Skip to content

Bills of Exchange Act—Interpretation Act—Canada Labour Code

Bill to Amend--Consideration of Subject Matter in Committee of the Whole

June 3, 2021

The Chair [ + ]

Honourable senators, the Senate is resolved into a Committee of the Whole on the subject matter of Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation).

Honourable senators, in a Committee of the Whole senators shall address the chair but need not stand. Under the Rules the speaking time is 10 minutes, including questions and answers, but, as ordered, if a senator does not use all of his or her time, the balance can be yielded to another senator.

(Pursuant to the Order of the Senate, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault and his officials joined the sitting by video conference.)

The Chair [ + ]

We are joined today by the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Minister, welcome to the Senate. I would ask you to introduce your officials and to make your opening remarks of at most five minutes.

Hon. Steven Guilbeault, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage [ + ]

Honourable senators, thank you for having me. I am appearing here today to speak to Bill C-5, an important bill that seeks to create a new federal statutory holiday, the national day for truth and reconciliation. I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are all here on the ancestral land of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. These are not just some introductory words that we say. They are an essential recognition as we build a new relationship with Indigenous peoples through our daily actions.

The recent discovery of a mass grave in British Columbia containing the bodies of 215 children, victims of the residential schools, is a harsh reminder of the terrible legacy of our colonial past.

I recognize that this week is an extremely difficult week for many. I know that many survivors are members of the Senate chamber. Speaking about this important bill soon after the terrible news of Kamloops is not easy, and I share my utmost respect for and recognition of this invitation today. Like many of you, I am still shocked by the mass grave that has been uncovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.

As a government, our role is to ensure that tragedies like these never happen again. Indigenous communities are mourning. We need to stand with them in this difficult time. Canadians are also mourning.

With that in mind, addressing the consequences of colonial violence needs to go beyond words. That is why all parties in the House of Commons decided to come together last week and unanimously advance Bill C-5.

I would like to recognize and thank Georgina Jolibois for first bringing the bill forward in the last Parliament and for being a strong voice for Indigenous rights and Indigenous peoples all across Canada. Her commitment reminds us that reconciliation is not the task of a single political party or individual — it is a shared responsibility for each and every one of us.

Bill C-5 is an important step in the path toward reconciliation, which will not be achieved in the blink of an eye; however, we can make progress on this essential journey together with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The establishment of a national day for truth and reconciliation fulfills Call to Action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. It is an important action to take, and we must act quickly so that this day becomes part of our reality this year.

This day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the abuse inflicted on the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis. That abuse is historical, but also very current. We are talking about physical, verbal, psychological and institutional abuse.

The scars from the residential schools run deep. The children from Kamloops were buried without being identified. Their loved ones never heard from them again. Entire families have been deprived of their relatives and their own history. Implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action is just the beginning of the healing process. We must support the Indigenous communities every step of the way.

After careful consultation and respectful consideration, September 30 was designated as the national day for truth and reconciliation. September 30 is indeed the day chosen by a grassroots movement called the Orange Shirt Day, started by the formidable Phyllis Webstad. It was named after the orange shirt Ms. Webstad was given by her grandmother for her first day of residential school, only to have it forcibly taken away from her upon her arrival.

Her orange shirt is symbolic of the vibrant cultures, language, traditions, identities and childhoods that were oppressed and erased within residential school.

It is also a symbol of survival and resilience. It reminds us of the monumental efforts Phyllis and First Nations, Inuit and Métis are making to protect and revitalize their cultures and languages for future generations.

From testimony in committee, we learned how painful September is for Indigenous families and communities. Every year during the month of September, children were separated from their loved ones and their communities to go back to school. Many of them never came home.

It is important to acknowledge this pain with a solemn day to remember the past, but also to reflect and learn together, to gain a better understanding of the history and legacy of residential schools and these racist policies. Healing for Indigenous peoples will depend on their reclamation of their history and culture, but also on our own awareness of that history and the atrocities committed by Canada.

It has always been my belief that one of the pillars of reconciliation is education. Establishing a national day for truth and reconciliation is a form of education in action. This would be a day of commemoration, as well as a day of learning, recognition and commitment to ensuring that such acts never happen again.

The Chair [ + ]

Minister, we have to move on to the 10-minute question and answer period now.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Welcome to the Senate of Canada, minister. Minister, on Tuesday we all mourned in this chamber the horrific findings in Kamloops. We had senators’ statements in that regard and a moment of silence, and we continue to mourn this tragedy and others around the country.

However, minister, Bill C-5 was not initiated as a result of that tragedy. It was initiated as 1 of the 94 Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, not as a result singularly of the Kamloops tragedy.

There were several other Calls to Action that fall under your mandate as heritage minister as they relate to the National Archives, CBC/Radio-Canada, museums and amateur sports.

Minister, I hope your answer will not be because of what happened in Kamloops, but why did you choose to focus on this Call to Action and not other ones? Minister, is it because it is easier to give to bureaucrats, because it’s bureaucrats that get the day off here, than to work on the more pressing but difficult issues that are facing Indigenous communities every day of the week?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator, for the question. There are many elements that I would like to bring forward in terms of answers.

First, the reason the bill was tabled very early on in our mandate — in fact, it was the first bill that I tabled as heritage minister — is because it is something that we have been asked for by communities, by Indigenous peoples across this country. As you rightly pointed out, it is one of the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It won’t solve everything when it comes to reconciliation. I agree that it is but one element.

Let me give you an example of other things we are doing at Canadian Heritage. When we came into power in 2015, the federal government invested $5 million for Indigenous languages across this country, which I think we can both agree is nowhere near enough for what is needed to revitalize, maintain and strengthen the more than 80 Indigenous languages that are known in Canada. Between 2015 and this year, the budget has gone up 12 times for Indigenous languages. By next year it will have gone up 24 times.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Please answer my question, minister; I have other questions. And don’t sidetrack into all of what this government has done. I asked you a specific question.

Minister, Calls to Action 71 to 76 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concern missing children and burial information. As we have seen in the last few days, finding the truth of what happened to these children is an essential part of our reconciliation journey.

Your government did nothing on those specific Calls to Action. Instead you decided on a holiday, minister. Can you explain your rationale for that choice? Please, minister, don’t tell me what this government is doing every day. We hear that during Question Period from the Leader of the Government in the Senate; he does an adequate job of praising the government every day. I want to know why you did certain things here, minister.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

I would argue that, in fact, Indigenous peoples to whom I’ve spoken across this country would argue that language is one of the bases of reconciliation. This is at the centre of Indigenous people being able to reclaim their cultures. There can be no culture without owning your language, senator.

Speak to any Indigenous person across this country, any Indigenous organization, and they will tell you how important this is. You said the only thing we’re doing is the national truth and reconciliation day, and I’m saying that’s simply not the case, senator. We are doing a number of other things, including investment in infrastructure, including lifting boiling advisories. There were 150 when we came into power; we have lifted more than 100 of them.

The path to reconciliation will be a long one, but we are acting every day, senator.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, I suppose, with respect, somewhere in there is an answer to my question. I didn’t hear it, but let me continue.

Mr. Kakwfi, one of the witnesses who appeared at the committee in the House of Commons said, speaking on the national day for truth and reconciliation:

It should be a memorial day, a day to commemorate, a day to remember, not a day to stay home, put our feet up and watch TV.

Minister, how will you ensure that we use September 30 to commemorate and not just stay home and watch TV, as this witness suggested?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you for the question, senator. Again, I would remind you that this day was something recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is something that has been demanded from the federal government by all national organizations, from Indigenous nations all across this country.

As a kid in school, I didn’t learn about this part of our history. I would like my children to learn about it. We can use this day to do exactly that. That is why, in Budget 2021, we provided $7 million so that we help organizations across this country. Some are already doing it. The Orange Shirt Day organization is already doing that, but we want more organizations and communities and nations to engage with Canadians about this, so we know what happened, because many of us don’t, and so that we never forget this dark passage of our past so that we never repeat it in the future.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Minister, with respect, there is no one who disagrees with you. As a matter of fact, this bill will pass unanimously here in this chamber later today. We all understand that. But we are asking simple questions about what you will do. So you spend $7 million, or whatever amount you used, but what will you do to ensure that we have a proper day of commemoration?

We all attend Remembrance Day services; I do every year. The unfortunate thing is that there are many people who use it as a day that they don’t have to go to work. Then they go, if it’s warm enough — I’m from Manitoba; there are not many such days — and they play golf or do whatever. My question is: What will you do to ensure that we have a day of commemoration, that people will understand how important this day is?

I am kind of discouraged that we call it “a holiday” because a holiday to me is something where we celebrate, where we are happy. This is a day of remembrance. I’m hoping that the government will have some services somewhere that will commemorate this.

Now, I understand, minister, that you are not the minister for Indigenous affairs. However, the problem is that Indigenous communities are continually being promised things by your government. You shared a few that you are dealing with. No one seems to be accountable for failure to deliver. The failure to solve the problem of clean drinking water is just one example. Instead, we have continued virtue signalling, seemingly as a substitute for any substantive delivery.

Do you agree that this is very frustrating for Indigenous people, that so few of the fundamental problems in their communities have been resolved by your government? Minister, what are you prepared to do? What are you going to do specifically to resolve some of these issues?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

The first thing I’d like to say — you called it a holiday. I will continue to refer to it as the national day for truth and reconciliation. As you know, senator, we live in a free country. We can’t force people to do things, but we can certainly encourage them by working with our Indigenous partners across this country, by working with provinces and territories, by trying to ensure that this becomes part of the school curriculum, so that Canadians learn about this dark chapter of our history.

This went on for more than 100 years in Canada, so reconciliation won’t be something that we can fix in the blink of an eye. I would remind you that there are two things that are common to every single cabinet minister as part of our mandate letters. The first one is reconciliation with Indigenous people, and the second one is the fight against climate change. This is a whole-of-government approach. It is not just one or two ministers as part of the government, but it is up to every minister, in their own portfolio, to do everything they can to move forward with the issues of reconciliation.

For me, it is about Indigenous languages. It is about commemoration and celebration and learning. In fact, we did fund the Kamloops —

The Chair [ + ]

I’m sorry, minister, but we need to move on to the next 10-minute block.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Good afternoon, minister, and thank you for accepting our invitation.

Minister, I think it’s a given that we all recognize the importance of ensuring that Indigenous people are fully involved in the process of truth and reconciliation and in any commemoration of past wrongs so that they can tell their story in their own words and protect their heritage.

You talked about commemoration, learning and engagement, and those are strong, substantial words.

I have a two-part question. First, based on your consultations with Indigenous communities, can you tell me about their expectations regarding this national day for truth and reconciliation?

Second, I would like to know how all the diverse communities of Indigenous peoples will be involved in commemorations and celebrations during the national day for truth and reconciliation.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you for your question, senator.

As I was telling your colleague, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the creation of a national day for truth and reconciliation, but Indigenous communities and First Nations across the country also made the same request.

The specific purpose of such a day is to give Canadians an opportunity to remember and commemorate this sad chapter in our history, so that we never forget.

Earlier, your colleague drew what I thought was a very relevant parallel with what is done for Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day is an opportunity for all Canadians to remember the sacrifices of those who fought for the freedom of our country. I think that the comparison is relevant, even though the circumstances are of course very different.

Let’s use this time as an opportunity for reflection and learning. As I was saying earlier, I did not learn about this chapter of our history when I was in school. It wasn’t part of my education as a young white man in Quebec, and I think the same is true for many Canadians across the country. I would like my children to learn and know about this part of our history.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

If I may say so, minister, as a white francophone woman from Quebec, I completely understand. I understand what you and I both experienced with regard to the lack of information and awareness about this. You gave the interesting example of Remembrance Day. Veterans are involved in that commemoration.

Do you have any plans to ensure that the various Indigenous peoples can contribute to raising awareness among non-Indigenous people and help us participate more in commemorating this history? That is the second part of my question.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Absolutely. We have already started funding activities in collaboration with Indigenous organizations, nations and communities across the country.

When the budget was presented, we didn’t yet know that Bill C-5 would become law, but we certainly hoped we could make it into an important event and mark the occasion both this year and in the future.

The Department of Canadian Heritage also has a funding program for commemorations, celebrations and educational activities. For example, just last June, we provided financial assistance to the Indigenous community in Kamloops for this very purpose.

I could list several other communities that received funding through this program, but your time is valuable, so I’ll restrain myself. We do already offer support to Indigenous organizations, nations and communities for commemorations and celebrations.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Thank you very much, minister.

Senator Coyle [ + ]

Thank you for being with us, Mr. Guilbeault. I too believe this chamber, like yours, is keen to expedite the passing of Bill C-5. As you know, holidays are often used as educational tools within our school systems. We have talked a bit about that. For example, when it comes to Remembrance Day, which we’ve also talked about, Veterans Affairs Canada provides significant resources for teachers to use in their classrooms.

Is it the government’s intention to provide similar tools for educators to use for the national day for truth and reconciliation, and will that be done in collaboration with those who had previously organized Orange Shirt Day and others?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

The short answer to both your questions is yes and yes. In fact, we are already supporting the Orange Shirt Day initiative through some funding. Because of the increased amount of money we got through Budget 2021, we will be able to further support organizations like the Orange Shirt Day and other similar initiatives across the country.

We will be working at the federal level to try and encourage provincial and territorial governments. Some are already celebrating. Some already have a day to commemorate this dark chapter of our history. However, the majority of provinces and territories don’t. We want to work with our provincial and territorial partners so that they will work with us and with Indigenous organizations and communities toward that goal.

Senator Coyle [ + ]

Actually, you’ve started to answer my second question, because, as we know, education is a territorial or provincial matter of jurisdiction. Could you elaborate more on how the federal government will be engaging with the provinces and territories? This is critical. We know that, for instance, Remembrance Day gets treated so differently across the country. Sometimes it’s a whole week of events leading up to the day where students learn a lot, and in other cases, there may be a light touch preparing for that one moment of silence. Could you elaborate on what the federal government intends to do in collaboration with the provinces and territories?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

This is an important question. Obviously, this is something that will need to be done in collaboration. The federal government is not in a position — nor should we be — to impose this on provinces and territories. You might have seen, earlier on this week, a letter that was signed by all premiers of provinces and territories as well as by the Prime Minister. I think there is a high level of willingness and commitment on the part of all parties involved to work on this together, collaboratively, with Indigenous organizations, communities and nations as well.

I don’t have a specific plan to present today, but this is something we will be working on in the coming weeks and months.

Senator Coyle [ + ]

Thank you, minister.

Senator Tannas [ + ]

Minister, I think since 1995, there has been a Day of Reconciliation in South Africa. I wonder what, if any, inspiration your department drew from that in terms of what you might do and what you might imagine this day to be. My understanding is that in South Africa, every year is a different theme, which I think would tie in nicely with some of the Calls to Action and telling the stories that need to be told. Has any thought been given to that? Has there been any research around what is being done in what is a very successful holiday in South Africa?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator. That’s a very interesting example. So far, we have focused our attention on working with Indigenous organizations, nations and communities in Canada to work on the bill and on the programs that Canadian Heritage is providing in light of commemoration and celebration.

I’m certainly interested in looking at the South African model; I have not, personally. I have some department officials with me here. I might turn to them to see if, at the departmental level, we have looked at the South African model.

Emmanuelle Sajous, Assistant Deputy Minister, Sport, Major Events and Commemorations, Canadian Heritage [ + ]

We haven’t looked at the South African model. As the minister said, we are working closely with Indigenous organizations in Canada, including the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, or NCTR; Orange Shirt Day with APTN, the Assembly of First Nations and all the NIOs. Right now, we’re more focused on Canada. However, it could be something very interesting to look at.

Senator Tannas [ + ]

I have no more questions, chair.

Senator Francis [ + ]

Welcome, Minister Guilbeault. Thank you for being here today to assist us in the prompt passage of Bill C-5. The history and legacy of the residential schools have been brought to light because of the strength, courage and determination of survivors. We cannot forget that it was because of them that the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which is the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history to date, happened. That led to some financial compensation, an official apology and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As a result, it is important to me and many others that all the special events and ceremonies happening on the national day for truth and reconciliation are guided by the voices and experiences of survivors and their families and communities.

I would like to know how the government, and specifically the department, will be involving survivors in the planning, promotion and execution of the new national day for truth and reconciliation.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator, for your question. I think it is important for us as a government to remember that this healing process must be guided and led by Indigenous peoples in this country. I really see our role as that of partners to accompany and support initiatives that are Indigenous-led.

I’ve spoken — and I won’t go through that again — about how we are already providing financial support for Indigenous organizations across the country through an existing funding program. Budget 2021 will allow us, more specifically on the truth and reconciliation day, to have substantially more resources for Indigenous organizations who want to take a more proactive role or, in many cases, who have been very proactive and want to do more in terms of awareness and education on this important day.

Senator Francis [ + ]

Thank you for that, minister. It would be very helpful if you or your officials could tell us about the progress made and under way toward the implementation of Calls to Action 79 to 83 concerning the public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

I know we have with us some colleagues from CIRNA. As you know, Canadian Heritage is responsible for some parts of this, but I would defer to our colleagues from CIRNA for the other Calls to Action, please.

Mandy McCarthy, Director, Policy, Planning and Reporting, Settlement Agreements and Childhood Claims Branch, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada [ + ]

Thank you, minister. Unfortunately, I can commit to coming back to you with a written response. Call to Action 79 falls under the responsibility of Parks Canada.

Senator Francis [ + ]

Thank you for that. I have no further questions.

Senator Bovey [ + ]

Thank you, Minister Guilbeault, for being with us today to discuss this important bill, one I support wholeheartedly.

“There is no reconciliation without the truth.” Those are the words of former senator and Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair the Honourable Murray Sinclair. He has also been widely quoted as saying that, “Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.”

I believe Canada’s art galleries and museums can and ought to be leaders in educating the truth about residential schools. September 30 could be a special day of commemorative programming.

Do you think Bill C-5 will enable all Canadians to understand both the horrors of residential schools and the ongoing depth and pain for survivors and all the Indigenous peoples of Canada and help in real, ongoing reconciliation?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Bovey, very much for your question. Obviously — and this is an understatement — Bill C-5 will not solve everything when it comes to reconciliation, but it is an additional and important step towards it.

Orange Shirt Day has been commemorated for many years now, on September 30. It is a pre-eminent example of an unofficial commemorative day. On that day, Canadians are encouraged to wear an orange shirt to honour the children who survived residential schools and to remember those who did not.

As I said earlier, this day relates to Phyllis Webstad’s experience, but it has become a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations. As I said, Budget 2021 commits $7 million over two years, but furthermore, it provides $13.4 million over five years for events to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools and to honour survivors, their families and communities.

As Minister of Heritage, I certainly want to engage all parts of the arts and culture community in Canada. Certainly you would know better than most of us in this room how art can be a powerful tool to communicate, change and engage. In fact, many artists and museums have already started — I can think of an exhibit that was recently in Winnipeg’s art gallery. There are so many different examples of the arts and culture community already doing this. If the federal government can lend a hand and support more of those initiatives across the country, we will certainly be there to make that happen.

Senator Bovey [ + ]

I would hope that helping Indigenous curators to get into the field and move up will certainly help those stories become reality.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

I entirely agree with you.

Senator Bovey [ + ]

Thank you, minister.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

Thank you for being here, minister. Minister, Senator Francis, the bill’s sponsor, told this chamber yesterday that roughly 80,000 federal workers have participated in education system sessions on the TRC. Are such training sessions mandatory? Who organizes and delivers them? Who helped develop these materials and ensure consistency across the whole of government?

I ask because, for example, Minister Jordan and her officials have, in my opinion, shown a disregard for Indigenous elders and senators. We heard in this chamber that my Mi’kmaq senator colleague’s thoughtful proposal to the minister went unanswered.

It seems to me more should be done to ensure there is a broad and consistent understanding of Indigenous issues across all departments and ministries. Thank you.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator. I’m not sure I have the answer to your question in front of me. Maybe I’ll turn to my colleagues either from Canadian Heritage or CIRNA.

Before I do, I agree with you. I think that this should be done, if it’s not done already. I know that we have started at Canadian Heritage — in fact, just a few weeks ago we had a session with Phyllis Webstad herself. We had two hours with her where she presented her experience, both at the residential school and as a survivor and what led to the Orange Shirt Day grassroots movement. I would certainly want to see every minister, minister’s office and department officials benefit from such a presentation and teaching moment.

Ms. Sajous, I don’t know if we have the answer to the senator’s question.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

That’s a good enough answer for me for now, minister. I have some more questions, if I may.

When you spoke to this bill at second reading in the other place, you noted that you hoped that when the day is commemorated in schools, that it will be marked by ceremonies, discussions with elders and other activities. You said that it might become similar to Remembrance Day.

What resources do you plan to devote to coordinate this objective with provinces and territories, since, as we know, education falls under provincial and territorial responsibility?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

The way I see it, there are two possibilities. They’re not, I would argue, mutually exclusive. Budget 2021 provides basically $20 million that wasn’t there before to work with organizations to do that. These organizations already have partnerships with teachers, schools and in some cases with school boards across the country. So it’s not necessarily a formal part of the curriculum, but it is happening. Providing more resources to more Indigenous organizations across the country will certainly enable us to see more of that happening. But you’re right, it’s not a formal part of the curriculum.

The second part of the answer, which is working with provinces and territories to encourage them, again, we can only encourage them. But I strongly believe that we can come to an agreement so that we can change our history books so that Canadian kids — my kids and all Canadian kids — learn about this. I think there’s a more formal, direct approach to it and a more indirect approach, but I think both are probably needed.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

Thank you, minister. We’ve talked about money today and the budget. I have hopefully a short question that you could easily answer for us that I think it would be important to put on the record.

What will it cost to pay those civil servants and workers from Crown agencies holiday or overtime pay for that day?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Senator, I don’t have the number in front of me.

Stephen Diotte, Executive Director, Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat [ + ]

Minister, I can assist with that.

The annual ongoing cost for the federal public service is $165.9 million. Most of that, almost 90% of it, is in lost productivity as a result of people not being available to work that day. The balance is payments required for employees in 24-7 work environments like Correctional Services Canada, Canada Border Services, or ships’ crews and officers in National Defence and in Fisheries and Oceans Canada. That’s what constitutes the ongoing costs of $165.9 million.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

That’s helpful. Thank you, sir.

What about Crown agencies? Will they be required to give their employees a day off? Will they incur costs, and have those been calculated?

Mr. Diotte [ + ]

The change to the Canada Labour Code would affect the federal public service and federally regulated employers under the code. Therefore, it would include Crown agencies and federal employers.

I don’t have the figures for private-sector companies or for the Crown ones. They’re independent of the Treasury Board. We would have to take that away and try to get the data for you.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

Will they be given notice of the expectations and a chance to develop their costing?

Mr. Diotte [ + ]

Yes, they would be.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

Thank you.

Minister, the first national day for truth and reconciliation is less than four months away and we expect Bill C-5 to be adopted, I think, today. What are your department’s plans for September 30, 2021? Does your department contain allocation of funds for this event?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

As I stated earlier, I could give you a couple of examples of projects that are already being funded. I spoke earlier about the Kamloops residential school commemoration project that my ministry funded last June. Some of it is already happening.

Between the adoption, as you pointed out, of Bill C-5, and the money that was in Budget 2021, the Treasury Board will need to develop guidelines. We’re hoping this will happen quickly, so we can disburse funds over the course of the summertime in preparation for this year’s first official national day for truth and reconciliation, supporting Indigenous organizations and Indigenous communities across the country. That’s our goal.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

Thank you.

We have a bill before us that the TRC called for, but that I fear will lack the resources and planning required to ensure it does not largely benefit public servants. I’ve asked about the disproportionate funding to give paid holidays to federal workers.

I’m wondering about the movement for another Call to Action within your province of responsibility, like Call to Action 15, which calls for the appointment of an Indigenous languages commissioner. As you know, despite its inclusion in Bill C-91, which passed in the last Parliament, we still haven’t seen an appointment notice.

Minister, I must ask you this: How can we trust that the education and commemoration initiatives that this bill requires in order to be effective — I think we all agree — will be well developed and properly resourced, when we see so many commitments like the Indigenous language commissioner appointment delayed or not completed?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

That’s a fair question, senator.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

Thank you.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

As the minister responsible, I was supposed to hold consultations with Indigenous communities across the country last spring for the appointment of the commissioner and the three directors. Obviously, because of the pandemic, those consultations were postponed until last fall, but these consultations did take place.

We put in place a selection committee that was largely composed of representatives from different Indigenous nations across the country and language experts. This committee has provided me with their list of recommendations for the nomination of the commissioners and the directors. I’m happy to let you know that in the coming weeks, we will have good news on the front of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.

Senator Patterson [ + ]

Thank you. Qujannamik.

Senator Dupuis [ + ]

Minister Guilbeault, thank you for being here today to discuss this bill to create a national day for truth and reconciliation.

I think it is symbolically important to create a special day to reflect on our societal values regarding truth and reconciliation. I am troubled, and I think you even mentioned this yourself, by the disturbing news of the discovery of an unmarked mass grave for children in British Columbia. However, there is another aspect to this discovery that is just as disturbing. I am talking about the fact that these children were not buried with dignity. What’s more, their families were denied the opportunity to conduct burial rituals and to grieve, which are fundamental practices in human societies. We haven’t heard much about this point.

I’d like to ask you about the words “truth” and “reconciliation” in the name “day for truth and reconciliation.” When we implemented the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we joined an international movement. Senator Tannas mentioned South Africa. We all understand what was involved with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Some very serious events took place, and the country decided to adopt transitional justice measures to create space for discussion and allow for conflicting views and different perspectives to be shared.

What measures do you plan to take to ensure that this truth is not just expressed, but also heard and recognized so that we can move on to a process of reconciliation? You have budgets, you made that clear, but how do you plan to tie these two concepts together for this day of truth and reconciliation?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you very much, senator. That is an important question. Your first point on traditional rituals, on what the residential schools represented for many Indigenous families, is a very important point. We see how important these rituals are in every society. We have been experiencing it to a lesser degree for a year and a half now, as many societies around the world have been unable to engage in many rituals because of the pandemic. I think that gives us a bit of an idea of this reality.

You were also right to say that there can be no reconciliation without truth. Our role at Canadian Heritage is really to support the organizations, communities and nations in commemorating this day the way they want. As far as the “truth” part is concerned, perhaps I could turn to my colleague from CIRNA.

Minister Bennett recently made an announcement on how the federal government plans to support Indigenous communities that would like to do what the community in Kamloops has done, in other words, use highly advanced technology to uncover the truth about all the residential schools across the country. I will ask our colleagues from CIRNA to elaborate on this.

Senator Dupuis [ + ]

Minister, may I ask another question?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Of course.

Senator Dupuis [ + ]

You have twice mentioned that you yourself are a father. You have children who are in school. You didn’t learn about these things in school. I am a mother. I have two daughters who didn’t learn about these things in school either, but rather at home. I tried to get the school boards to set up pen pal projects that would have connected children in urban schools with children living on Indigenous reserves, but without success.

My question is this. We know that the truth is also expressed on an individual level. You hold a cabinet position, and you’re talking to us about millions of dollars, but you’re also a father.

As a father with school-age children, what are you committed to doing to encourage your children’s schools to foster real learning, not only in the classroom with teachers, but also by pairing non-Indigenous children with Indigenous children?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

That’s an excellent question. I have older kids, one of whom is no longer in school. My youngest kids go to schools that could easily be described as progressive and open on these issues. Some schools have already initiated projects on cooperation and learning about Indigenous culture. These initiatives didn’t necessarily address the full reality of Indigenous life and residential schools, but they did involve bringing people into the classroom. It isn’t necessarily on the scale you suggest with things like pen pal programs, but initiatives have been happening.

I understand and acknowledge that not all schools are that open to others, to difference and to diversity.

Senator Dupuis [ + ]

That’s why I asked you this question as an individual. You are a citizen, and your kids go to school. I think that all of us, as citizens of municipalities, should ask ourselves what we can do with respect to our municipal councils.

That’s why I’m asking you as an individual, because you have a responsibility too. Some people are expecting you to do certain things or not do anything, but I think you have a leadership role to play on this.

The Chair [ + ]

Senator Dupuis, we have two minutes and 30 seconds remaining, and I believe that Senator Miville-Dechêne would like to ask a question.

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Minister, thank you for being here with us. I will continue in a similar vein by stating that this day is highly symbolic in that it is an acknowledgement of the atrocities that were committed against an entire people and an expression of the will to move forward. However, seeing as both of us are from Quebec, can you comment on how, in addition to being symbolic, this holiday for federally regulated employees will help change attitudes in Quebec?

Even though there were 12 residential schools in Quebec that operated over a period of about 50 years, there are myths circulating to the effect that Quebec’s historical treatment of indigenous people was perhaps less inhumane than that of the other provinces. I know this is a difficult question, but how can we dispel these myths?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Basically, I think that the greatest benefit of this day, aside from the fact that people will get a statutory holiday, is the chance to learn and remember. This national day, this symbol, will help to raise Canadians’ awareness of this chapter of our history and demystify it. You are right in saying that Quebec has its own myths surrounding these issues, and we will need to dispel them.

We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend this is something that happened everywhere in the country but Quebec. I was very pleased that Premier Legault signed the agreement with the other provincial and territorial premiers and the Prime Minister.

I am not denying the fact that we all need to move forward on this issue. The federal government has a much bigger responsibility than many other stakeholders in this regard. However, it is important to remember that many of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations are directed at the provinces and territories, which also have a role to play. There is no doubt that the federal government has responsibilities, but so do the provinces and territories.

Senator Martin [ + ]

Thank you, minister and thank you to my colleagues for many of the questions that have been asked. I too support the spirit of this bill and what it aims to do. I was listening carefully to your responses, minister.

First, I have information based on last year’s briefing of Bill C-5. At that time, the officials who briefed the MPs and senators spoke about the direct cost to the Government of Canada of giving federally regulated employees an additional day off. It would be $300 million and $400 million per annum in perpetuity. Also, the President and CEO of FETCO — the Federally Regulated Employers — Transportation and Communications — Derrick Hynes, estimated that the cost to employers regulated by the federal government could be around $3.6 billion.

I’m trying to understand the difference in numbers that I’m hearing today. I think the official said it was more than $100 million, yet I have something that is double that and confirmed in other briefs that I have. Would you clarify the amount?

Mr. Diotte [ + ]

Yes. The figure you’re being quoted is for all federally regulated employers, so that would include the federal public service and Crown corporations and the private sector. The figures I gave you were in response to the question with respect to the cost to the Government of Canada for the federal public service. That cost, as I said earlier, is $165.9 million per year on an ongoing basis.

The figures you were given by FETCO, I believe it was, in terms of being roughly double that number, we have no information to suggest that number would have changed, but it’s not data that we would keep. We would have to go out and get it. I believe that would come from Labour.

Senator Martin [ + ]

I guess we can say it’s a lot of money at a cost to Canadian taxpayers. It’s very important that we do this right, especially on the first day, which will set a precedent for future national days.

As a former educator, I know the kind of coordination that is required in just one school. I’m trying to imagine this day for the country. September 30 is really just a few months away.

Minister, would you explain whether the companies and federal departments are expected to organize their own events? You spoke about some of the initiatives that are happening, but would you explain the level of preparation that has been done? Maybe there’s a deck or you’ve had meetings.

You said that every single minister has something in their mandate letter. This would require some interdepartmental coordination. Would you be leading that? What meetings have happened in preparation for September 30? A wedding takes four to six months to plan. This is a national day of great importance. I’m trying to understand what has been prepared to date.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you for the question, senator. Again, we all agree and recognize that it is one of the Calls for Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I don’t think we’ll get everything right this year, senator. It will be the first time we do it. Until last week we were still hoping that Bill C-5 would become a reality. We now have more certainty towards that. We’re certainly going to be pulling double shifts to try to do everything we can to make it the most successful day possible for this year.

Again, I think it’s important to remember that our goal is really to be there to support Indigenous organizations, communities and nations. It is not about the federal government going off on its own and doing all sorts of things. We are there to be a partner, to support these organizations and to work with them. That’s something we’ve heard very clearly from our consultation. Indigenous peoples want this to be Indigenous-led.

Of course, you are right, we need to ensure that federal government employees are part of this, federal ministries and ministers are part of this. I did not say that Bill C-5 was part of every cabinet minister’s mandate letter, I said reconciliation was part of every cabinet minister’s mandate letter.

Douglas Wolfe, Senior Director, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate, Labour Program, Employment and Social Development Canada [ + ]

I want to provide estimates that were made by the labour program. In terms of costs for employers, we estimate that costs for federally regulated employers would be approximately $223 million per year. Thank you.

Senator Martin [ + ]

Minister, I understand that it will be led by lead organizations, but they will have limitations and we live in a very large country. You were talking about how in some schools in Quebec, but maybe not all, some of these things are already happening. In British Columbia, I know there is a lot of work that has already been done. Teachers are very involved.

I want to bring your attention to an organization that might be an important partner for the government. It’s a recently struck organization, but it’s a national group of social studies educators called the Social Studies Educators’ Network of Canada. They are in every province and territory because education is provincial. They are teachers who have formed associations and they have networks into all of the schools. I’m hoping you are aware and are working with such partners, especially because education is a provincial jurisdiction and it does require a lot of coordination. What I meant is that, of course, it will be led by the Indigenous communities, but the federal government must provide support in so many ways. I wanted to know what preparation has been done to date, because education is not just going to happen; it has to be very well coordinated.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator. As I said earlier, we are working to support organizations that are already engaged with school boards across the country. In terms of making something formally part of the school curriculum in different provinces and territories, obviously we will need to work with provinces and territories to make that happen. It’s not up to the federal government to do that; it’s not federal jurisdiction. Across the country, I think we are now seeing an awareness that was not necessarily there just a few weeks ago, and a willingness to act. I will be engaging my federal, provincial and territorial counterparts on this in the coming weeks and months.

Senator Martin [ + ]

I can appreciate the complexity and the time it will take, but awareness and a willingness are separate from the actual plan in place. I was just curious about the preparation.

Having said that, minister, September 30 is a Thursday. Then, of course, there is the weekend that follows. Will all the initiatives you are talking about happen on that Thursday?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

That’s the plan.

Senator Martin [ + ]

Lastly, your colleague, the Minister of Labour, has in her mandate letter the mandate to introduce legislation to create a new federal family day holiday. I know what the numbers are for this national day. Will your government implement two new statutory holidays for federal bureaucrats and workers of federally regulated businesses? Is the plan to have a second family day as well?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

I don’t know if we have someone from my colleague’s department who would be able to answer that question. If not, we can certainly provide an answer in writing to you, senator.

Mr. Wolfe [ + ]

I can respond to that question if you’d like. Yes, the federal family day is certainly within the Minister of Labour’s mandate letter and plans are still there to make this happen in due course.

The Chair [ + ]

We are now moving to the next block of 10 minutes. Senator Pate, sharing her time with Senator McPhedran.

I am ceding my time to Senator McCallum.

Senator McCallum [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Pate. I just learned of this last night, so learning about this after the bodies were found I don’t know what words I can use. There is an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2012 by the Kamloops First Nations, and so far 105 First Nations have signed on to the lawsuit. It is the first of its kind regarding the impact of fracturing communities, suppressing cultures and erasing language. The federal government denies any legal responsibility and that the loss of language and culture was an unavoidable implication of Christian doctrine. The government admits schools were meant to assimilate Indigenous people, but does not accept responsibility for loss of culture and language. The proposed trial date is scheduled for September 2022. Would you comment on how you took this into consideration with reconciliation? Thank you.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you for the question, senator. Obviously, this is not part of my portfolio. What I can say is that the federal government has recognized its responsibility. The Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions that we believe every child should be fairly compensated, and that is what we are working on. In terms of the details, I don’t know if we have someone to answer that. Maybe someone from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, or CIRNAC, or Indigenous Services Canada would be able to answer your question more specifically and in more detail. We had someone from CIRNAC earlier. I’m not sure if that person is still with us.

Ms. McCarthy [ + ]

Yes, minister, we can provide a written response after this meeting on that matter.

Senator McCallum [ + ]

Thank you so much.

Senator McPhedran [ + ]

I’m going to shorten my question and hope that there is time for Senator Pate. Minister, thank you for being with us today. It’s an indication of how important this bill is for the collective soul of our country, along with the release today of the National Action Plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. It marks, as Minister Bennett said, the beginning of a transformative journey.

My question relates to the long process of delivering on all 94 of the Calls to Action, but in particular this day and this bill. There is a discrepancy between what the government says has been accomplished and what the CBC has been tracking. We know, however, that this bill finally names the day but, minister, it has been three years since that 2015 date when the Prime Minister announced a national day. And a year before that a private member’s bill from the NDP, Ms. Jolibois, had introduced, Bill C-369.

Bill C-5 completed committee stage in November and sat untouched for almost six more months, and then there were further delays in getting it to us here today. Minister, please help us to understand why the delays.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator, for your question.

As you rightly pointed out, I did make reference to Georgina Jolibois and her work in the previous Parliament on this issue, and the bill died in the Senate last time. I’m very happy to see that it seems that it won’t be the case this time. Frankly, as soon as it was possible for me to table this bill, we basically took the bill as it was, as she had done it the last time, and tabled it.

I confess that it has been challenging in the House of Commons. I have another bill that has been stuck in committee for weeks where no progress whatsoever is being made because of one party deciding that they don’t want this to happen. We are a minority government. It is more challenging to move legislation through the House of Commons in this context.

That being said, I am extremely grateful that the House of Commons unanimously passed Bill C-5 in third reading last week. It was not possible to do that before. But it is now in front of you, and I am, again, extremely grateful that the Senate has decided to move this bill quickly so that it doesn’t die on the Senate floor yet another time.

Thank you to all of you. I will cut right to the questions. In 2009, when the TRC requested resources to search for unmarked graves of the sort that has been discovered, they were denied. The government allocated resources in the 2019 budget, and I see it has just been announced that they will now be rolled out.

What other processes are in place to ensure investigations happen that don’t involve putting responsibility on the communities and Indigenous peoples to actually investigate what are likely to be crime scenes?

Second, will the government release all government and church records in support of the ongoing search for missing and murdered children? Thank you.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator. In the interests of time, I will turn to my colleague from CIRNAC. I don’t have the information you’re looking for.

Ms. McCarthy [ + ]

Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and thank you very much, minister.

Yes, you are correct that funding has been allocated toward Calls to Action 72 to 76 on missing children and burial information. A total amount of $33.8 million has been allocated for the upcoming three years.

We conducted extensive virtual national engagements last fall and last summer, with over 200 Indigenous organizations invited and over 140 participants. We held them over 15 engagements, and at that point, we overwhelmingly heard that the role Indigenous communities wanted us to play in helping to support them to implement these Calls to Action was a role in which the initiatives would be community-led, survivor-centric, and that the federal government’s role would be to provide access to tools, resources and expertise at the request of communities to support survivors and their families.

Perhaps we could have in writing the response with further details and why it’s up to the communities. I understand creating survivor-centric approaches, but crime scene investigations are usually state-administered as well.

I would also like an answer to the question in terms of the release of records. If that’s not possible within the time, a written response would be great. Thank you very much.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

We can certainly follow up in written form, but the answer to your first question about why we are doing this is it is what communities have asked of us. For the answer to your second question, we will need to provide the answer in writing. Thank you, senator.

Senator Klyne [ + ]

Minister, thank you for being here with us today. By establishing a national day for truth and reconciliation, Bill C-5 answers the TRC’s Call to Action 80. In explaining that measure’s importance, the commission wrote:

Survivors shared memories with Canada and the world so that the truth could no longer be denied. . . . They want Canadians to know, to remember, to care and to change.

The establishment of a national day can help inform Canada’s collective national history going forward, giving all Canadians a better chance to learn the truth as a basis for reconciliation. This is particularly important for those Canadians taught falsehoods and racism in their formative years, and Bill C-5 offers opportunity for all in that regard.

Looking ahead, it could well be that children are the key to reconciliation and change — how fitting.

The hearts and minds of youth are open to learning the true history of the tragedy brought on by previous generations, in addition to the richness of Indigenous nations’ histories and cultures, going back thousands of years before colonization.

Strengthened with this truth, Indigenous youth can learn and practise their ceremonies and languages, instilling in them a sense of identity, pride, family heritage, a sense of triumph over injustice and a sense of place in today’s world.

Non-Indigenous youth can also discover the richness of their neighbours’ history and cultures and draw universal inspiration from what I believe will be a successful struggle to uphold Indigenous rights in Canada.

All of this can bring Canada’s young people together to create a better society in the future.

Could you please comment on the importance of education and curriculum, and the importance of public commemorations in terms of instilling understanding and pride in the Canadian federation as it truly exists and as a nation of many nations?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Senator, this is such an important question. I think education is the only way we move forward on the path to reconciliation. We cannot legislate against racism; if we could, perhaps that would be easier, but we just can’t. It has to be education, and I agree with you; our children are the path to the future toward reconciliation if they can learn Canada’s true history without trying to sweep anything under the rug, no matter how hard and painful part of our history is. I think that it will make them better and more informed citizens who will be better equipped than many of us were, or even are, to help us move forward on the path toward reconciliation.

Senator Klyne [ + ]

Minister, the history brought into focus by the discovery in Kamloops is a heartbreaking tragedy in many ways. And in those many ways, the national day for truth and reconciliation will be a commemoration of this tragedy.

But it will also be an opportunity to celebrate the heroes who led Canada out of a dark chapter. I’m talking about the survivors. Their courage and resilience have brought the truth to light, despite all the hardship and suffering inflicted upon them. The survivors achieved their legal victory through the TRC with the settlement agreement, and their testimony gave Canada the truth. As the TRC report states, “Their victory deserves celebration.”

Minister, can you please share your perspective on how the national day can help us celebrate the bravery of survivors coming forward and their legacy as heroes in Canada’s history?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

I have referred in my remarks a couple of times to Phyllis Webstad, who is a survivor who worked to launch this grassroots movement of the Orange Shirt Day. When you speak about those heroes, she is clearly an example.

There are many of those out there, and the day for truth and reconciliation can be used as a tool so that we know who these heroes are, and for us to celebrate and recognize all of their leadership and work over the years and, in many cases, over many decades.

Senator Klyne [ + ]

Thank you.

Senator Omidvar [ + ]

Minister, thank you for being with us today. As you likely know well, there are only two segments of Canada’s population that are growing: Canada’s Indigenous communities and Canada’s immigrant communities, and yet the space between them, in every sense of the word, is huge.

How will your department work with the Minister of Immigration and the many thousands of immigrant communities across our country to provide appropriate outreach and education so that the newest Canadians will also become part of this journey of reconciliation?

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you. You obviously are right. This is an important aspect of our path to reconciliation that we need to work on. It is true that the awareness for new immigrants of Canada’s past is, in many cases, unknown to them. This is certainly something we need to improve.

As I stated earlier, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is something that is the responsibility of every single cabinet minister, including me and my colleague Minister Mendicino. We will be working together to ensure that new immigrants do learn about Canada’s past, including some of our troubled past as well, when it comes to our relationship with Indigenous peoples.

Senator Omidvar [ + ]

Thank you for that answer, but I think it’s still largely aspirational. I will tell you that immigrant communities know very little about Canada’s Indigenous history and that their settlement issues in the first few years overtake every other consideration, unless there is a deliberate intention by the government to instill education into language classes, citizenship programs, et cetera.

I leave you with a concern about social cohesion. You are the Minister of Heritage; you are responsible for social cohesion. You need to do everything you can to bring those two communities together.

Mr. Guilbeault [ + ]

Thank you, senator. There is a clear intention on the part of our government by bringing forward this bill, by ensuring there is this day and by ensuring we provide funding to organizations across the country to do that.

But I’ll agree with you that we have a long way to go. There are so many things we need to do. The points you raised are very important. For reconciliation to be a success, we will need to address those points with all the energy and determination they deserve.

Senator Omidvar [ + ]

Thank you.

The Chair [ + ]

Honourable senators, the minister has now been with us for 95 minutes. In conformity with the order of the Senate, I am now obliged to interrupt proceedings.

Minister, on behalf of all senators, thank you for joining us today to assist us with our work on the bill. I would also like to thank your officials.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

The Chair: Honourable senators, is it agreed that I report to the Senate that the witnesses have been heard?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Honourable senators, the sitting of the Senate is resumed.

Back to top