What's wrong with Truth & Reconciliation?

Posted 09.23.16

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC |Canada's Truth & Reconciliation Commission has been judged a big success -- so far. It takes its place with similar successes in countries as varied as South Africa, Argentina, Chile, and, now, Canada. I am not aware of any such efforts elsewhere which have failed.

All TRCs have been successful in general terms, bringing this hidden part of each nation's history to light, and allowing participants and victims to finally tell their long-suppressed stories. Canada's began with the work of print journalist Ian Adams in 1967.

Some observers have proposed that this process could be expanded to all sorts of national repression -- the gulag system of the old Soviets, the churches' involvement in sexual abuse, the Armenian "genocide", and other displacements of minority peoples, and abuses committed around war -- a bit like the International Court -- with the Falklands War, the invasions of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, the Japanese in China (and elsewhere), even the distant Spanish despoliation of South America (or the Spanish Civil War) and, of course, star billing, the Vietnam War -- all for starters. Human history!

The question of dealing with crimes in the past is terribly complicated and fraught with dangers of extremism and misplaced blame. But today's T & R process in Canada is on much firmer terrain, and has made magnificent strides toward reaching its goals.

But … and here it's important to add that any specific criticisms of this near-holy effort is not a blanket condemnation.

The "but" is this: in essence, we have achieved only half the Commission's mandate -- we have not heard from all the participants. This is the same problem in South Africa where the Afrikaner police and government only grudgingly and lightly participated; same with Argentina -- did any of the military putschists who "disappeared" so many citizens testify? Or the church officials there who publicly approved the military's actions and torture (including, no less, the present Pope)? The victims have had their day in court, but not the perpetuators, not the criminals.

Canada experienced the same. Yes, the federal government apologized, as did the Anglican Church. But where are the actual government officers who planned and executed the program, the RCMP and local police who raided families and took the children? The politicians of the day who stood on their hind feet to denounce "Indian slovenliness"? And, especially, those directly engaged in the exploitation and abuse of the children. Where is the Catholic Church's apology? The Presbyterian Church?

Although this is criminal -- and inhumane -- behaviour, the goal is not a legal one, not to prosecute the guilty, but to receive their apologies and acknowledge their remorse. These participants must acknowledge their mistakes and aberrant behaviour. It is asking a lot -- but nothing compared to what those on the other side have suffered at their hands.

The "voices of the survivors" include the apologies of the guilty; without them, as courts often note when remorse is absent, the process is hardly complete -- or just.


Copyright © 2016 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.16