Photo Credit: VanIsle Staff

It’s Not That Hard, Mr. Trudeau

Here are the ten steps you need to take to finally confront Canada's horrific Residential School legacy

Countries, including Canada, don’t like to acknowledge their buried history, so here’s an ten-step guide to help Mr Trudeau investigate our grim residential school history

If you Googled “mass graves” in the last couple of weeks, two countries will appear at the top of your search—Russia and Canada.
Russia appears because archeologists uncovered dozens of new pits at a notorious Stalin-era execution site outside Moscow, where more than 10,000 political dissidents are believed to be buried.

Canada appears because the country is still reeling from the announcement that 215 children were buried in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory).

Unfortunately, our leader’s fondness for ‘manly,’ shirtless photo-ops are not the only dismal similarities they share—both leaders are dodging calls for a full investigation of the horror that has been uncovered.

In Russia, Putin is actively trying to suppress any broad probe.

In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau has flashed his Haida tattoo and mouthed apologies but hasn’t done anything concrete to fast-track a thorough, independent investigation.

Admittedly, investigating Stalin’s mass graves is an enormous task. Researchers using ground-penetrating radar recently identified 134 potential graves at just one site near Moscow. Moreover, experts believe that thousands more unidentified mass graves haven’t yet been located across the country. Still, Russian President Putin aggressively stalled efforts, including jailing historians trying to find mass graves of the hundreds of thousands of people executed during Stalin’s “Great Terror.”

However, Mr. Trudeau shouldn’t be deterred as a full investigation of Canada’s buried history is much less logistically challenging. Although residential schools operated in every Canadian province and territory except New Brunswick and PEI, only about 160 institutions were scattered across the country. The federal government financed 139, and a few additional schools were funded by provincial governments and/or religious orders.

While only 215 remains of unnamed indigenous children have been found so far, everyone knows there are thousands more waiting for someone to find them, name them, and bring them justice at last.

So let’s make it really easy for Mr. Trudeau.

Here is a detailed list of the steps he needs to kick-start a full, independent investigation.

Step one: Ask one of 400 or so staff in the Prime Minister‘s office to get provincial and territorial maps identifying the location of all the residential schools. 

Step two: Order a $6 pencil compass,  find the scale on the map (usually at the top or the bottom), and spread its arms to match a kilometre on the scale of the map;

Step three: Put the pointy end of the compass on the locations of every residential school, and draw a one-kilometre circle around it;

Step four: Hire one of the inspectors that oversaw the mass graves excavations in Rwanda or Bosnia as Lead Investigator. If they aren’t interested, then approach Canadians with solid human rights credentials like – General Romeo Dallaire, former President of the International Criminal Court, Philippe Kirsch, or Stephen Lewis – or help recruit a lead investigator.

Step five: Buy a bunch of ground-penetrating radar devices – enough for multiple teams to operate at different schools at the same time – to search every centimetre of the circles you drew;

Step six: Instruct one of your 4,500 plus staff at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to provide you with a list of every headteacher, principal, teacher, counsellor, priest, minister, reverend, nun, nurse, doctor or support worker that worked at any of the schools;

Step seven: If anyone – churches, dioceses, orders of priests or nuns – refuses to turn over information, then sign an order-in-council – or if needed, pass legislation – to give the investigators the power to subpoena people and compel records and testimony

Step eight: Fast-track money for the initial investigation and then for multiple teams to quickly check out each of the 160 or so school sites;

Step nine: Dispatch teams to the search for graves;

Step ten: Most importantly, publicly pledge that anyone still alive found to be responsible for any deaths will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

The time to act is now.

Actually, the time to act was a couple of weeks ago when the Kamloops graves were first discovered. But it’s never too late to do the right thing.

Many Canadians find it offensive that First Nations groups are having to launch GoFundMe campaigns to raise money for their self-funded investigations.

These deaths happened while most of these kids were under the care of the Canadian government. So the Canadian government needs to take responsibility for uncovering the truth (and the scale) of their failure to protect them from harm.

So step up, Mr. Trudeau.

Back when you were first elected, you promised that “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples.”

Now is the time to live up to your words. It’s time to show that this was not just another in a long line of broken promises.

Your track record isn’t great – you promised to resolve the long-overdue drinking water on reserve fiasco and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Still, despite the rhetoric, progress has been slow.

Canadians, particularly families with children that survived Residential School (or didn’t), demand action, not more words.

Uncovering painful history is never pleasant, but it is an essential step to recognizing our true history, and healing.

Launch a full investigation, Mr. Trudeau.

We know it’s scary – facing one’s deepest darkest secrets always is – but finally, it’s time.