Commission Will Probe School Deaths: Church Applauds Expanded Mandate

Article excerpt

The Anglican Church of Canada has welcomed the call by Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice for a yet-to-be formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe the deaths and disappearances of former students of Indian residential schools.

"We had anticipated that this would become a mandate of the (commission). We've heard the concerns about former students, about how many died and how families were not informed about it," said Ellie Johnson, who represented the Anglican church in the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. (The commission will be established once the opt-out period for the multi-billion dollar settlement ends this August. The opt-out period states that if 5,000 of an estimated 80,000 former students opt out of the agreement it could be declared null and void.)

Meanwhile, General Synod members were informed that it is not just former residential schools students but their family members also who need to decide whether to opt out of the revised agreement.

"If they don't take any action this will determine their future right to litigate," said Ms. Johnson. "They must consider carefully whether to stay ... and lose the right to sue government, or take action to opt out and retian the right to future litigation."

Ms.Johnson said that an investigation is important because "it's about recapturing family and community histories and being honest and open about the extent and illnesses in the schools; tuberculosis was widespread then."

Mr. Prentice issued the statement following a report published in April that about half of aboriginal children who attended the early years of residential schools died of tuberculosis. The report cited documents that showed that the federal government ignored warnings in 1907 "that overcrowding, poor sanitation and a lack of medical care were creating a toxic breeding ground for the rapid spread of the disease."

The Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared Residential School Children, a group of former students, have urged the government to acknowledge the deaths and disappearances of one-time students. …