Feds will manage groups offering options for unmarked residential school burials
The Canadian government will closely monitor an international group hired to offer Indigenous communities options for unmarked burials at former school sites, a contract released Friday shows.
The release of Ottawa’s $2 million technical agreement with The Hague-based International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) follows criticism from Kimberly Murray, the special contact for missing children and unmarked graves.
Murray last week raised concerns that the agreement contains an inadequate timetable, overlaps with her mandate and gives too much power to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) bureaucrats.
“It’s very heavily controlled by CIRNAC,” she said.
The now public contract confirms that CIRNAC retains full oversight of the Commission – including the right to comment on its draft report, attend meetings and request briefings at any time – while it operates domestically.
The ICMP works with governments and civil society groups around the world to assist in locating people missing from armed conflict, human rights abuses, disasters and other causes.
While praising the commission’s work and saying it offers Indigenous communities an important option, Murray called the process too comfortable with Ottawa.
The deal stipulates that a CIRNAC representative, whose name will be censored in the released contract, will be “responsible for all matters affecting the substance of the work” the commission will carry out.
That means working nationwide with Indigenous communities on options for identifying and repatriating missing children, including assessing interest in DNA matching and other forensic approaches, the work statement said.
The ICMP will provide bi-weekly summaries to this officer after engagement sessions, round tables and town halls. A senior government official will join the commission to make opening remarks at opening and closing sessions at City Hall.
The commission will convene a face-to-face round table discussion with around 25 technical experts “with the participation of CIRNAC”, the agreement says.
CIRNAC officials will continue to attend these events “as appropriate and as determined by CIRNAC”. The commission agreed to identify eight regional Indigenous mediators “with input from CIRNAC” to help.
The ICMP will provide CIRNAC with a work plan, a rolling engagement meeting schedule, a materials overview and various other documents. The Commission will communicate regularly with CIRNAC and will “provide written ad hoc status updates” at all times.
The report may be released “subject to Canada’s approval”.
Once all of this is done, the CIRNAC representative will have the opportunity to review and comment on the Commission’s draft report, which will be presented in a format determined by the government, until May 15, 2023.
The Commission will then present its final report by June 15, 2023.
The Commission reserves the right to publish the document “upon adoption of the report and subject to Canada’s approval”. The confidential information agreed by the ICMP remains secret.
Murray, in a Jan. 30 submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, questioned whether the commission has sufficient expertise on indigenous rights, sovereignty, self-determination and protocols.
Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller and ICMP Director-General Kathryne Boberger addressed some of these concerns in their joint release on Friday.
“Indigenous communities across Canada are leading the difficult and important work of uncovering the truth at former hostel sites, and our government will continue to assist them in this process, regardless of whether they choose to enlist the services of the ICMP take it or not,” said Müller.
Bomberger said the group looks forward to meeting with Indigenous communities across Canada to explore ways to identify and repatriate remains.
“The families of the missing are central to addressing the issue of missing children and unmarked burials,” she said in the release.
“Your needs, knowledge and views must guide you.”
On Friday, Murray said Canada faces a conflict of interest as a financier and manager of the boarding school system.
“They are the perpetrators,” Murray said.
“This is a genocide investigation and it is the state that committed the genocide, so at every step they want to know what is happening.”
She said she remains concerned and plans to push for changes to the agreement that increase survivor participation and eliminate Ottawa’s power to influence the final report.