Canada must be a just society.
Those were the words of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau two years before his government took over control of Canada’s residential schools from religious groups.
It was another 27 years before the Canadian government closed for good, the boarding schools created to assimilate indigenous children into the dominant Canadian culture.
In 1906 the annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs submitted by chief medical officer Peter Bryce cited conditions in the residential school system contributed to Canada’s indigenous population having double the mortality rate of the general population.
Through years of reviews and inquiries the horrors of the residential school system run at different times by the Anglican, Catholic, United, Presbyterian and the Canadian government have been revealed.
In 2008 former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for Canada’s part in the residential school history.
Through all the studies, reports, inquiries and apologies the “just society” spoke of by Pierre Elliot Trudeau has never been realized.
The discarded bodies of the 215 indigenous children found near the site of the former Kamloops, B.C. residential school, as a result of the direction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, provides no evidence of justice.
What is quite obvious is Canada has failed its own people in seeking answers, understanding circumstances and punishing the guilty responsible for the residential school tragedy in Canada.
As a result of the tragedy the victims, the families and relatives are continually re-victimized by their own government’s failure to act.
Canada and most so-called “just” nations in the world are signatories to the Rome Statue and rely on the International Criminal Court’s investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity. The purpose of this court promotes standards and seeks justice where countries have failed to act.
In this spirit I joined with lawyers of various specializations from across Canada in calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate both the religious groups and the Canadian Government for “Crimes Against Humanity” through the residential school system.
This is not a step any of us take lightly. As a Queen’s Counsel and member of the Alberta Bar it pains me to think the country I was born in, my family fought for and of which laws I seek to uphold every day could have been used to commit these crimes.
A copy of the formal complaint to the International Criminal Court has been shared with Canada’s Attorney General David Lametti and the leaders of all of Canada’s federal political parties. The formal complaint is attached to this opinion editorial.
The hope of all of those listed below is the International Criminal Court can succeed where too many national inquiries and reports have failed. The ICC can provide both direction in fully investigating the stained legacy of Canada’s residential schools and provide a call to action for our governments.
This failure cannot be owned by any one religious group, political party or government. Federal and provincial governments of all stripes as well as the churches share the blame for inaction.
Perhaps through international pressure the families of the lost souls found in Kamloops and the thousands of other children who died can find relief.
We can all do more than simply wear an orange shirt or place shoes on doorsteps. These signs of respect and sorrow are important, but Canada’s indigenous people have been given too many signs and words in place of action.
Only through action to uncover the truth and punish the culpable, can real reconciliation occur.
M. Jennifer Shaften, Q.C.
On behalf of Brendan Miller, LL.M, Jonathan Dennis, Q.C. and Donna Kennedy-Glans, Q.C.