After more than six years of leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Justice Murray Sinclair is optimistic that government will heed its recommendations for fostering social change, particularly with a new government in Ottawa.
Sinclair spoke to the media Monday night prior to addressing a TRU Storytellers Gala on how Canadians as individuals — students and faculty specifically —can work towards reconciliation.
The Manitoba judge said the commission had indications all along from political parties outside government that they were prepared to implement the 94 recommendations.
“At the end of the day, on election day —from a First Nations perspective — we now had an incoming prime minister and incoming government that were already on the record as having endorsed the TRC recommendations,” he said.
After Sinclair released the TRC report in June, then prime minister Stephen Harper indicated that a Conservative government would not be adopting two recommendations specifically. One of those rejected was to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the other was to affirm that the residential school policy was a tool used by government to engage in cultural genocide against indigenous peoples.
“As I indicated on June 2 when we released the report, we are not writing the report for this particular government, we are writing it for all future governments,” Sinclair said. “At some point, along will come a government that will be prepared to implement our report.”
The early election call was an unexpected hurdle for the commission, since it diverted attention away from the report and the strategy it had developed for lobbying for implementation. Summers are notoriously slow for dialogue around policy and and issues, anyway, so the commission adopted an alternative approach.
“What we did during the summer months was to essentially work with nongovernmental agencies and talked to them about what they might be willing to do to implement recommendations. We had numerous discussions with universities, with schools and educators generally.”
In addition, the commission approached representatives of private industry and municipal governments as well as philanthropic and nonprofit organizations — anyone not directly engaged in the election — to obtain feedback.
The law societies of Canada, for example, committed to do what they can in terms of education. Law schools deans across the country have indicated they’re looking into important principals outlined in the report on the significance of indigenous law and developing an nderstanding of the unique needs of aboriginal people within the system.
Judges have invited the TRC to participate in various education programs and Sinclair has participated in several of those.
“Now that the federal elections is over, we will probably turn our attention to the federal government and say, ‘Now, here’s what we think you can do.’ ”
The commission’s mandate comes to an end in December, bringing Sinclair’s role to a close, but the TRC has worked to ensure that residential school survivor groups will carry on after that, he said.
“We are now helping to educate them so that they can continue to do the work.”