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Can We Call it Progress? The Challenges with Tracking Reconciliation


Art piece by Olive Bensler



In the years since the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRCC), the pursuit of meaningful reconciliation has garnered greater attention.[1] The comprehensive recommendations provided by these inquiries, particularly the TRCC Calls to Action and the National Inquiry's Calls to Justice, offer a roadmap for change. However, measuring progress in this multifaceted journey presents significant challenges, as recent legal developments underscore.

The Complex Nature of Reconciliation


One of the fundamental hurdles in evaluating progress toward reconciliation stems from the intricate and interconnected nature of oppression and systemic racism. Reconciliation is as hard to implement as racism is to dismantle. The National Inquiry's Calls for Justice delve deep into addressing the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, offering a comprehensive guide for systemic change.[2] Nevertheless, the sheer scope of these issues, ranging from socioeconomic disparities to institutional discrimination, makes it challenging to quantitatively assess progress accurately.

Efforts to track progress have been made, with initiatives like CBC News creating a "Report Card" tracking the government's actions in response to the National Inquiry's Calls to Justice in 2023.[3] While such endeavours are commendable, they are not without their shortcomings.


For instance, the report card identifies Call to Justice 5.17, which reads: "5.17 We call upon federal, provincial, and territorial governments to thoroughly evaluate the impacts of Gladue principles and section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code on sentencing equity as it relates to violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people." [4]

The CBC Report Card grades 5.17 as "not started." [5] Primarily, this is based on a disagreement as to the purpose of this provision. CBC News interpreted this provision as one calling for greater implementation of the Gladue principles, which is a sentencing framework meant to address the over-incarceration of Indigenous people.[6] This interpretation mirrors the immediately preceding Calls to Justice, which focuses on restorative justice. As such, it is deemed "not started" because of the lack of action regarding Gladue funding commitments.


In contrast, the Federal government interpreted 5.17 with 5.18, which has a different message.[7] Call to Justice 5.18 calls for sentencing reforms that increase the severity of sentences and implement provisions identified in an earlier Bill S-215.[8] So, amid other reforms, the federal government introduced new sentencing provisions contradicting Gladue and increasing the severity of offenders' sentences regardless of race.[9]

It is certainly valid to criticize the effect and impact of these reforms; in fact, we intend to do so in a future post. Unfortunately, Call for Justice 5.17 is sufficiently vague that whether the actions taken are progress or regression cannot be easily said. This is especially true considering the reforms have produced significant case law discussions that explicitly reevaluate the implementation of restorative justice principles in cases where the victim is an Indigenous woman or girl.


Hope, Political Will, and Individual Change


Despite apparent issues, we must remind ourselves that progress toward reconciliation is both a systemic and individual responsibility. We need enough political will to push for our systems to change. As such, measuring progress toward reconciliation cannot stop, or sometimes even start, at government action. Instead, non-Indigenous Canadians must reflect on their actions and identify what motivates them to advance reconciliation.


For example, Olive Bensler - one of the authors of the ReconciliACTION Blog - is a descendant of residential school workers. Reflecting on this prompt, Olive provides the following answer:


"My great grandparents worked as a nurse and groundskeeper at Port Alberni Residential School. My paternal grandparents hosted children taken from their families during the time of the 60s Scoop. I didn't know about either of these facts until my mother began her thesis research on settler colonialism in nursing. Through her work, our family started openly discussing our role in some of the darkest parts of Canada's history and present. Even if it were not for this blood connection, those conversations about privilege, white supremacy, and colonialism acted as the impetus for a dramatic shift in my personal level of engagement in reconciliation."

Conclusion

The pursuit of reconciliation in the aftermath of the MMIWG and TRCC is an ongoing and complex journey. The National Inquiry's Calls to Justice provide a roadmap for change. Still, the intricate nature of the issues involved makes measuring progress challenging. Recent attempts, such as the CBC News report card, illustrate the commendable efforts to track progress and the inherent difficulties. Still, we find hope in the immeasurable ways our society is changing.


See you next week!


-The ReconciliACTION YEG Team


Citations

  1. National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls, Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Calls for Justice) (Ottawa: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019) [National Inquiry]; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Ottawa: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012).

  2. National Inquiry.

  3. National Inquiry, at 5.17 (p 185).

  4. CBC News, article, "A report card on the MMIWG inquiry's calls for justice" (June 5, 2023) online <https://www.cbc.ca/newsinteractives/features/cfj-report-cards/cfj5>.

  5. House of Commons Debates, 42-1, No 435 (17 June 2019) at 2205 (Hon David Lametti).

  6. R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688.

  7. Government notes

  8. National Inquiry, at 5.18 (p 185). Bill S-215 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for violent offences against Aboriginal women) December 15, 2015 1st Sess 42nd Parliament 2015-2016.

  9. Bill C-75, An Act Amending the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, SC 2019, c 25. Canada, Parliament, House of Commons Debates, 42nd Parl, 1st Sess, Vol 148, No 278 (29 March 2018).




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