Justice Harry LaForme: A man for our time
|TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR|
|Mr. Justice Harry LaForme, seen May 28, was recently appointed commissioner of the federal body set up to investigate the issue of alleged abuse in residential schools in Canada.|
It's going to take courage; he understands that. Justice Harry LaForme expects this new appointment of his will take everything he has, and then some, as he embarks on what will likely be the most rewarding — and painful — period of his life. He is chair of the new Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Today was gorgeous in Toronto and, from a Star boardroom overlooking Lake Ontario, the painful realities of his undertaking seemed very far away indeed. But after talking about his life as a Mississauga Indian and his appointment as the first aboriginal appellate judge in Canada, LaForme , 61, came to the hard part. He expects to hear accounts to "sear" his very soul, and he doesn't expect ever to forget them.
It will be his difficult duty — as for others on the commission — to listen to accounts of aboriginal survivors (and their families) of a brutal system that took approximately 150,000 children from their homes, beginning in the 19th century and ending in 1996. He says the aim was "to kill the Indian" in these children or, put another way, "to remove the influence of the wigwam." There are survivors and, in the lexicon of international human rights, there are the "disappeared" — children who never came home and whose whereabouts are unknown.
He is at the very beginning of this endeavour. His team hasn't even worked out a schedule for cross-country hearings. He doesn't know how it will unfold — whether the term "genocide" will be used to describe long years of forced assimilation in Canada, or whether Canadians can expect to see images of forensic scientists down on their hands and knees shifting through dirt at remote sites, as they have in, say Guatemala. He knows only that he won't shy away from anything in seeking the truth.
LaForme, like many journalists, has heard stories of alleged assault and murder, with bodies tossed into unmarked graves, undiscovered to this day. Again, he stresses: he just doesn't know how this enterprise will unfold or what they will uncover.
Of one thing, however, he is certain. He wants to see reconciliation as well as truth, meaning there should be a cosmic shift in how First Nations people see themselves and their history and, less importantly, how they are seen by others. He believes Canadians are up to the task, no matter what occurs during the next five years. From his perspective: "I've never never been disappointed with Canadians when they've come face to face with the truth."
Let's hope he is not disappointed.