Magazine article Anglican Journal

Commission Is Best Forum for Finding Truth about Schools

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Commission Is Best Forum for Finding Truth about Schools

Article excerpt

IF IT HAD BEEN meant as a test, then a passing grade could be given to the staff and volunteers who agreed to represent the church in a difficult meeting with a group of protestors who had announced only a day earlier that they planned to demonstrate in front of the church's national office in Toronto on Feb. 8.

The group, in a letter to General Synod (the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada), said that they wished to hand deliver a letter to the primate (national archbishop), Fred Hiltz, demanding that the church investigate deaths and disappearances of children from the now-defunct residential schools system. The group also called on the church to turn over any records of missing and deceased children. Referring to the forthcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)--which is part of a multi-million dollar settlement between the federal government and the denominations that ran the schools--they made it clear that they believe the Commission is compromised Since it is being convened by the very government that conceived of the schools.

Nobody in either the government or the churches denies that appalling numbers of children were lost--either to illness, abuse or neglect--in the residential schools. Many children ran away and were not heard from again. While the protestors claim that 40,000 to 50,000 children went missing between 1840 and 1940, it is difficult to determine accurate figures as records were sometimes lost in fires or when schools close& And, while the protestors scoff at the process, the TRC has broad support from the major stakeholders who were involved in the schools system--not just the government and the denominations that ran the institutions, but, crucially, the Assembly of First Nations. The aim of the commission is to create as complete a historical record as possible of the school system and its legacy; the process also has a proven track record in South Africa, where a similar commission in the mid-1990s is cited as an important milestone for that country's transition to a democracy after decades of apartheid.

It is also noteworthy that at least two of the denominations targeted by the protestors (the Anglican and United churches) continue to make their archives open to the public--anyone seeking a missing family member may search the records. All churches involved in the TRC have committed to making their records available.

The protestors, who have garnered a reputation for disrupting church services in western Canada, were undeterred from their goal, even after being informed that the primate was out of the country and could not meet with them. The group was led by Kevin Annett, a non-native man and former United Church of Canada minister who was fired in 1995, after, he says, he uncovered "evidence of murders and land theft by United Church officers. …

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