Saskatoon

Student-on-student abuse a significant problem in Sask.: Sinclair

It has been a gruelling six years for Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as he crisscrossed the country listening to the stories of thousands of survivors of Indian residential schools.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair reflects on six years of listening to residential school stories

It has been a gruelling six years for Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as he crisscrossed the country listening to the stories of thousands of survivors of Indian residential schools.

Sinclair said here in Saskatchewan, fallout from the residential school area is particularly fresh, because many of the survivors had attended in the period after 1969, when the government turned over operation of the schools to other entities, including tribal councils.

Student-on-student abuse became a significant problem, Sinclair said, the cycle of violence repeating itself through the conduct of students.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning, he called it a "very significant issue that needs to be addressed".

Many of them are still dealing with people in their community with whom they went to school- Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

"The Government of Canada of course is legally liable for the fact that they failed to supervise in their schools when they were still managing them," Sinclair went on.

"They handed over the day-to-day operations to tribal councils, but they still made all of the management decisions around the schools, including not giving enough resources to the schools to be able to be run properly."

Sinclair said there are still a significant number of people who have hesitated to come forward and tell their stories publicly, "because many of them are still dealing with people in their community with whom they went to school, and with whom they've had incidents in the past".

Love story tinged with sadness

When he needs to think of positive stories, Sinclair recalls one elderly couple in Abbotsford, B.C. he told CBC radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Now in their 80's and 90's, they had fallen in love while in residential school.

"And when the nuns saw that they were in love with each other, they sent them to different parts of the country, to different residential schools," Sinclair recounted. "They never saw each other again until they had married and raised children and had families."

They weren't allowed to allow their natural affection for each other to bloom- Justice Murray Sinclair

When they retired they moved back to their home reserve near Abbotsford, to the senior citizens' home where they found each other again and married.    

"I just find that a lovely story. It makes you feel so good to see that happen," Sinclair.

And yet, even that story is tinged with sadness, because they were separated.

"They weren't allowed to allow their natural affection for each other to bloom."

As for the federal government's response to the Commission's report, Sinclair is calling for a "considered approach", looking at everything that's been said, "and not merely respond in the course of a political debate".

He added, "We really didn't write this report for this government or for any particular government. We wrote this report as the guidestone for every government going forward in this country."