GG relaunches Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Gov. Gen Michaëlle Jean has relaunched the problem-plagued Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will probe the assimilation and abuse aboriginal children faced at Canada's residential schools.

Gov. Gen Michaëlle Jean relaunched the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an emotional ceremony at Rideau Hall on Thursday.

"When the present does not recognize the wrongs of the past, the future takes its revenge," Jean told an audience that included residential school survivors. "For that reason, we must never, never turn away from the opportunity of confronting history together — the opportunity to right a historical wrong."

The mandate of the commission, which has been plagued by delays and controversy, is to probe the assimilation and abuse aboriginal children faced at residential schools across Canada in the 20th century.

Now expected to finish its work by 2014, the commission has been stalled since its former chairman, Justice Harry LaForme, resigned on Oct. 20, 2008, six months into his mandate.

In his resignation letter, LaForme wrote that the commission was on the verge of paralysis and doomed to failure. He cited an "incurable problem" with the other two commissioners — Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley — whom he said refused to accept his authority as chairman and were disrespectful.

Both women later resigned to clear the slate for an entirely new commission. In June, Justice Murray Sinclair of Manitoba was named as chair, along with a new slate of commissioners.

The commission is the first its kind in the world to focus specifically on abuse against children of a specific race, said Sinclair, who is himself a residential school survivor.

While the schools they attended were known as Indian residential schools, Inuit, Metis and First Nations' children all collectively went to them, he added.

"To those of you who would say, 'That's in the past, why don't they just get over it?' I would say this," Sinclair said.

"We and you are not out of that past yet. Our families were broken apart and must be rebuilt. Our relationships have been damaged and must be restored. Our spirits have been stolen and must be returned. Our love for life was turned into fear and we must work together to learn to trust once again."

In 2006, a court-approved Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement offered former students blanket compensation averaging $28,000, although payments were to be higher for more serious cases of abuse.

The truth commission was established to provide survivors with an opportunity to share their individual experiences in a safe and culturally appropriate manner, as well as establish a historical account of the government-funded residential schools system.

It will hold seven national events to collect stories from former students that range from good memories to horrific accounts of physical and sexual abuse.

In June 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology in the House of Commons for decades of racist government policy meant to "kill the Indian in the child."