Liberals look at creating federal holiday to mark legacy of residential schools

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said day to recognize painful legacy would boost understanding

The federal Liberal government wants to establish a holiday to acknowledge the dark legacy of Canada’s residential school system, and plans to use an opposition bill to make it happen.

The government has been consulting with Indigenous organizations about creating a holiday to honour survivors and raise awareness about the church-run, government-backed schools — one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says Indigenous leaders still haven’t settled on whether the day should be a full-blown statutory holiday or a day of tribute that would offer some form of symbolic recognition.

The Liberals plan to move the behind-the-scenes discussion into a parliamentary forum, allowing Indigenous groups, leaders and residential school survivors to debate the idea with parliamentarians.

The government intends to back a private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Georgina Jolibois that currently proposes establishing a statutory holiday on June 21, which is National Indigenous Peoples Day.

A spokesman for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says the government has committed to fulfilling the TRC’s calls to action, and plans to do just that.

“Call to Action 80 asks the government of Canada to establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour the survivors of residential schools,” said spokesman Simon Ross.

“That’s exactly what we will do, and we will do that in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.”

The Assembly of First Nations did not immediately respond to a query today.

On Twitter, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said a day to “recognize the painful legacy of residential schools” would boost “public understanding of our shared history and build a better country for all of us.”

The government-funded, church-run residential schools operated for more than a century. Indigenous children were ripped away from their families, usually starting in late September, and sent to schools where they endured widespread sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

The previous Conservative government issued a formal apology in 2008.

If Parliament did approve a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday, it would only apply to federally regulated workplaces — the civil service, marine ports, airports, airlines and telecommunications companies.

Provinces and territories would have to amend their existing labour codes to establish any additional day off.

The Canadian Press

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