The special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked burials at residential schools is calling out the federal government over a deal with an international group tasked with locating missing people lost through armed conflict, human rights abuses and other causes.
Kimberly Murray says she’s “very concerned” Canada’s $2-million technical agreement with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) lacks transparency and places the commission under the influence of bureaucrats at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC).
She’s urging Minister Marc Miller to release the agreement so communities can see the details for themselves.
“It should be made public,” Murray said.
“Canada and the ICMP entered into the agreement without telling anyone that they were entering into an agreement. They didn’t actually consult with any of the national Indigenous organizations. They didn’t have any input on the contract.
“There was no transparency to it.”
Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the commission will undertake countrywide outreach, offer expert information on DNA analysis and other forensic approaches, and then provide the Canadian government with a final report, Miller said in a Tuesday statement to the Canadian Press.
The group’s work will be independent and led by local Indigenous facilitators, according to Miller, but Murray said the agreement must be published so communities can confirm it.
Miller’s office refused to provide a copy of the deal when asked.
“Agreements and documents will be shared when appropriate to do so, with input from all parties,” his office said in a statement Thursday.
CBC News is awaiting a response from the ICMP.
Concerns feds want ‘shadow report’
Murray flagged the lack of transparency last week in a written submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who is slated to visit Canada in March.
The Jan. 30 submission said Murray has questions about ICMP’s experience and expertise concerning constitutionally protected Indigenous rights, sovereignty, self-determination, laws and protocols.
Some may recall that I was the Executive Director at TRC. As I reflect on those years, Canada tried and failed, to create a parallel TRC process run by GOC bureaucrats at Indigenous Affairs (CIRNAC) . They failed. I am seeing same behaviour today. <a href=”https://twitter.com/MarcMillerVM?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@MarcMillerVM</a>
She said Wednesday she wonders if Ottawa officials and politicians want a “shadow report” to have in their “back pocket” in case they don’t like the findings Indigenous-led offices like hers make.
“The commission’s developing a report that will be delivered to Canada, not the community, but to Canada,” she said.
“It’s not at arm’s length. It’s very controlled by CIRNAC.”
Despite those concerns, Murray said the group does good work, adding that communities should have the option of bringing in the commission if they deem it helpful — “without Canada controlling it.”
The statement from Miller’s office said engagement and co-operation between the interlocutor, the commission, the unmarked graves national advisory committee and the Winnipeg-based National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation “is essential to seeing this work through.”
“These conversations will be valuable to provide support to communities faced with very difficult decisions regarding options for consideration — should they wish, and provide the federal government recommendations on tools and supports needed.”
Questions about how data will be handled
Leah Redcrow, executive director at the Acimowin Opaspiw Society, oversees an ongoing investigation into unmarked burials at Blue Quills residential school in Alberta.
The Saddle Lake Cree Nation located what it believes is an undocumented mass grave at the site in 2004.
Redcrow said it’s imperative Indigenous communities know how the international commission will handle DNA, records and any other important, sensitive data.
“Information and data sovereignty is a very important thing with these investigations,” she said.
“Where is the information going to go and what is their objective? Just to get another report? That helps the government. That doesn’t help us. We have to try and repatriate remains here.”
Redcrow said her group wasn’t consulted on the agreement and agrees it should be public.
Both the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami had no comment.
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron said via statement “we were not consulted on the work that will take place with the ICMP” but that she hopes the process helps communities.
“Ultimately, we are supportive of any and all processes that will assist our communities in the uncovering of unmarked graves and the work that needs to continue as we heal from the traumas of genocide and colonization,” Caron said.
Métis children often attended the same residential schools as First Nations children, though the exact number of Métis pupils is difficult to assess, the TRC said in its 2015 report, which described the system as a core element of Canada’s policy of cultural genocide.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children passed through the system over more than 150 years.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.