Advocate calls for framework to investigate mass grave sites in Canada
Posted May 30, 2021 1:56 pm.
Last Updated May 30, 2021 3:11 pm.
KAMLOOPS (NEWS 1130) — The discovery of 215 bodies of children in Kamloops has prompted a call from advocates for a formal framework to investigate mass grave sites in Canada.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond leads UBC’s Residential School History centre and has advocated for children in B.C. She is urging the federal and provincial governments to create a framework that incorporates Indigenous leaders to ensure residential school survivors do not have to investigate sites where their loved ones are buried.
“Fundamentally, this is about the right to truth, which is owed to families and to our society generally. And this is like an inalienable right, which is the right to know the truth about past events, a duty to preserve the memory and a victim’s right to know and the core component of this is that you have to verify these facts and have full and public disclosure of the truth. And every person, including the next of kin, has that right to truth. And all Canadians have that right to truth. And we must be informed of everything that has happened in connection with this mass burial site, it must be done appropriately, and it has to have a proper framework, we can’t let it fall to, for instance, a provincial corner to take the lead when they don’t have the set of regulations and skills,” she explains.
Without the framework, Turpel-Lafond says Indigenous people in Canada are left vulnerable.
“This needs to be put in place urgently.”
Turpel-Lafond adds the Government of Canada has an obligation to put in place a legal framework to ensure that the discovery of this mass burial site is appropriately addressed and balanced, “ensuring that it can protect the fact that this is a place of intimate sorrow. For those who whose loved ones are at the site, and yet to be identified.”
Aside from Truth and Reconciliation Commission, she says Canada does not have an initiative that records deaths.
“Residential school survivors courageously came forward during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and said, ‘there are these my siblings, my friends, other children that never came home and never returned to the dormitories the next night.’ And the survivors told this, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recorded it, and then the only move that Canada has made, is to provide a very limited bit of funding to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation to develop a death registry. But even that doesn’t have a proper legal framework.”
Turpel-Lafond says to preserve the sites, there will need to be consultations with not only the First Nations of the territory, but from all of the area of the interior B.C. where the children were drawn to the school.
However, she says creating this framework is a delicate balance of the rights and interests of a number of different considerations.
“My concern is too much responsibility has simply been placed on First Nations and survivors to address the issue of mass burial sites and Canada needs a proper legal framework, probably informed by international practices and standards,” she says.
Turpel-Lafond has been speaking with First Nations leaders about whether or not the Prime Minister needs to appoint a representative to lead and take immediate measures.
– With files from Nikitha Martins