Photo Credit: VanIsle Staff

When Is Someone Going to Jail?

It’s time good people made some noise and demanded some justice for Residential School survivors

We’re waiting for a politician to come out and pledge that they will ensure that the people responsible – wherever they are – will be tracked down and brought to justice.

It was hard to hear about the 215 children in unmarked burial sites at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.  These kids didn’t die rock climbing, or drag racing, or from some terrible cancer. They died going to school.  

It’s hard to get your head around that – kids died going to school. 

It’s a tragedy beyond words. 

Many Canadians responded—tears were shed, flags were lowered, prayer circles held, GoFundMe campaigns launched, and heartfelt Facebook posts shared.  

All that was well and good. It may even help some people process their horror, or their grief. 

Many politicians have expressed their sympathy and apologized to the impacted families (and communities), but surprisingly the one thing we haven’t heard much about is bringing whoever is responsible to justice. 

There’s been little mention of prosecuting the perpetrators.  

This silence is strange, especially from the law-and-order types who always try to explain away these examples of ongoing racism as the work of a few bad apples. 

But part of reckoning with the past is justice.

So we have only one question for our political leaders: When will someone be prosecuted and go to jail?

Most Canadians are good, hard-working people. And good, hard-working people are strong enough to face the fact that this country’s history (and present) isn’t as rosy as it is made out to be.

Now it’s time for us to use our strength to reckon with our past. We have the strength to learn from this and build a better future. 

We must. 

There is still a lot we don’t know about the deaths (dare we say murders or negligent homicides?) in Kamloops and all the other residential schools across the country. 

We still don’t know exactly how many children died in Kamloops.  We know close to 5,000 First Nation kids died at residential schools,  but there may be a lot more that we don’t yet know about. Some estimate up to 25,000 kids perished.

We don’t know all their names.  

We don’t know when they died.  

We don’t know the circumstances.  How many were killed? And how many died from neglect or starvation? 

We need a full investigation by an international team of forensic investigators, and we need it now. 

But there is a lot we do know or could easily find out.  

We know who the headmasters, principals, priests, ministers and nuns were at all these so-called schools.   

We know who taught there and when.  

Why haven’t we heard of a chorus of voices demanding justice, demanding that the bad apples responsible be held to account? 

The Catholic and Anglican churches and the Canadian government have this information or could quickly find it.  

We’re waiting for a politician to come out and pledge that they will ensure that the people responsible – wherever they are – will be tracked down and brought to justice.  

A promise that whoever is responsible for these children’s deaths will be prosecuted for murder or negligent homicide. A guarantee they will be fined, and any assets they have accumulated will be confiscated and redistributed to the families of the dead children. 

But all we’ve heard is crickets. 

Why is that? 

It’s time good people made some noise and demanded some answers and justice. 

We cannot stay silent on this. 

Remember, there is no statute of limitation on rape, murder, or negligent homicide in Canada, meaning that someone can be charged years after the alleged crime took place.

Some of those responsible for the deaths in Kamloops and other residential schools are probably still alive, and prosecuting long-ago crimes is not unusual. 

Canada, the United States and Israel are still pursuing and prosecuting Nazi war criminals from the 1940s.  

Just this spring, Canada tried to deport Waterloo, Ontario real estate developer Helmut Oberlander and his wife – who emigrated in 1954 – for his role as an interpreter for a roving Nazi death squad. 

In 1994, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was prosecuted and convicted in Mississippi over 30 years after he murdered African American civil rights leader Medgar Evers. 

In the closing arguments of the Evers murder trial, the prosecutor asked and answered a question that all Canadians should consider:

“Is it ever too late to do the right thing?”