By: Rachel Nirenberg
The Truth and Reconciliation report, published in 2015, contains ninety four calls to action, each with several subsections. If followed to the letter, the Truth and Reconciliation report could greatly ameliorate the circumstances faced by Aboriginal people both on and off reserve. However, if history is any indication, it is unlikely that the report will be implemented completely by any Canadian government. Two other Royal Commissions have investigated the issues faced by Aboriginal people in Canada. Together, the Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) and the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (2013), made over five hundred suggestions to parliament, few of which were ever implemented. Still, critics will argue, Justin Trudeau is neither Stephen Harper nor Jean Chrétien, and his reputation should not suffer for their failures. Following this logic, the question then becomes: what has Trudeau’s government done to implement the suggestions made by the Truth and Reconciliation report?
In the year since the election, sixty four of one hundred and seventy seven bills that have been heard in Parliament have been proposed by the Liberal Party. Of these sixty four, only two, Bills S-212 and S-215, have concerned the welfare of Aboriginal people. One bill, S-212, concerns the rights enjoyed by Aboriginal communities as a linguistic minority. The other bill, S-215, proposes that violent crimes that target female, Aboriginal victims should be considered to have aggravating circumstances. In addition to the Party’s activity in Parliament, the Liberal Party has also launched a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. In April of 2016, Native Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett pledged over $2.6 billion towards Native education over the next five years. All of these are inarguably important steps towards reconciliation, but are they enough? The Trudeau government has now been in power for over a year. Considering the proposed bills, funds allocated to education, and the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry, Trudeau’s Liberals have now implemented three of the ninety four calls to action. For the sake of comparison, it should be noted that the City of Toronto alone has implemented seven. Though the Truth and Reconciliation report has not been completely ignored, its enforcement by the federal government is mediocre.
Should the implementation of the report continue to crawl along at a snail’s pace, it will make no meaningful difference to the quality of life of Aboriginal people. Though, during the election cycle, he made a point of decrying the Harper government’s general apathy towards the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Prime Minister Trudeau has actually done very little to ameliorate the issues raised by the Commission. In order to make a substantial difference, the federal government must do better. Without wholehearted action from Parliament, the thousands of pages written by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are merely wasted paper. Until the suggestions of the Commission are taken seriously by the government, there will be no meaningful change in Canadian society.