Iacobucci to help residential school commission negotiations

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci has agreed to assist negotiations aimed at getting the commission into native residential school abuse back on its feet.

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci has agreed to mediate negotiations aimed at getting the commission into native residential school abuse back on its feet.

Iacobucci will act as a facilitator when lawyers for the different parties involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which the former justice helped establish, meet Friday in Toronto.

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci, shown in Ottawa earlier this month, has agreed to facilitate negotiations to get the Truth and Reconciliation Commission back on track. ((CBC))

The commission, which aims to establish a historical account of the government-funded residential schools system, has been stalled since its chairman Justice Harry LaForme resigned in October.

Former students, aboriginal leaders and churches have since asked for meetings with the federal government to get commission proceedings going again as soon as possible.

Last week, lawyers for First Nations groups, the churches that ran the government-funded schools and survivors presented government lawyers with a plan for replacing LaForme during a four-hour meeting in Toronto.

None of the lawyers would provide details of the proposal while it is being reviewed, but some expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached soon.

The Canadian Press has reported, however, that the lawyers agreed to a mix of the first selection process that narrowed 300 commission applicants down to a short list of 16, and a new process that has not been disclosed. Murray Sinclair of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench and Leonard Mandamin of the Federal Court have been named as possible replacements for LaForme.

It is widely expected that the federal government will appoint an aboriginal candidate as head commissioner, CP said.

Canada's first aboriginal appellate court judge, LaForme resigned as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Oct. 20, less than 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, whom he said refused to accept his authority as chair and were disrespectful.

Lawyer Pierre Baribeau, who is representing Catholic groups, said Wednesday that he was optimistic an agreement could be reached to select a new chairman under Iacobucci's guidance.

"It's not that complicated, you know," he said. "Mr. LaForme, rightly or wrongly, resigned.…He has done whatever he thought was to be done. But now we have to move on."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created as a result of the court-approved Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that was negotiated in 2006 between former students, churches, the federal government, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations.

Iacobucci was a key craftsman of the historic settlement agreement, which includes the five-year, $60-million reconciliation process. Under the settlement, former students have been offered blanket compensation averaging $28,000, although payments will be higher for the more serious cases of abuse, which will be handled by an out-of-court adjudication process.

More recently, the former supreme court justice oversaw a federal inquiry into whether the actions of Canadian officials contributed to the torture of three Arab-Canadian men detained in Syria.

With files from the Canadian Press