A History of T.R.C.
In Argentina, Chile and Peru, after the “ dirty wars “, in East Timor after Indonesian genocide and in South Africa after apartheid, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were established, because of the fears that criminal prosecutions/retributions/revenges against the perpetrators would wreck the fragile political consensus that was used to establish peace and democracy.
It allowed these countries to move toward accountability in a peaceful and democratic way. In some case, a bargain was struck, under which pardons were given in exchange for truthful confessions about past misconduct. This is based on the idea that establishing an historical record was more important to the development of democracy, than punishing individuals for the crimes that they committed.
In Argentina, Chile, Peru and South Africa, accounts of victims were carefully recorded in public. This educating of the public about the homicidal practices and abuses of the previous regime was necessary to build a public consensus, for the rehabilitation of the victims and the punishment of the perpetrators.
“I am sorry “, is the three hardest words for many to say. Failure to admit past wrongs have been the cause of much blood-shed, many blood- feud, and continued ethnic cleansing, whether it be in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia or the Caucasus. Argentina, Chile, East Timor, Peru, South Africa and more recently Rwanda must be commended. They have established a pattern of politics that the rest of the world can do well to emulate.
Aboriginal abuses in Canada.
The decision to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is long overdue and even now is suffering from growing pains with the resignation of its head. However the appointment of retired Supreme Court justice, Frank Iacobucci is a good step forward. It should begin its long-awaited hearings early in the New Year.
The abuses suffered by the Aboriginal peoples ( North American Indians, Inuit and Métis ), at the hands of the Canadian state ( forced settlements, unproductive reservations, the Indian Act and the bureaucrats, who had to approve all band decisions ), discrimination by the police ( Helen Betty Osborne, J.J.Harper, Dudley George etc.), the courts ( Donald Marshall ) and other aspects of the justice system …jails ( they are about 4.5% of the Canadian population but are 15%- 20% of prison inmates, ( having lost their land, original livelihood ( hunting and fishing ), their culture and, living in dreary reserves, with high unemployment and little to do, relying on welfare and a dependency on drugs and alcohol, leading to family and other violence and trouble with the law, unable to pay fines and ending up in jail ). Alienated, depressed, abused, subject to misunderstandings, prejudices, harassment and brutality, the soul is sundered.
Their children were taken ( until the 70s ) from them, adopted by non-native family, forced to go to residential schools, where they were forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture, abused physically and sexually. They did not even have the right to vote until 1960 and until 1951, the Indian Act made it an offence to hire a lawyer to bring a claim against Canada, without government consent. Canada has much to answer for and its hypocrisy is palpably evident when they chastise other nations about their abuses of their people. We have to get our own house in order.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is a good first step. How do you repair the soul of a people so long abused and alienated? How do you make up for the devastations that have been wreaked on them? Why have we allowed this evil to perpetuate itself? Are we capable of stop being judgmental and accept what we have wrought? Are we willing to overcome our ignorance and open up our minds and accept that we have done wrong and are willing to make amends?
The answers hopefully will come with the hearings. It must be public. It must be open. It must be penetrating. It must be fully broadcasted and it must say “We are sorry “and “we acknowledge and admit our errors”, and “we apologize fully ” and “we beg your forgiveness”,
If we can do this, it would be a far, far better thing that we have done, than we have done before.
A History of T.R.C.
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(Fig 2a) The Death of Innocents
Ishwar R. Prashad recently retired from over 47 years of teaching.