On December 15, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report into the legacy of Residential Schools in Canada, along with 94 Calls to Action. The TRC spent six years speaking to survivors, gathering documents and meeting with communities. On December 18, the City’s Aboriginal Affairs Committee heard a presentation about what municipalities can do to implement the Commission’s Calls to Action. Tim Maguire sent a letter to the Committee to express the support of Local 79 and the broader labour movement.
Dear Co-Chairs and Members of the Executive Committee:
RE: AA 2.1: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – Calls to Action
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on AA 2.1: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – Calls to Action. I am honoured to do so on behalf of CUPE Local 79’s 20,000 members who work in the City of Toronto, Bridgepoint Hospital, and Toronto Community Housing.
As Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted, “reconciliation is not an Indigenous problem: it is a Canadian one.” This means that all levels of government must accept their responsibility for promoting reconciliation, including municipal governments and including, of course, the City of Toronto.
Residential schools are part of Canada’s legacy of settler colonialism. Their explicit intent was to forcibly assimilate an entire set of nations into the legal and cultural vision of settlers. For example, Duncan Campbell Scott, who was the Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs in 1920 said: “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.” The Commission was right, therefore, to describe residential schools as part of a systematic effort at cultural genocide: “the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group.”
Unfortunately, we continue to see the devastation that residential schools inflicted on families, communities and, of course, the survivors themselves. All too often, this legacy is made worse by the continuation of racist mindsets and structures. Reconciliation needs to work against both the legacy of residential schools and current manifestations of racism and colonialism.
The Canadian labour movement is willing to be a strong partner in this process.
Hassan Yussuf, President of the Canadian Labour Congress recently said: “We need to recognize the incredible courage and trust shown by the survivors who shared their stories. In order to do justice to that trust, the federal government must work with the provinces, territories and First Nations governments to ensure all the commission’s recommendations are passed without delay.”
When the Commission’s interim report was released in June, Paul Moist (who was President of CUPE National at that time) said: “As workers, we must acknowledge the attempted cultural genocide of Indigenous Peoples. This is a dark part of our history shared amongst all Canadians. We stand strong as an ally with Indigenous Peoples, and we are committed to working together with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples on the journey towards true reconciliation.”
At its national convention in May, CUPE reaffirmed its commitment to Indigenous communities, including its support for accelerated and comprehensive negotiations on outstanding land claims, support for entrenching the Indigenous right of self-determination in the Canadian constitution, and respect for the rights of Indigenous communities to retain their tradition of customary self-government.
Local 79 has been a strong supporter of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and we currently have a campaign to promote good jobs in the City. We believe that for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people a like, good jobs are central to escaping poverty. However, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report shows, overcoming the shameful legacy of residential schools will require a coordinated, multi-faceted approach. What the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Commission’s Calls to Action share is a need for governments to actually put the resources in place to allow healing to continue where that work has begun and for healing to start where new strategies are needed.
I have enclosed a list of the municipally relevant recommendations that Local 79 believes should be made a priority by the City of Toronto.
More broadly, though, I am here to offer Local 79’s support for implementing all 94 of the Commission’s Calls to Action and our willingness to do what we can to facilitate changes at the City of Toronto and TCHC. This includes advocating for City Council to do more than talk about implementing recommendations: we will push Council to put resources in place to get the work done.