Nfld. & Labrador

Pressure mounts on Dwight Ball to deliver residential school apology

Toby Obed wants to know why Newfoundland and Labrador's premier still hasn't followed Justin Trudeau's lead with an apology to residential school survivors.

'Why are we still waiting to hear from the province?' asks Toby Obed

Labrador resident Toby Obed, who was removed from his home at the age of three and forced to attend a residential school, says an apology from the N.L. government is 'the last piece' of the puzzle when it comes to closure. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

There is anger and impatience about why Premier Dwight Ball hasn't followed the lead of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with an apology to Newfoundland and Labrador residential school survivors — 20 months after Trudeau uttered the words in front of hundreds in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

"For myself, this would be the very last piece of that puzzle to get closure," said Toby Obed, a residential school survivor. 

"Why are we still waiting to hear from the province?"

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Ball said there are different views on where and how the apology should be done — and insists he is not holding it up.

"I want to do it, I want to get on with it," Ball said outside the House of Assembly.

"Right now, it's coming down to things like location, timing. It's a very emotional issue."

Premier Dwight Ball says details are being sorted out for the apology and 'it's a very emotional issue.' (Patrick Butler/CBC)

Ball said there has been "ongoing communication" between staff within the Intergovernment and Indigenous Affairs Secretariat and Indigenous groups, including as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

"What I am saying is, I am ready to do this. I am waiting for the terms and conditions that they are actually going to put in on how that apology should work.… I'm not going to do this on my terms, I'm going to do this on their terms," he said.

Trudeau: 'We are sincerely sorry'

Trudeau delivered a formal apology on Nov. 24, 2017. After Confederation with Canada in 1949 and until 1979, thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities to attend five residential schools that were run by the International Grenfell Association or the Moravian church. The schools had all started before Confederation. 

Many said they were sexually and physically abused at the schools, and suffered language and cultural losses.

"The treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools is a dark and shameful chapter in our country's history," Trudeau said in his address. "For all of you — we are sincerely sorry."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a formal apology to hundreds of former students of residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador during a visit to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (CBC)

Trudeau welcomed Obed on stage after his apology — the two men had embraced backstage during the event — and Obed said he accepted Trudeau's words as the first step towards healing.

"The apology has been a long time in the making — too long," Obed said at the time.

"Because I come from a patient and forgiving culture, I think it is proper for us to accept an apology from the government of Canada."

Ball promised separate apology

Ball was in attendance for Trudeau's apology, and Obed feels strongly that the premier missed a chance to make good on his promise then. 

"He had his chance, he had his opportunity and he never once spoke, he never once got up on stage, he never made his presence known," said Obed.

Trudeau welcomes Obed to the stage after delivering an apology on behalf of the government of Canada to former students of the Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Ball had vowed to issue a separate apology, on behalf of the province. 

But that has not yet happened. 

Ball was pressed on the topic on the campaign trail in May, after Steven Cooper, a lawyer who represented almost 1,000 members of a class-action lawsuit settled in 2016 for $50 million, questioned why Ball hadn't yet followed through. 

"I'm committed to this. Now it's getting the date and the place that we can agree on with all the Indigenous leaders," said Ball at the time. 

"I want to do this apology. It should be done, but right now we've got to work with the Indigenous groups so we get it right. So this is about the timing, scheduling and the wording of the apology."

But Obed believes the apology should not still be outstanding "for this very very tragic time in our lives that we had to go through."

"The pressure is on for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to step up and do their part," he said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Stephanie Kinsella, Katie Breen and Mark Quinn