Harper’s Shrug of Indifference to Residential Schools Report Speaks Volumes: Editorial

Toronto Star
June 4, 2015

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was back in "war on terror" mode in Toronto Thursday, announcing new border security measures that incorporate more extensive biometric screening.

Back in 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to Canada’s aboriginal peoples for Ottawa’s role in trying to “kill the Indian in the child” by removing 150,000 children to residential schools where cultural assimilation was the goal and 6,000 perished. He called it a “great harm” and vowed his support for communities that are struggling to this day to recover.

“We are now joining you on this journey,” he pledged.

Yet when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its report this week calling for a bold new era in Crown/native relations, Harper mustered little more than an indifferent shrug. He took credit in Parliament for setting up the commission. And he defended his government’s record, saying “vast amounts of money” have been earmarked for jobs, schooling, and health.

But he didn’t say a word at the commission’s closing ceremony. Unlike Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, he couldn’t bring himself to utter the words “cultural genocide.” And apart from throwing a token $1 million to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to help house its records, he didn’t endorse any of the commission’s 94 recommendations.

This was a missed opportunity to showcase Ottawa’s willingness to invest more than lip service in the new, healthier relationship the commission called for with the country’s 1.4 million indigenous people. Canadians expect better of their leadership.

Recently Harper has cheerfully announced $600 million for Canada’s spy service, the RCMP and border services, much of it linked to concerns over terror. Would it have been too much to expect him to mark the commission report by announcing generous support for pressing practical needs such as promoting aboriginal culture and languages? Creating jobs? Improving schooling, housing and health? Or reducing the number of children in care? Many native communities are in dire need of such help.

He could have provided some without embracing the commission’s broader views on genocide, treaties and rights. But even that was too big a stretch. Far from joining Canada’s indigenous peoples on a path to a better place, the Conservatives seem content to stand by the wayside, wishing them good luck.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.