The Chronicle Herald (Metro)
B.C. asked to investigate burial sites as crime scenes
Indigenous leaders, organizations, scholars and lawyers are calling on the federal and
provincial governments to appoint a special rapporteur and a special prosecutor to bring justice for the victims and survivors of Indian Residential Schools.
A document from the UBC’S Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre notes there is no legal framework in place in Canada for a criminal investigation of unmarked graves or human rights violations that government agencies and churches could be held responsible for. It suggested ways to ensure justice can be served.
The special rapporteur would advise on a legal framework to investigate human rights violations and other crimes related to the hundreds of unmarked graves found near the former residential schools, with a special prosecutor to oversee the investigations.
So far, federal and provincial responses to the discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools, like the one in Kamloops, has been to focus on healing. The federal government has promised $27 million for healing and further investigation by First Nations across the country.
On Thursday, B.C.’S Indigenous relations minister, Murray Rankin, announced the appointment of two Indigenous liaisons to help distribute $12 million in provincial healing funds that would be used by Indigenous communities with ties to 18 former residential schools and three former “Indian hospitals” in B.C. to undertake site and archival
research, community engagement and mental health supports.
The History and Dialogue Centre’s director, Mary Ellen Turpel-lafond, agrees healing supports are important and necessary, but she said that focus has allowed the question of justice to be swept under the rug.
“I am very concerned that government has effectively placed on the shoulders of Indigenous people the duty to investigate crimes against
them,” said Turpel-lafond. “And this is coupled with the narrative of ‘we’ll give you money to heal’ which has allowed government to protect institutions like the churches, from releasing records.”
Rankin said conversations about justice have taken place with the federal justice minister, David Lametti, and there will be more to come.
“There have been requests made by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and by other nations and other leaders that
there be attention given to the justice response,” said Rankin. “What form that should take is complicated by the federalprovincial divide.”
“While the minister of justice does not have the authority to initiate criminal investigations, as this is an exclusive power of the police, we will consider all options that will allow the survivors, their communities and the country to move forward on the path to healing and reconciliation,” said a Lametti spokesperson, Chantalle Aubertin.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs outlined roles for both governments in resolutions it passed last month that concluded “mass human rights violations against Indigenous people must be thoroughly documented, investigated and examined in terms of Canada’s accountability.”