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Tracking implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action is important

By Ry Moran

Justice Murray Sinclair, centre, and Commissioners Chief Wilton Littlechild, left, and Marie Wilson pull back a blanket to unveil the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on the history of Canada's residential school system, in Ottawa on Dec. 15, 2015.

Justice Murray Sinclair, centre, and Commissioners Chief Wilton Littlechild, left, and Marie Wilson pull back a blanket to unveil the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on the history of Canada’s residential school system, in Ottawa on Dec. 15, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Inquiry after inquiry has pointed to the systemic nature of the harms inflicted and being inflicted on Indigenous Peoples. From the justice system and policing, to education, child and family services and health, study after study has concluded Indigenous Peoples face far different outcomes in these systems than non-Indigenous Peoples.

Ever-increasing volumes of scholarly study further reinforce this. Recent studies have affirmed that the residential schools directly affected the long-term health of Indigenous communities as a result of the chronic malnutrition suffered by the children.

Other studies have revealed the complex interactions between the collapse in traditional food supplies, illness, treaty making and reserve creation in Canada.

It should be abundantly clear by now that that there is a significant problem in Canada. It is only recently that Canadians are beginning to understand that the systemic nature of the challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples are directly tied to colonization and the creation of Canada.

We must take bold steps if we wish to break the cycles that continue to weaken Canadian society.

Actions are what count. Words, pleasant and not, have been given to Indigenous Peoples for far too long. The time for change is now and the evidence supporting this need for change is overwhelming. If we are to move toward the establishment of a respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples, true accountability needs to occur. The one-sided accountability where governments and general Canadian society cannot be held to account by Indigenous Peoples needs to end.

Until we understand that Indigenous Peoples have the inherent right to reshape this country into something greater than what it is at present – a country that meaningfully includes Indigenous ways of knowing and being – we will continue to live a fundamental untruth of who we are as a nation and where we need to go.

Cycles of incident – inquiry – recommendations

While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the countless other inquires that occurred in this country undoubtedly contributed to a significant shift in Canadian consciousness, all of these efforts were time limited. Each of these efforts came to a necessary end, leaving governments and general society at liberty to either adopt, or not adopt, the Calls to Actions, findings and recommendations issued.

Of critical importance, now more than ever, is to collectively embrace a new accountability framework in Canada. This new accountability framework must shift from the one-sided nature of the relationship so far and allow Indigenous peoples to meaningfully hold governments and society to account on recommendations and Calls to Action issued by Indigenous peoples. Moreover, this new framework needs to move beyond the repeating cycle of incident – inquiry – recommendations to a new type of relationship based on ongoing mutual accountability and pursuit of equality, safety and justice for all.

True mutual accountability is a two-way street and is at the heart of any healthy relationship.

Monitored and transparent tracking of recommendations and Calls to Action is what combats the empty promises Indigenous peoples have been fed for so long. It is what reduces the ability of governments and institutions to say one thing and then do the other. It forces society to become more honest – to take action rather than continuing to speak in pleasantries about the great changes coming (soon, we promise.)

TRC Final Report 20151215

Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair greets the audience at the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, on the history of Canada’s residential school system, in Ottawa on Dec. 15, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Accountability frameworks

The absence of mutual accountability enables governments and other Canadian institutions to continue to run roughshod over Indigenous rights, treaties and other promises. The courts, with all of their expense, delay and imperfection, become the place of last resort to prove or test infringement of rights. Moving to the proactive recognition the rights articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a critical element in the creation of this accountability framework.

Ironically, implementing these accountability frameworks is one of the longest-standing requests of Indigenous peoples. The spirit and intent of the treaty relationship was one of mutual recognition. Indigenous political organizations and lobby groups have long applied pressure to governments and civil society in order to advance the inherent rights of communities and nations across the country. Both RCAP and the TRC issued strong calls for lasting monitoring bodies that would supervise the implementation of the calls to action. The TRC’s Calls to Action are further peppered with multiple calls for all levels of government to become much more transparent, honest and accountable for the current state of Indigenous peoples within their systems and institutions.

Recently re-exposed following the trial of Gerald Stanley in the death of Coulten Boushie was former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci’s 2013 report into the under-representation of First Nations people on reserves on jury rolls in Ontario. Iacobucci begins the list of recommendations by discussing implementation first and the substance of the recommendations second.

Recommendations ‘hollow’ without action

Iacobucci opens his recommendations section with, “it must be emphasized that recommendations without clear and specific procedures, and details for implementation will be hollow. Because much of the numerous past reports relating to Aboriginal people have gathered dust on the shelf, I am acutely aware that this report will be greeted cynically by the First Nations community and result in little or no meaningful changes if there are not early and concrete steps taken by the government to implement my recommendations.

“For these reasons, I have taken the unusual step of beginning – rather than ending – my recommendations with the section on implementation, which includes recommendations for establishing bodies that will be instrumental in turning the words on the page in my report into action.”

CBC’s efforts to track implementation of the Calls to Action are extremely important. Other citizen-led efforts to do the same are equally important. National accountability efforts envisioned through the National Council on Reconciliation and the Annual State of Indigenous Peoples report envisioned by the TRC will further anchor this accountability framework on a national basis. All governments, public institutions and businesses are called upon to both honour and protect the rights articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The only way true change is going to happen in Canada is if we all make it happen together. An increased level of accountability is very much in the national interest. Let’s start by being honest, open and transparent on the current realities and work hard to rectify the inexcusable gaps that persist across this nation.