Stop us if you've heard this one before: a federal agency takes the Harper government to court, claiming the government is failing to provide information necessary for the agency to do its federally mandated job.
Not long after the parliamentary budget officer filed a court action against the federal government because requested budget details had not been provided by a number of government departments, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is going to court in an effort to gain access to government records involving the Indian residential school system.
As indicated in a Canadian Press story in Monday's Herald, the commission is accusing Ottawa of blocking its efforts to obtain documents the inquiry says are necessary to carry out its mandate of "delivery on truth, reconciliation and ultimately healing."
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in June 2008 as part of the federal government's official apology to Canada's First Nations people for the harm done to them during the shameful residential school era. One of the aims of the commission was to "prepare a comprehensive historical record on the policies and operations of the schools."
It stands to reason that, in order to prepare a comprehensive record of policies and operations, access to government documents about the residential school period would be of great importance. The government insists it has been co-operating with the commission, providing a million documents already. The commission counters that there are many others that have not been made available.
If the commission is indeed being stymied in its efforts to obtain this information, what's going on? What happened to the "truth" part of the commission's title? Is it possible the government is being selective about the documentation it is providing? If that is the case, the government is undermining the efforts of the commission it created to unearth the truth about the residential school era. And if truth is being blocked, how is the inquiry process supposed to bring about reconciliation?
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the official apology on behalf of Canada in June 2008, he said, "Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm and has no place in our country," the prime minister said.
He later called the apology "an important evolution in Canada's relationship with our first peoples."
But if the government-created Truth and Reconciliation Commission is being hindered in its efforts, how is that going to help Canada's relationship with its First Nations residents?
In documents filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the commission's factum says, "If the parties, through incompetence, delays or deliberate stonewalling (or a combination thereof) sabotage the work of the commission, then Canadians are certain to forget (and never fully learn) what has happened."
That would not only be a waste of the $60-million commission, but it would be a slap in the face to the First Nations people, particularly those who endured suffering as a result of the residential school system who were promised that the truth would come out so that healing can take place.
If the truth becomes a casualty of bureaucracy or politics, how will the healing occur?
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