Opinion

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TRC logo flag-fullBy Jon Farmer
At its centre, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) report is a beautifully written and painful call to action. Its 94 recommendations offer tangible steps toward recognizing historical abuse and addressing ongoing injustices. The cost of this report was too high – thousands of children's lives and the suffering of countless families – but it offers solutions to the most important social and environmental challenges we face. If taken seriously, the TRC could help Canadians to right our relationships with one another and this land. That is a tall order: a shift in our collective culture.

It is easy to assume that the TRC report applies only to the relationship between the government and Indigenous peoples. As a non-indigenous person I could deny my personal responsibility and claim that the government alone creates policy. I could assume that I am separate from both the government and the visible communities to which I obviously do not belong. But the truth is that I am not separate and the idea of common Canadian citizenship is founded on the belief that we are all of equal value. Despite that founding ideal we do not govern equitably and never have.

For those of us poorly versed in the history and consequences of Canadian colonialism, the TRC gives an excellent summary. In fact, many of the TRC recommendations are explicitly intended to make sure this history is known; establishing the truth is the first step in the process. Reconciliation can only follow from the knowledge that injustice has occurred and that we must address the wounds it inflicted. Canadian history is full of injustices perpetrated by the government in the name of Canadians. Those injustices were only possible because of racist and white supremacist beliefs. As a nation, we have outgrown those beliefs but our practices and policies do not demonstrate our maturity.

The TRC report calls for specific actions to address injustices between Indigenous and settler Canadians. The spirit of the report requires even more from Canadian. If we believe that all people deserve to be treated with respect and humanity, if we aspire to healthy relationships as a nation, then we must support that goal with our political policies and individual actions. The TRC recommendations provide a path forward to address the inequalities indigenous people and communities suffer. The inequalities are rooted in settler entitlement that continues to inspire policies that deny rights to visible minorities. The recent Bill C-24 is a perfect example, establishing a second tier of Canadian citizenship. As long as Canada continues to implement policies that discriminate by origin or income we fail to embody our values. But I firmly believe that 'Canadian values' include equity and justice.

If we refuse to separate ourselves by appearance and origin then we can begin to identify collectively by our core beliefs. Appearances aside, our common 'Canadian-ness' must lie in way that we interact with each other and this space. If we believe that we are equal and that we have a responsibility to mitigate suffering and violence then we are morally obliged to create systems that support our beliefs. It is impossible to show respect to an individual if we are poisoning the water where she lives. It is impossible to show respect to a neighbour if we think of him as temporary because his dual Canadian citizenship allows him to be deported. These changes are difficult to make but they are possible.

The government operates in our name, in our spaces, and sets the policies that influence our lives. We as all peoples of Canada can take responsibility for our country by actively participating in our government. It is time to vote, time to change the mechanisms by which we vote, and time to change the way we live together. We cannot afford to make the easy claim that these issues are between the government and others. This cannot be a top down process.

According to the TRC report, "reconciliation is going to take hard work. People of all walks of life and at all levels of society will need to be willingly engaged."

Engagement begins when we advocate for equal rights for all Canadians and refuse to label our neighbours as deserving or undeserving of justice or equal opportunity. Supporting and following the TRC's 94 recommendation will be a first step towards that goal. It will show that we actually believe in our constitution by authentically promoting peace, order, and good government. Anything less would be dishonest.

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