Calls for Ontario to survey sites of residential schools after 215 dead children discovered in B.C.

Members of the NDP are calling for a national day of mourning and remembrance—as well as a formal survey of former residential school sites in Ontario—after the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia late last week.

Children’s shoes, stuffed animals and flowers were laid outside of Queen’s Park Monday afternoon; the tiny items a chilling tribute to what many call Canada’s “crime against humanity.”

“All Indigenous people living today in Canada are survivors of the tools of genocide,” Sol Mamakwa, NDP critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations, said. “We’re survivors of residential schools. We’re survivors of the Sixties Scoop. We’re survivors of the Indian Act. We're survivors of the ongoing systemic racism that attempts to erase us.”

At Question Period, the MPP for Toronto Centre and NDP critic for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Response called on the government to commit to surveying the sites of former residential sites in Ontario.

“It is a great open secret that children lie on the properties of former residential schools—an open secret that Canadians can no longer look back from,” Suze Morrison said. “Every school must be searched for the graves of our ancestors.”

Ontario Government House leader Paul Calandra responded by saying they will “work with First Nations to ensure that gets done.”

He did not provide any other details, but did say that the request was “reasonable.” Calandra added that his government would support a call for a national day of mourning.

Premier Doug Ford was not at Question Period on Monday.

The memorial outside of Queen’s Park grew throughout the day as politicians, advocates and Ontario families stopped by to pay their respects. All provincial flags in Ontario will fly at half-mast for 215 hours and a moment of silence was held Monday inside the legislature.

Flags at Parliament in Ottawa were also lowered in honour of the residential school victims in Kamloops.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, said his government is discussing “further” actions the government should take, but stopped short of making any concrete commitments.

“We haven't looked at exactly what the processes, or the needs are entirely, but Canada will be there to support indigenous communities as we discover the extent of this trauma,” the prime minister said, while adding that determining how and where Indigenous children are buried “is an important part of discovering the truth.”

There were more than 130 residential schools in Canada and The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified 3,200 student deaths so far. They say that the work is ongoing and there could be thousands more that went undocumented.

In Ontario, there were 17 schools that operated between the 1870s and the 1990s.

 

The last residential school in Canada closed just 25 years ago.