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NDP's Singh calls on feds for concrete action after remains discovered at residential school

Last Updated May 31, 2021 at 10:57 am PDT

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is seen during a news conference on Parliament hill in Ottawa, Tuesday April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

NDP leader says feds can't react to discovery of remains at residential school through symbolic gestures

Jagmeet Singh calls on Liberal government to work with Indigenous communities to search other sites

Singh calls for emergency debate in House of Commons after discovery of 215 children's remains in Kamloops

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – The leader of the federal New Democrats is calling on the federal government for concrete action in the wake of the discovery of 215 children’s remains at a former residential school in Kamloops.

For one, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is calling on the Liberal government to stop taking Indigenous children and residential school survivors to court.

The New Democrats are also calling on the federal government to work with Indigenous communities to search other former residential school sites, and to fund these investigations.

“Indigenous communities deserve to have the justice of making sure that every site like this is uncovered,” Singh said Monday, days after the discovery became public.

Last week, federal Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett suggested to NEWS 1130 that support for additional searches would be coming, and that those supports would include funding.

“We know in other communities coast to coast to coast, they are asking for support and research. Over this past little while we as the government have done the engagement as to what they’re going to need,” Bennett said, adding consultation was underway with Indigenous leaders and groups. However, the details of this support and funding were not provided.

The NDP is also asking the federal government to fund support for survivors who continue to face trauma, and for an emergency debate in the House of Commons.

“In this emergency debate, I want us to take measure of what this means. This mass grave is a painful reminder of the genocide and what we have to commit to is that in face, in light of this genocide, Canada has to make some real tough decisions about our commitment to remedying this injustice. It’s not enough to just reflect on the pain of this injustice — for the federal government, it has to be a responsibility to do something about it,” Singh added.

The deaths in Kamloops are believed to be undocumented, though the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc says there has always been “a knowing” within the community.

“Two hundred and fifteen little kids whose parents never knew what happened to them,” Singh said. “The country is reeling from this loss. People are commemorating and reflecting on this loss across the country, and that is incredibly important. We all are grieving. I grieve with the Indigenous community today. Canada grieves with Indigenous people.”

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While the discovery did come as somewhat of a shock to many, Singh says it was not a surprise. He says it represents the reality that was residential schools, noting that while the system does make up a part of Canada’s history, “it’s not that long ago.”

“There are people that we know, there are colleagues that I know that are survivors of residential schools. This is actually a part of our present, this is a part of today,” he said, noting the pain people are feeling is real.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and operated until 1969. The federal government took over the operation from the church to operate as a day school until it closed in 1978.

The last  residential school in Canada closed in 1996.

“It is painful and it hurts, and we have to feel that pain so that we can use that pain to do something with it. And I want to make this really clear. It is not good enough for the federal Liberal government to just make symbolic gestures to commemorate this horrible loss,” Singh said.

Singh was asked on Monday if he had a message for Indigenous families who’ve lost loved ones in the residential school system. He took a long pause, appearing to choke back tears, before saying, “I’m sorry. We’re going to fight for justice for you.”

Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul is also calling on the federal government for action, saying one step the prime minister should take is to once again call on the Pope to apologize for the church’s role in the residential school system.

Prime minister promises concrete action

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will be speaking with Minister Bennett, Indigenous Services Minister Mark Miller, and Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal on Monday to discuss how the federal government can best support survivors and the community.

“We promised concrete action, and that’s how we’ll support survivors, families, and Indigenous peoples,” Trudeau said.

On Sunday, Trudeau asked all flags on federal buildings be flown at half-mast in honour of the 215 children whose remains were found in Kamloops.

He says the discovery represents a “tragedy that existed here in our country, and we have to own up to it.

“Kids were taken from their families, returned damaged, or not returned at all with no explanations until this week. People are hurting, and we must be there for survivors,” he said Monday.