Truth and Reconciliation: Should Canada Follow Germany’s Lead?

Many believe Canada should take note of Germany’s reconciliation efforts. There’s just one problem; Canada’s atrocities are still ongoing.

Regular human behaviour is to look for advice and suggestions when dealing with a difficult issue. This seems to be the case for the people in Canada questioning how to go about reconciling with our past crimes against Indigenous peoples. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, activists and politicians have suggested that Canadians should adopt the German model for reconciling with their communist and fascist legacy, into our own society. Although this idealised strategy seems do-able on paper, there are too many fraught factors that play into the current Canadian-Indigenous government relationship for it to work out.

After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the years 1992 and 1995 called for two different commissions to reconcile for the aftermath of WWII and the East German socialist past. However, reconciliation started long before the nineties in Germany, with memorials and memories of the atrocities that took place in WWII popping up as early as the 1950’s-1960’s. With the Nuremberg trials, the various commissions, and the historic remembrance through monuments, holidays, and other events, Germany has made it very clear that it acknowledges its dark past and has come to terms with the role it played in that era of history.

 In contrast, 2007 was the year that the federal government in Canada established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The purpose was to hear the testimonials of survivors investigate the evidence supporting the reports of systematic abuse and other atrocities that occurred within the Canadian residential school system. In 2015, the commission released its findings, and a list of 94 calls to action “in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” As of June 5th, 2021, the Canadian government has implemented 13 out of 94 calls to action.

 In Germany, the first camp opened in 1933, and the last concentration camp closed in May of 1945. Established in 1949, the soviet sector of Germany ended in 1990. Wide scale German Socialism and Fascism were over. These two Germany historic events are situations that many people around the globe are aware of. Comparing the Canadian context, residential schools opened in 1831, and the last residential school closed in 1997. One hundred and sixty-six years of cultural genocide, and if you asked someone outside of Canada about it 15 years ago, they would be most likely of had absolutely no idea what you were talking about. Also, the mass issue of removing Indigenous children from their homes is an event that is far from over. According to the Canadian 2016 census, Indigenous children account for only 7.7% of the total child population in the country, but account for 52.2% of the children who are in foster care. Many advocates firmly believe that “the residential school system has been replaced by Canada’s child welfare system.”

The first step towards reconciliation is goodwill on both sides of the situation. The demonstration of ‘goodwill’ to reconcile with the past can be seen not only in the many memorials and museums across the country, but goodwill is also exemplified in the actions and words of the German government. On her first trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel can be quoted saying “remembering the crimes… is a responsibility which never ends. It belongs inseparably to our country. To be aware of this responsibility is part of our national identity, our self-understanding as an enlightened and free society… a democracy.” In contrast, on the first truth and reconciliation day in which he made a holiday for federal employee’s only, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was seen surfing on vacation in British Colombia despite being invited to numerous ceremonies and events. Trudeau’s response was typical and not surprising in the least – he apologised and swept the situation under the rug.

 Trudeau’s actions of blatant disrespect on truth and reconciliation day fall in line with the historic and ongoing behaviour the Canadian government has directed towards the Indigenous population. When you take into consideration the ongoing atrocities that face Indigenous peoples in Canada at the hands of the government such as access to clean water, proper housing, access to education, and the right to keep their children within their own communities, reconciliation is a word that isn’t fathomable at this movement in time.

The issue in Canada is not figuring out how to move towards reconciliation like so many suggest, but instead needing to give Indigenous people an even playing ground – basic necessities. When this has been accomplished, instead of looking for outside inspiration to reconcile with the Indigenous population, we should take note of the 94 calls to action created to directly challenge reconciliation within a Canadian context.

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