UN calls for investigation into the deaths of children at residential schools in Canada, offers technical help to protect burial sites

Published by Brent Patterson on

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MP Leah Gazan speaking about genocide in Canada. She stated that residential schools in this country should be treated as active crime scenes.

The remains of 215 children were recently found in a mass grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in what is called British Columbia. Some were as young as three years of age. The school opened in 1890 and closed in 1978.

PBI-Canada recalls that the United Nations defines “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” as genocide.

It is estimated more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented the deaths of 3,201 children at residential schools, but it is believed that more than 6,000 died at these schools. There are an estimated 80,000 Indigenous people alive today who carry the trauma of having experienced residential schools as children.

UN calls for investigation

On June 2, the Canadian Press reported: “The United Nations Human Rights Office is calling on all levels of Canadian governments to investigate the deaths of Indigenous children at residential schools and to intensify efforts to find those who are missing.”

“Marta Hurtado [the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet] says Canada must ensure ‘prompt and exhaustive investigations’ into the deaths and search any unmarked graves.”

The article adds that the United Nations has also offered technical help to manage and protect the burial sites.

UN spokesperson Hurtado further notes: “The intergenerational impacts deriving from them continue to be significant, including at the linguistic, economic and cultural level. Lack of exhaustive clarification and access to truth and redress for what happened during this dark period compounds this.”

Lawyers seek investigation for crimes against humanity

The CBC also reports: “More than a dozen lawyers from across Canada have formally requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate the Canadian government and the Vatican for crimes against humanity following preliminary reports that the remains of an estimated 215 children were discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

“If it happens, the investigation could lead to the prosecution of ‘employees, agents and actors’ of the Catholic Church and Government of Canada who were involved in either the creation and/or coverup of the burial grounds, said Calgary lawyer Brendan Miller.”

That article adds: “The ICC, which prosecutes cases only when countries are unwilling or unable to do so, has the power to compel involved parties to disclose all documents and information related to the investigation.”

Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations

Radio Canada International has also reported: “The UN said the shocking and painful Kamloops discovery should inspire Canada to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, which included a section on missing children and burial information.”

“In their landmark 2015 report, the commissioners called for the establishment of a student death registry and an online registry of residential school cemeteries, among other recommendations to help communities document lost loved ones.”

Residential schools in Canada

In 1883, Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald said in the House of Commons: “Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence.” That same year Public Works Minister Hector-Louis Langevin allocated $43,000 for the federal government’s first three industrial schools for Indigenous boys.

The last school closed in 1996.

Peace Brigades International

Peace Brigades International-Canada rejects the violence of colonization, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands, and genocide.

We extend our sympathy and solidarity to Indigenous peoples grieving the 215 children lost and share the call for healing, justice and an end to impunity.

The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project accompanies Indigenous land defenders and the exhumation of Indigenous peoples killed by state violence. The Guatemalan genocide took place during the Guatemalan military government’s counterinsurgency operations. The genocide is understood to have taken place between 1960 and 1996, with 1981-83 seen as the most intense period.

This week PBI-Guatemala has been accompanying the Human Rights Law Firm (BDH) at the trial of eleven former military and police officers accused of crimes against humanity in the disappearance of at least 183 people between 1983 and 1985.

A memorial for the 215 children has been set up on the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill (on unceded Algonquin territory) and at other sites across the country.

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