Canada must conduct thorough, independent investigation of all undocumented deaths of Indigenous children | Statement

International law obligation for thorough, independent investigation
Implement UNDRIP and TRC Calls to Action

How Canadians can help

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) shares in the grief of Indigenous colleagues and communities after the announcement on 23 June 2021 of 751 unmarked graves found on the premises of the Marieval Residential School located on the territory of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. This announcement follows the May 2021 announcement of 215  unmarked graves of children found on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School located on the territory of the  Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation as well as other unmarked graves found or suspected in other locations in Canada. The residential schools operated from the late 1800s to their closing in 1996.

Canada must ensure a prompt, thorough, impartial and fully independent investigation

LRWC calls upon all Canadian authorities to fulfill Canada’s international law obligations set out on the UN Minnesota Protocol to ensure a thorough, prompt, impartial investigation of the circumstances of each and every undocumented death with full respect for the families and communities of the victims. This applies to the numerous unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. LRWC calls for full protection of the wellbeing of all complainants, witnesses, families, and investigators, as well as access by families and their legal representatives to all relevant information. The investigation must be immediately launched and completed within a reasonable time, providing a full, written, detailed and public report on the methods and findings of the investigation within a reasonable time. The investigation must be capable of providing evidence sufficient to bring to justice all those found to be involved in unlawful deaths through prosecutions and trials, including any public officials who had reasonable opportunity to prevent unlawful acts leading to deaths. There must also be fair and effective compensation for the families of all victims of unlawful deaths within a reasonable period of time.

Canada must ensure immediate and complete production of all relevant documentation in the possession of all relevant governmental, religious, or other entities that can shed light on undocumented deaths and missing persons.

Given the historical lack of confidence in the impartiality of investigations by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or other Canadian government authorities, LRWC calls for a fully independent inquiry as required by international human rights law and standards set out in the Minnesota Protocol, and directed by representatives chosen by Indigenous Peoples in accordance with their own procedures.

LRWC calls upon all Canadian authorities and institutions to ensure their full cooperation with international human rights bodies, including UN human rights bodies and mechanisms  , and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Canada must implement the UNDRIP and the TRC Calls to Action

Canada must respect the terms of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and seek resolution of issues concerning Indigenous rights through representatives chosen by Indigenous peoples themselves in accordance with their own procedures. Canada must implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

Crisis line for residential school survivors, family members, and descendants

LRWC members have been advised that the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) in British Columbia has a 24/7 crisis line available for all residential school survivors, family members and descendants. Traditional counsellors are available upon request. Call 1-800-721-0066 or 1-866-925-4419.

How Canadians can help

The Aboriginal Lawyers Forum of the Canadian Bar Association has provided a list they received from the IRSSS of ways all Canadians can help survivors and their families:

  • Learn about the impacts of the residential school system. Specifically:
  • Call on your local Member of Parliament and Member of the Legislative Assembly to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
  • Actively listen to Indigenous voices in your community – when they are ready. Be respectful to Indigenous friends, colleagues and community members right now and understand that we are grieving right now. Offer your support; ask them if they are ok; ask them if they need anything. Be respectful if they do not want to talk about this very personal topic in the workplace.
  • Support Indigenous led community organizations, like the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society.
  • Challenge stereotypes, prejudice and systemic racism.
  • Raise awareness in your community and social circle about residential schools. Wear your orange shirts and encourage others to support survivors and learn about residential schools. You can purchase an orange shirt to show your support of survivors.*Please ensure you purchase an orange shirt from an organization that donates the funds to residential school survivors. There are various non-Indigenous companies selling orange “every child matters” shirts for a profit*.