Truth and Reconciliation Chair Resigns

The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick
The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

Justice Harry LaForme stepped down as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on October 19, citing irresolvable conflict between himself and fellow commissioners Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley.

The two commissioners disputed his authority, LaForme alleged, and weighted the 'truth' side of the commission too heavily when he sought 'reconciliation.'

In the wake of LaForme's decision, several native groups including the National Residential Schools Survivors' Society and Anishinabek Nation have called for the remaining commissioners to resign.

“I can say without a doubt, that First Nations have lost confidence in the Commission as it is presently constituted. Clearly, the remaining commissioners are responsible for these turn of events and need to be replaced,” said Anishinabek Chief John Beaucage in a press release.

However, the Presbyterian, Anglican and United churches, along with 51 Catholic groups, have publicly reaffirmed their support for the commissioners. The four denominations are signatories to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

“Both truth-telling and reconciliation processes are central for survivors and for our nation as a whole as we address this tragic chapter in Canadian history. We believe that Ms. Dumont-Smith and Ms. Morley understand that,” Rev. James Scott, the United Church's General Council Officer for Residential Schools said in a release published on the PCC website.

Lori Ransom, truth and reconciliation animator, is confident that the parties will move quickly to elect a new chair.” There is every reason to look forward to the work it will do in the coming years,” she told the Record.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine has also expressed a desire to replace LaForme quickly, to maintain the momentum created by the government's Apology to native peoples in June, and to capture survivors' stories before they are lost.

According to a report by the CBC, there are about 80,000 survivors but an estimated six die each day.

The commission was formed in an unprecedented way; 14 representatives from the various bodies of Settlement Agreement signatories selected the three commissioners. Although no policy exists to replace a commissioner, in early November Justice Frank Iacobucci agreed to act as facilitator as the parties move forward with the process.

The Commission's five-year mandate was to culminate in an accessible national archive of stories and resources related to the legacy of Indian Residential Schools. Seven national and many community events were intended to share stories, culture, and promote reconciliation between native and non-native groups. Ransom expects national events take place in 2009. – with files from CBC and CNW Group


About Connie Wardle

Connie Wardle is the Presbyterian Record's senior writer and online editor.