Truth and Reconciliation in Practice

Calling lawyers to action

Truth and Reconciliation in Practice

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC”) had a two-part mandate: uncover and record the Truth, and chart a way forward for Reconciliation. With a formidable report documenting Canada’s legacy of attempted cultural genocide, with 94 Calls to Action, the Commission leaves us with both a record and a roadmap.

The Calls to Action articulate what must be done to begin to address the legacy of Canada’s residential school program, including detrimental and discriminatory effects faced by indigenous communities in areas such as health, child welfare, education, and justice. They also prescribe the first steps on a path toward a relationship of respect and reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, requiring “awareness of the past, acknowledgment of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.”1

Lawyers are called upon throughout the Calls to Action. Actions 27 and 28 relate to the legal profession and our education as lawyers. Many others call on us to advance legal change, including: addressing overincarceration of indigenous people; responding to the victimization of indigenous people, especially women; and changing how the Crown deals with claims of Aboriginal rights, including title. Numerous Calls to Action require structural changes in policy and law, which lawyers will be charged to advance.

All of the Calls to Action require Canadians to face the tragedy of our past, change our attitudes, and commit to real change. This means committing to reconciliation “in our everyday lives – within ourselves and our families, and in our communities, governments, places of worship, schools and workplaces.”2

Both individuals and organizations in the legal world and elsewhere have the opportunity to take up these calls. Some law firms are embracing the Calls to Action by developing Reconciliation Action Plans. Law professors have started a blog, Reconciliation Syllabus, a space to share materials and ways of promoting reconciliation in law teaching.3 Municipal bodies such as the Vancouver Park Board have performed internal audits and developed plans for implementation of Calls to Action. Canada has taken some early steps called for by the TRC, by announcing an inquiry into the national epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, and deciding not to appeal a decision that concluded child welfare services are provided to indigenous families in a manner that is discriminatory. The work to take up the Calls to Action is just beginning.

Michif, Métis Artist Christi Belcourt recently expressed she does not hold out hope for reconciliation because, while some non-indigenous people have genuine good intentions, not many are committed to being allies, and racism in our culture persists.4 Her words are a paramount call to action: we must all take up the responsibility of becoming respectful and genuine allies, and do the hard work required to build a renewed relationship.

As the TRC concluded: “The Survivors acted with courage and determination. We should do no less. It is time to commit to a process of reconciliation. By establishing a new and respectful relationship, we restore what must be restored, repair what must be repaired, and return what must be returned.”5

  1. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), at 6 [Summary Report] | 
  2. Summary Report, at 21 | 
  3. | 
  4. Ryan McMahon, Red Man Laughing, podcast interview with Christi Belcourt, (March 1, 2016) | 
  5. Summary Report, p. 6 | 

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