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Independence an issue, LaForme says

Government wants Truth and Reconciliation Commission secretariat to report to Indian Affairs

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The federal government is challenging the independence of Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), its chair said in an interview with Pique .

Speaking from Quebec City last week, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Harry LaForme said the commission’s independence is being challenged by the federal government’s decision to have its secretariat, or administrative arm, function as a government department. This creates the potential for inappropriate interference with the commission’s work, LaForme said, because it has been established as part of a class action settlement agreement to which the federal government is a party.

“We want to be as accountable for the funds as anybody should be, but the question then became, who is actually responsible for such things as hiring and firing within the commission?” LaForme told Pique . “The government of Canada thought it was, so that caused a problem and we’ve been sorting through that.”

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which came into force on May 10, 2006, is the largest class action settlement in Canadian history. In addition to providing payouts to residential school survivors, the agreement established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will acknowledge the “injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people” in residential schools.

The commission will allow survivors to come forward and share their experiences through truth-sharing and statement-taking. Those stories will thereafter be recorded in a national archive as a way of putting the residential school legacy into Canadian history.

Part 6 of the TRC’s mandate, which is embedded in the settlement agreement, states that the secretariat shall be subject to the “direction and control of the Commissioners.” But that can’t happen if the secretariat is being asked to report to the government, according to LaForme.

“We just want to make certain that the administration arm, the people that are responsible for providing our travel accommodations, all those other things, our office spaces and all that, is equally under the control (of the commissioners),” he said, stressing that all three commissioners overseeing the TRC are “absolutely independent.”

These issues come despite Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl’s assurances to Pique in a May interview that the commission would be the “master of its own destiny.”

Indian and Northern Affairs spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said the federal government has extended “every possible form of assistance” so that the TRC can complete its work independently, but said the commission has to report on the $60 million that has been allocated to carry out its work.

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