What is the Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

The Canadian government formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as part of the court-approved Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that was negotiated between legal counsel for former students, legal counsel for the churches, the government of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations. 

The commission is an official independent body that will provide former students — and anyone who has been affected by the residential school legacy — with an opportunity to share their individual experiences in a safe and culturally appropriate manner. It will be an opportunity for people to tell their stories about a significant part of Canadian history that is still unknown to most Canadians.

The purpose of the commission is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to create a historical account of the residential schools, help people to heal, and encourage reconciliation between aboriginals and non-aboriginal Canadians. The commission will also host events across the country to raise awareness about the residential school system and its impact.

The TRC has a budget of $60 million. It was formally established on June 1, 2008, and will complete its work within five years.

Over the course of its mandate, the commission will:

  • Prepare a comprehensive historical record on the policies and operations of the schools.
  • Complete a publicly accessible report that will include recommendations to the government of Canada concerning the residential school system and its legacy.
  • Establish a research centre that will be a permanent resource for all Canadians.
  • Host seven national events in different regions across Canada to promote awareness and public education about the residential school system and its impacts.
  • Support events designed by individual communities to meet their unique needs.
  • Support a commemoration initiative that will provide funding for activities that honour and pay tribute in a permanent and lasting manner to former residential school students.

Who is leading the commission?

Justice Harry LaForme, a member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation in southern Ontario, was appointed the first commission chair, but resigned in October 2008. Claudette Dumont-Smith, a native health expert, and Jane Brewin Morley, a lawyer and public policy adviser, were appointed as commissioners, but announced in January 2009 that they would step down effective June 1, 2009.

On June 10, 2009, Justice Murray Sinclair, an aboriginal judge in Manitoba, was appointed as the new chief commissioner. Marie Wilson, a senior executive with the N.W.T. Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission, and Wilton Littlechild, Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, were also appointed commissioners.

What is the truth and reconciliation process?

The truth and reconciliation approach is a form of restorative justice, which differs from the customary adversarial or retributive justice. Retributive justice aims to find fault and punish the guilty. On the other hand, restorative justice aims to heal relationships between offenders, victims and the community in which an offence takes place.

Those involved in truth and reconciliation commissions seek to uncover facts and distinguish truth from lies. The process allows for acknowledgement, appropriate public mourning, forgiveness and healing.