From time to time, Humans vs Harper will shift gears to speak seriously to Harper’s response to critical Canadian issues. This post on Harper’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is one of those times.
Reconciliation requires genuine trust and an abiding commitment to healing and progressive change even as it is fraught with complexity and nuance. So, we come to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report and recommendations.
We know Aboriginal peoples support many, if not all, of the TRC’s recommendations, so we can trust that they will back reconciliation efforts. We know that most non-First Nations Canadians—we settlers—have responded to the report with great attention and respect, so we have reason to hope that we settlers will embrace reconciliation efforts. But what of Stephen Harper—how has he responded, what actions will he take?
Harper first demonstrated his intention to cast off the TRC report when he deliberately failed to comment on its release. He had nothing to say to us about a $50 million report that over six years heard the shattering testimonies of thousands of survivors of the residential school system. A system that as the TRC reported, led to the deaths of over 6,000 residential school students.
While Harper replied to Opposition questions in Question Period, he responded in his typical fashion with repetitive, formulaic responses and attacks against the Opposition. He was deliberately signaling that it was just another day in the House of Commons.
Especially insulting was his response to the recommendation that Canada implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Harper declared it to be aspirational. In other words, something we can wish for but can never hope to achieve.
On that day and as always, Harper did point to his 2008 apology to First Nations for the horrendous abuses they suffered through the residential schools system, which our governments established and operated for over 100 years. But, apologies are not actions. Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tells us that if the government doesn’t act on the TRC report then Harper’s words from 2008 will end up being an “empty, meaningless apology.”
Harper held no news conference. At a news conference, good reporters ask the questions we ourselves would want to ask. Harper doesn’t want anyone asking him questions about the TRC’s findings. He will deny all such questions through the upcoming election campaign.
Harper silenced his Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt. He prohibited Valcourt from speaking to the report and appearing in the House of Commons on the day the report was released. Harper prohibited Valcourt from standing at the closing ceremonies upon the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
Harper attended the TRC closing ceremonies bringing nothing but his silence.
Over the entire time Stephen Harper has governed Canada, we cannot point to a single government initiative where he has demonstrated that he has, let alone values, the qualities necessary to lead a reconciliation process. In truth, we’re still waiting for him to show us that he can dialogue with others.
Throughout Canada’s history, Aboriginal peoples have battled on a host of issues and most especially for their foundational land and self-government rights. Since 2006, they have fought Harper’s concerted and profoundly arrogant attempts to extinguish their rights and control their communities. As they have demonstrated time and again, they will never give up this honorable struggle. If the promise of the TRC bears fruit, it will be because of the leadership of Aboriginal peoples.
Meanwhile, in the face of the TRC’s momentous report, Harper brings distain to himself, his government and our country. No matter the potential for inclusion and renewal, Harper gives nothing—no energy, not even a gesture.
Our country only goes backward with Stephen Harper.