This morning the BCCLA joined Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the Vancouver national event to issue a Statement of Reconciliation. We take part in this event as part of a much broader journey of reconciliation, hoping that with care and action we might walk together to achieve just relations.
BCCLA President Lindsay Lyster delivered the following words on behalf of the Association:
I acknowledge that this ceremony today is taking place on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish Nations of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Hychka siem – thank you – to those Nations who allow us to share in this land where we live and work. It is an honour for me today, and for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, to be with you all today in this ceremony.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is 51 years old. We are Canada’s oldest and largest civil liberties and human rights organization, based here in Vancouver, and with an office in Prince George. As civil libertarians, we stand for the fundamental right of each person to dignity and autonomy. We uphold the right of people to choose how they want to live their lives – including the right to live according to one’s own culture and values. We stand against the unjust coercion of people by the Crown. We stand in opposition to government action that unjustly takes away the right of people to determine and shape their own future.
In the entire history of Canada, there can be no more shocking, tragic and sustained example of such coercion by the government than the residential schools system. The system, at its very core, and from its very inception through to its conclusion, was a grave violation of civil liberties and human rights.This injustice sowed seeds that have grown into the weeds that continue to damage people to this day. The weeds of injustice continue to damage and to strangle the relationships between individuals, among families, and across communities. They continue to damage and to strangle the relationship between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Sadly, that was the very design of the schools. They were designed to sever the bonds of children to their families and their communities, and they did so by severing their ties to their languages, their culture, and their land. And they were designed to change the relationship between First Peoples and the rest of society by erasing Indigenous culture, and assimilating Indigenous children, by force, into white, European Canadian society.
In a very real sense, the residential schools were an unspeakable violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms; as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples observed, very few people spoke out about the fundamental injustice of the residential schools system – the harrowing physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect of children within the system, and the systemic, racist and colonizing attack on Indigenous culture, identity and society, generation after generation.
Now, however, we are gathered to speak about this unspeakable injustice. Now the silence is over, and those who have ears to hear can hear the message of the great injustice that was done. We are here to name and to identify this injustice. We are here to collectively bear witness to its awful legacy.I cannot speak for those who have gone before me. But I know that the reality is that civil society in Canada, including the BCCLA, for years and years, failed to see or to understand what was happening and what was being done in our names. As civil libertarians, we should have seen, and we should have spoken out, sooner than we did. Just as Indigenous people in Canada continue to bear the pain and the ongoing effects of the residential schools system, so too have Canadians inherited the collective responsibility for actions that were taken on our behalf dating back more than a century.
On behalf of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, I offer to you today that we are sorry for the terrible injustice that was inflicted on Indigenous people through residential schools. We pledge to you our vigilance in using whatever resources we have to oppose violations of the rights and freedoms of Indigenous people now and in the future. And we pledge our fellowship with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada as we walk along the difficult road of healing and reconciliation together.