as well as the pervasive neglect of children as young as the age of five whose parents were coerced into enrolling their children in schools. These schools were often located hundreds of kilometers from their communities. Their parents were prevented from removing them without government approval, even in the face of obvious abuse.

Further, the Commission found that the extremely poor treatment of children was based, in part, upon the erroneous belief that Aboriginal peoples were profoundly inferior to their Caucasian counterparts. Making matters worse, a series of federal governments that oversaw the schools woefully underfunded them – which meant buildings were unsafe, overcrowding was endemic, medical treatment was minimal and food was scarce. Finally, the Commission discovered that six thousand children, potentially thousands more, died and were buried at the schools.

“This is an extremely ugly chapter in our nation’s history. It is time to build a new relationship and for the federal government to adopt policies and programs that invest in the health and well-being of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis citizens,” adds David Neufeld, USGE National Vice-President.