Truth and Reconciliation commissioners speak out

Published April 1, 2009

Truth and Reconciliation commissioners Jane Brewin Morley and Claudette Dumont-Smith came to the Anglican Church of Canada General Synod office in Toronto on Feb. 13 to consult with an ecumenical group that helps the churches engage in the truth and reconciliation process. The outgoing commissioners are preparing information and advice for the yet-to-be-appointed new commissioners and chair.

Ms. Dumont-Smith said she felt she could speak more freely since she announced her resignation on Jan. 30 than she could in the months after Justice Harry LaForme resigned with the complaint that the two commissioners did not accept his authority as chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). “To be very frank, we were in limbo from Oct. 20 until we announced our resignation,” she said. In spite of the situation, she said she felt that she and Ms. Morley have learned a lot and they want to pass that information and suggestions on to the next commissioners.
“One of the things that I hope comes out of this destruction – which is what I think you have to call it – is that out of that comes something better,” said Ms. Morley. Asked why they did not resign immediately, she explained that June 1 was an estimate, “hopefully an overly cautious estimate, of how long it would take to get the new commissioners in place, and we’re basically there until the new commissioners come in.”

Ms. Morley acknowledged that, although they are still commissioners, their mandate has changed because they are leaving. “One of the big concerns, of course, is that the delay means that there are survivors who are dying, who are not well, and one of the issues that has been raised and that we are talking about is whether it is appropriate for us to hear those stories and pass them on or whether, in spite of the difficulties, it is better to wait.”

Charlotte Commanda of the National Residential Schools Survivors Society said, “There are several different nations that I work with across Canada from the East Coast to the West Coast to the Northwest Territories, and we are trying to remain hopeful of the TRC but we have lost a lot of faith and a lot of hope.”

Esther Wesley, co-ordinator for the Anglican Healing Fund, pointed out a fundamental problem with the TRC. In her travels to many native communities where people speak only their own languages such as Cree or Inuktitut, “they have absolutely no idea about TRC,” she said. “That is where work needs to be done because they do not speak English, and TRC is not a translatable term.”


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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