Legal action must be taken against anyone found responsible for crimes against children at Canada’s residential schools, says Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal.
"Of course they need to be charged," Vandal said in an interview Sunday with CTV’s Question Period.
"This is the sort of thing you read about in another country, you don’t read about this in Canada, but if people are still alive, then we need to do all things necessary to achieve justice, of course we need to bring charges forward," Vandal said.
Vandal’s comments come days after ground-penetrating radar confirmed the presence of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian residential School in Saskatchewan and one month after 215 unmarked graves were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Vandal was not made available for a follow up interview with the Free Press but provided a statement by email.
"There must be truth and reconciliation associated with these burial sites across the country and many people are looking for truth and for closure," Vandal said, echoing comments he posted on Twitter following news of the Marieval discovery.
"We recognize there must be accountability and responsibility and must follow the lead of Indigenous communities in how they wish to move forward."
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas welcomed Vandal’s comments, as heard on CTV, calling them unexpected.
"I want to commend Minister Vandal and his strong words and his honest words," Dumas said. "I think his sentiments are fully supported. I think you can see by the shock that every other person in Manitoba and Winnipeg, if not the country, is reeling."
Residential schools and the abuse committed in them were topics once swept under the carpet, Dumas said, recalling a time in the 1990s when, as a university student working for the federal government, a director told his department "if residential schools come up, you change the subject, you don’t engage in it."
"And here we are a little over 20 years later and you have a federal MP and the rest of the country reacting," he said.
While many responsible for crimes committed at residential schools are long dead, there are many who are still alive who must be held to account, Dumas said.
"This thought that residential schools happened hundreds of years ago, the last one closed in 1996," Dumas said. "I have family members who attended those schools. People who were gainfully employed at those institutions are still around," he said.
"People need to be held accountable, people need to be brought forward. I’d love to see those nuns and those people in those schools that hurt my mom, I’d like them to come forward and explain why they did those things to my mom."
Dumas, meanwhile, has come out in support of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and their demand for the resignation of Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett after a one-word text to Independent MP Jody Wilson Raybould was called out as racist.
Last week, Bennett messaged the word "Pension?" in response to a tweet from Wilson-Raybould urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to quit his "selfish jockeying" for an election and focus on his promise of reconciliation with Indigenous people.
Bennett’s message was taken to suggest Wilson-Raybould was worried she won’t be eligible for a pension if she doesn’t win her seat in an early election. Members of Parliament must serve six years before they become eligible for a pension. Wilson-Raybould was elected in October 2015.
"That statement about pensions is telling… I think it’s tremendously irresponsible," Dumas said.
"We are having to focus, at a time when we have literally found 751 of our relatives in Saskatchewan, on two senior MPs bickering," he said. "It detracts from what we should be focused on and what we should be discussing."
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.