Necessary Challenges?

December 18, 2008

As I posted a few weeks ago, the Chair of the Canadian TRC, Justice Harry LaForme has stepped down. My initial response was that this did not bode well for the TRC, that if the three Commissioners could not work out their differences, how could they deal with the complicated task of reconciling a nation? 

Upon further reflection, I think this current obstacle is indeed indicative of the process that will follow, that there will be many challenges faced. But, I’ve realized that this may be necessary. How could it be any other way? The legacy of the Indian Residential Schools is a troubled and traumatic history. The process in dealing with this history will necessarily face obstacles. The history is complicated, so the process will be as well. The TRC should not attempt to simplify this part of Canadian history, or subsume it under a grander narrative. The discussions that arise out of this process will be valuable. They will illuminate some the larger issues being dealt with through the Commission. Justice LaForme mentioned that one of his reasons for stepping down is because the other two Commissioners wanted to focus more on ‘truth’ than on ‘reconciliation.’ It seems clear that the Commissioners hold different ideas regarding the definition of these two terms. 

It is easy to forget that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Comission, generally applauded for helping to deal with the crimes committed under the system of apartheid, faced many obstacles and challenges through its mandate. At the same time, it thrust the idea of reconciliation into the national and international spotlight. 

The Canadian TRC will continue to face obstacles, and the Canadian public will continue to both criticize and praise the motives and processes it follows.  As I continue to research the national and international contexts for the Canadian TRC, one issue continues to be raised: what kind of justice comes from a truth and reconciliation commission? There are no easy answers to this question.

3 Responses to “Necessary Challenges?”

  1. Cat Walker Says:

    The simple answer is this: THERE WILL BE NO JUS|TICE … the Canadian TRC is not meant to find justice … it is simply a fact finding / story gathering mission. Much of this information has already been recorded in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peopleback in 1996. The churches and the government are all hiding behind the TRC as a way of absolving themselves of the crimes committed within the walls / grounds of these houses of horror. The only reason that the churches agreed to this TRC was because they knew that their names would not be recorded, and that there was no power to subpoena any persons. They have even got out of paying their portion of the monies to be payed out in the Common Experience Payment, because it would have bankrupted them.

  2. tracingmemory Says:

    Thanks for your response. I think you are getting to the heart of the matter. The TRC is not working to prosecute individuals. It is a story gathering mission as you’ve mentioned. The system that allowed for these horrible atrocities to occur is on trial, not the individuals. But, I guess my question is whether this is also a form of justice? Is justice the same as retribution or prosecution, or is providing a fuller historical knowledge base for current and future generations part of what we would consider “justice?” Is giving an opportunities for stories and voices that have long been silenced also a form of justice?


  3. […] on Justice and the Canadian TRC My last post of 2008 raised the issue of justice. What type of justice can come out of a truth and reconciliation commission? Is justice about […]


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