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.”

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