Session Aimed at Getting Truth Commission Back on Track Called "Constructive"

The Canadian Press

November 8, 2008

TORONTO A day-long session aimed at getting Canada's derailed Truth and Reconciliation Commission back on track wrapped up Friday with some signs of progress.

Lawyer Pierre Baribeau, representing several Roman Catholic entities that ran the now-closed native residential schools, emerged from the meetings facilitated by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci expressing optimism.

"We visited all the issues," Baribeau said.

"We're in a good way to find solutions together."

The lawyer refused to provide specifics, citing a confidentiality agreement among the parties, but said the meetings exceeded expectations.

"Everyone is happy compared to what we could have expected," he said.

The commission was thrown into chaos last month when Justice Harry LaForme suddenly quit after a brief but troubled tenure as its head. LaForme had complained about government interference, and accused co-commissioners Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley of undermining his authority.

The two women denied the charge.

Iacobucci, who helped craft the $4-billion settlement that arose out of a lawsuit related to abuse at the federal residential schools, agreed to step in as facilitator after LaForme quit.

During Friday's session, he met privately with representatives from the Assembly of First Nations and other parties involved and also held a session in which everyone was present.

Baribeau said there was "real progress" toward naming a replacement for LaForme because of what he called "the co-operative atmosphere."

However, no names of potential candidates were made public.

Baribeau praised Iacobucci's involvement, calling it a "very good thing."

The former justice has the credibility to speak to all the parties, as well as to the federal government, the lawyer said.

"Everyone, from what I gather, is on board to try to find concrete solutions," Baribeau said.

"It's very constructive in that sense, for the survivors, and for the Canadian public."

The parties agreed to another meeting within the next few weeks, but no date was confirmed.

About 80,000 former students of the notorious residential schools survive, but many are sick or elderly.

The commission was set up to hear their first-hand accounts of what happened to them as children.

Thousands sued Ottawa for physical and sexual abuse, culminating in the compensation deal reached two years ago.

Neither Iacobucci nor a lawyer for the Assembly of First Nations returned calls seeking comment.


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