Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it is Canada’s fault that 215 Indigenous children were buried in an unmarked, mass grave at a one-time residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
He says Canadians can’t close their eyes and pretend this didn’t happen; they must acknowledge that the country failed in its duty to those children, their families and their communities.
And he says they must recognize that last week’s grisly discovery in Kamloops is just part of a larger tragedy that saw many Indigenous children “disappear without trace” after being torn from their families and sent to residential schools across Canada.
Trudeau made the remarks in the House of Commons during a special “take-note” debate Tuesday night on the tragedy.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says the discovery is a stark reminder of a dark chapter in Canada’s history and he’s calling on all parties to support immediate implementation of six recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the documentation and commemoration of children who died at residential schools and protection of their gravesites.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and other New Democrats are calling on the government to admit the residential school policy amounted to genocide.
Canadians can expect more remains: Sinclair
The former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says Canadians should be prepared for the discovery of more children’s remains at other residential school sites across the country.
Retired senator Murray Sinclair says the remains found in Kamloops mirror horrendous stories he heard from survivors of the school system.
He says survivors talked about children who suddenly went missing, including into mass burial sites.
Sinclair says when the commission asked if it could conduct a fuller inquiry to explore these stories, the request was denied.
He says the discovery is evidence of the large number of children who died.
Sinclair says the survivors and intergenerational survivors need to understand that this information is important for all of Canada to appreciate the magnitude of the truth of this experience.
“Since the revelation of what has happened at Kamloops has come to light, I have been inundated with calls from survivors. Hundreds of calls, often just to cry,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I can hear not only the pain and the anguish, but also the anger that no one believed the stories they had told. I can also hear their sense that they have lost some hope that maybe those children that hadn’t returned might still be found. They now know that may not happen.”
Sinclair says Canadians must persevere in the investigation into what happened at the schools and ensure that healing programs are in place to help survivors to gather and share their memories and stories.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission operated between 2008 and 2015 and provided Indigenous people directly or indirectly affected by the residential school system with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for anyone affected by residential schools. You can call 1-866-925-4419 24 hours a day to access emotional support and services.