Truth and Reconciliation Commission: By the numbers

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has released its report on Canada's long, sad history with residential schools. By the numbers, the odds of dying in a residential school were about the same as in the Second World War.

Summary report is only one step in reconciliation

Canada Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair told CBC News that the TRC has recorded over 6,000 deaths of residential school students. (Darcy Hunter/CBC)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Canada's Indian residential schools uses the term cultural genocide for what happened to the 150,000 or so aboriginal children and their families while the schools operated.

"Residential schooling was always more than simply an educational program: it was an integral part of a conscious policy of cultural genocide," the TRC's summary report states.

In media interviews, TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair has also revealed that the TRC has documented the deaths of over 6,000 residential school students as a result of their school experience, adding that there are probably more. It appears more about the number will await a later commission report.

Those 6,000 deaths put the odds of dying in Canadian residential schools over the years they operated at about the same as for those serving in Canada's armed forces during the Second World War.

The commission is a requirement of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement reached in 2007, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.

In its report, the TRC writes about the deep scars left by colonialism and "policies of cultural genocide and assimilation" and the damage inflicted on the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.

"It took a long time for that damage to have been done and for the relationship we see to have been created, and it will take us a long time to fix it."

"But the process has already begun," the commission adds.

Residential schools

Years the residential schools program operated: 1883 - 1996 

  • By 1979, only 12 residential schools were still operating. The program largely wound down during the 1980s.

Total number of schools over time: 139

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair speaks during the Grand entry ceremony during the second day of closing events for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa, June 1. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Peak number of schools operating at the same time: 80, in 1931

Share of the schools operated by the Roman Catholic Church: up to 60 per cent

Total First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children placed in residential schools: more than 150,000

Estimated number of residential schools student deaths: over 6,000, according to TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair

Odds of a student dying over the life of the program: 1 in 25 (if 6,000)

  • Odds of dying for Canadians serving in the Second World War: 1 in 26 
  • According to Saturday Night magazine, reporting on residential schools, Nov. 23, 1907: "Indian boys and girls are dying like flies.... Even war seldom shows as large a percentage of fatalities as does the education system we have imposed on our Indian wards." 

Odds of a residential school student dying in the early years of the program: 1 in 2 

  • Duncan Campbell Scott, then deputy superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, wrote in 1913: "It is quite within the mark to say that fifty per cent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education, which they had received therein."
  • During the program's first half-century, tuberculosis and then influenza were the primary killers. The neglect, abuse, lack of food, isolation from family and badly constructed buildings assisted disease in killing residential school "inmates," as Scott termed them. A lawyer who conducted a review in 1907 told the government, "Doing nothing to obviate the preventable causes of death, brings the Department within unpleasant nearness to the charge of manslaughter."

Residential schools destroyed by fire: 53

  • "There were at least 170 additional recorded fires," writes the TRC.

Student deaths in school fires: at least 40

Former students living today: 80,000

A 1907 medical report for Indian Affairs said that 75 per cent of the children who had been students at the File Hills residential school east of Regina had died because of their time spent there. Until 1951, the students spent half their day doing chores. The photo was taken in 1948. (United Church of Canada Archives/TRC)

Compensation for sexual or serious sexual assaults

Claims resolved by the independent assessment process: 31,970

Claims in progress: 5,995

Total compensation paid: $2.8 billion

  • IAP compensation numbers, as of April 30, 2015
  • Like the TRC itself, the IAP comes from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, to resolve claims out of court. Prior to the agreement, 18,000 class action lawsuits had been filed by former students seeking compensation.

Share of claims for compensation for abuse compared to the number of former students who were eligible to make such claims: 48 per cent

  • This number does not include those former students who died prior to May 2005.

Dormitory supervisors at Grollier Hall residential school in Inuvik between when the school opened  in 1958 to 1979 convicted of sexually abusing students at the school: 4

Dormitory supervisors at Grollier Hall, 1958-1979: 4

  • According to the TRC, Joseph Jean Louis Comeau, Martin Houston, George Maczynski, and Paul Leroux were the only ones who had that job during those years. "All were convicted of abusing Grollier Hall students."

Former students' claims recognized for 'common experience payment': 78,748

  • Any former residential school students could also receive what's called a common experience payment of $10,000 for the first year of residence and $3,000 for each additional year of residence.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Statements received by the TRC from witnesses: over 6,750

Hours of recordings collected by the TRC: 1,355

National events held by the TRC: 7

Recommendations: 94

Volumes of the TRC final report: 6 (projected)

(Darcy Hunter/CBC)

Decades of suffering in residential schools

8 years ago
Duration 2:13
Disturbing mortality rates and inhuman conditions go back more than 100 years