Justice Harry S. Laforme Resigns As Chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission

October 20, 2008

TORONTO - Justice Harry S. LaForme today resigned as Commission Chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, citing an "incurable problem" that has led him to conclude that the Commission "as currently constituted" will fail.

"At the heart of it is an incurable problem. The two Commissioners are unprepared to accept that the structure of the Commission requires that the TRC's course is to be charted and its objectives are to be shaped ultimately through the authority and leadership of its Chair," he said in a letter to Chuck Strahl, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The other two commissioners are Jane Brewin-Morley and Claudette Dumont-Smith. They have "repeatedly and openly" rejected the proposition that the Chair was to shape the Commission's course, Justice LaForme said in the letter. He was chosen as Chair on April 28, 2008. He is a judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

"Challenging the reality that they were appointed as providers of advice and assistance to the Chair, the two have chosen to compete for control of the Commission by insisting that it is to be run on the basis of simple majority rule...Efforts on my part and on the part of others to move the Commission away from their position toward one that would restore functionality and respect have been futile."

This, he said, has put the Commission "on the verge of paralysis." Justice LaForme said the other two Commissioners do not embrace his interpretation of the mandate that emphasizes reconciliation. They and their supporters "see the TRC as primarily a truth commission. Unlike mine, theirs is a view that leaves much of the work of reconciliation for another day. It is a view that does not recognize the need for uncovering and recording the truths of the IRS (Indian Residential Schools) past and legacy as but a part, however important, of the greater whole of reconciliation."

"This difference in views would not be insurmountable if ours were merely a case of competing visions open to debate and beneficial solutions. But they are not. The two Commissioners insist that the direction of the Commission is to be determined through a majority vote - thereby ensuring that their restricted vision will be the one consistently sustained. Apart from the essential fact that this not what was contemplated in their appointment, majority votes at the TRC are unworkable for another, practical, reason. The current unique situation of the TRC is that the two Commissioners have made it clear that their majority rule would not be grounded in Commission independence but would be shaped by the influence by some of the parties and their political representatives."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created as the result of a court-approved agreement to settle legal claims that residential school survivors and others brought against the Government of Canada and Church entities. The Commission reports to the parties of the settlement agreement through the courts.

The Commission's mandate is to document the residential school experience through national and regional events with the aim of healing and forging a new relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.


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