Cash settlement a start for survivors: ex-commissioner
Hughes says much more needs to be done for former residential school students
The only way to get survivors of the worst abuses at residential schools to agree to talk about “the evil that went on in those schools” was to promise them confidentiality, says Ted Hughes, the first chief commissioner of the process to pay them restitution.
Hughes, 90, who is in Saskatoon this week, said he agrees with the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that the records must be destroyed unless living survivors say they want their stories preserved.
“We wouldn’t have got that story as fully as we did if we had not given assurances (of confidentiality). I have no problem with them being encouraged to change their minds, but that’s an individual decision,” he said.
The former Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench justice moved to Victoria, B.C. in 1980. He was later appointed that province’s first conflict of interest commissioner, and his work led to the resignation of Premier Bill Vander Zalm. He went on to lead many commissions across western and northern Canada.
He served as conflict of interest commissioner for Yukon and the Northwest Territories, led a Saskatchewan inquiry into the shooting of Cree trapper Leo Lachance by white supremacist Carney Nerland in Prince Albert, and conducted reviews of prisons and the RCMP. He chaired a B.C. justice reform committee and was chief federal negotiator in talks with Indigenous groups on Vancouver Island.
In 2005, he reported on the failings of the child welfare system in B.C., which led to the creation of the province’s first independent watchdog for child services.
His assignment as chief adjudicator of the residential school settlement program was “the most meaningful responsibility that I’ve had in my entire working life,” he said.
“It was a start to do something for the people who so suffered at the residential schools. In no way was the cash settlement all that needs to be done, but it was a beginning.”
In the five years he ran the alternative resolution process, which preceded the current independent assessment program, Hughes and his lieutenant, Irene Fraser, approved 4,900 cases.
“Anyone who says there wasn’t evil went on at those schools, I’ll take them on any time,” he said.
He is proud all three of the chief adjudicators of the process are alumni of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law — himself, former dean Dan Ish and current chief Daniel Shapiro.
Hughes was 83 in 2011 when he led a Manitoba inquiry into the death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair, who was murdered by her dysfunctional parents after repeated failures of the child protection system.
He said he is “very disappointed” the federal government has yet to comply with orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to stop discriminating against Indigenous children by underfunding child welfare on reserves.
“I think there’s an appreciation out there with the general public today that wasn’t always there; the division that has been fostered all these years has to be bridged. The public is much more amenable to see federal funds invested in a way that will improve the lot in life of the Indigenous population,” he said.
Hughes and his wife Helen drove to Saskatoon from their home in Victoria to introduce his biography, The Mighty Hughes, by journalist Craig Innes. They will attend a book signing from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. today at McNally Robinson Booksellers.
The trip is a homecoming for the couple. Ted was born and raised in Saskatoon and began his long, distinguished career here. Helen served as president of the Saskatoon YWCA before she was elected Ward 9 city councillor in 1976 and 1979. In that role, she worked to make the city more welcoming to the growing numbers of Indigenous people who were arriving from First Nations and smaller rural communities.
She examined the federal employment centre, where she encouraged workers to see their roles as bridges between potential employers and Indigenous workers, suggesting employers consider the oppressive life experiences of Indigenous applicants. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 1982 for that work.
In Victoria, Helen continued her civic leadership, where she served for 18 years on city council. She remains on a civic committee examining the provincial courts, with an eye to importing an Indigenous youth sentencing court from Duncan to Victoria.
Ted Hughes, the former Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench justice, B.C. conflict of interest commissioner and head of numerous public commissions, is in Saskatoon with his wife Helen Hughes, a former Saskatoon City councillor, to promote his new...