Humanist Canada Responds to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

by | June 26, 2015


Yesterday, Humanist Canada released its response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report:

A Humanist Response to the Report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Humanist Canada welcomes the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. We agree that Canada’s Indian Residential Schools represented a shameful chapter in the country’s history that included forced religious proselytization; and we call on our government to join with the majority of the world’s nations in signing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We believe that the Truth and Reconciliation paid insufficient attention to the culpability of Canada’s churches in this failed and flawed endeavor. The churches viewed residential schools to be part of their missionary activity and viewed any federal funding to be a windfall in aiding them in doing what they considered their sacred duty. Their plan to pay for their negotiated share of the costs through the labour of the students using an English industrial student model proved to be an economic disaster. Students often paid for this shortfall with poor health flowing from insufficient rations and inadequate health care.

In 1907 the Bryce Report documented cruel conditions in the schools including overcrowding, inadequately trained personnel, poor ventilation, a lack of proper nutrition, contaminated water, and generally terrible sanitation. But in response to an internal cabinet document recommending their closure, the churches in western Canada mounted a successful campaign (supported by some chiefs and band councils) to keep them open. The federal cabinet yielded to the political pressure and kept the Indian Residential Schools open albeit with increased funding.

Given that the churches were presenting themselves as diviners of ethical and moral standards, it is possible to understand that the Canadian authorities were reluctant to believe the extent of the sexual and physical abuse of students occurring in these schools. Humanist Canada does not accept that religions are carriers of superior moral standards and consistent with the closure of Indian Residential Schools, we call on governments to withhold funding from all existing church-run schools. We believe that students who have been victimized in these schools should receive compensation from those responsible for keeping the institutions safe.

Of the four Christian denominations that ran the Indian Residential Schools, only the Roman Catholic Church has failed to issue a clear and unequivocal apology. Further, the Catholic Church has failed to pay its share of compensation. We call on the federal government to force the Roman Catholic Church to comply with its obligations.

We are disappointed that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed to report on aboriginal people who had good residential school experiences as reconciliation cannot be achieved without balanced reporting. We also believe the commission could have provided greater insight into the reasons why the chiefs of Saskatchewan lobbied to keep the schools open when they were being closed in other parts of Canada during the 1970s. We note that instances of physical and sexual abuse happened in those schools and suggest the aboriginal authorities in charge should be judged by the same standards applied to the earlier church-run schools.

Finally, the report introduced the term “spiritual violence” which was defined as occurring when “a person’s spiritual or religious tradition, beliefs, or practices are demeaned or belittled” (p. 272). If what is meant by this term is that conversations be respectful, then we would agree; however, if the term is meant to stop discussion thereby limiting the capacity for personal growth, then we would disagree. Such an application could be used to restrict rational thought in adults and could be used to indoctrinate children with what is presumed to be their “spiritual or religious tradition.” Instead, we should consider religious indoctrination of children before they are mentally equipped to engage in such discussions to be a form of child abuse.

17 thoughts on “Humanist Canada Responds to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

  1. Nathaniel Ford

    I call for a critical comparative religions class to be added to the school curriculum in the hopes to properly educate and inoculate our children’s minds from all forms of religious indoctrination and superstitious dogma. Finally this last term : “spiritual violence” while defined as “belittling a person’s spiritual tradition” doesn’t make much sense. Does pointing out flaws in the scriptures or pointing evidence to the contrary of this spiritual person’s beliefs then considered violence ? I think not…

  2. Bubba Kincaid

    What a total piece of fucking shit statement.

    Who the fuck wrote that genital stink, and who the fuck ok’ed it to be released?

    1. Ian

      I’m not sure who wrote it or signed it off but I share your sentiments, which is why I put together my response in a Storify. Humanist Canada has said they’ll look at my comments and hopefully I can get them to work toward something more constructive.

  3. Lloyd Robertson

    A Response to Kincaid and Bushfield

    The Canadian Atheist website received two negative responses to its posting of Humanist Canada’s (HC) response to the Truth and Reconciliation report on Indian Residential Schools. The first, prepared by a Mr. Bubba Kincaid consisted of two sentences of vulgarities that in gave no indication as to why he was unimpressed with our statement. We do not know if he felt HC was too hard on the churches that ran these schools, or too lenient. Mr. Ian Bushfield wrote that he shared Mr Kincaid’s “sentiments,” perhaps thinking they were his own.

    I am the board member who prepared the draft position adopted by HC, and I admit to prior involvement with residential schools that no doubt affected my understandings. During my childhood I had many friends and acquaintances who attended these schools and one publically disclosed physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by priest. I was surprised in when chiefs and band councils in Saskatchewan fought to keep the schools open during the 1970s. During the 1980s I was contracted by chiefs in southern Saskatchewan to complete a study leading to the transfer of one such school to an indigenous educational authority. I worked at a residential school as a school psychologist. I was contracted by a northern band to do complete assessments on children at yet another residential school in the late nineties. My private practice has included people who suffered trauma at Indian Residential Schools, and as a result of this experience published an academic paper on Residential School Syndrome which can be found at: I have also worked with clients who viewed residential schools as “safe havens” from abuse suffered in their families of origin.

    Mr. Bushfield tweeted that the HC document “reads like a Catholic apologist.” Perhaps he failed to read the HC document he critiques which states, “We believe that the Truth and Reconciliation paid insufficient attention to the culpability of Canada’s churches in this failed and flawed endeavor.” The position paper goes to mention the Catholic Church specifically:

    “Of the four Christian denominations that ran the Indian Residential Schools, only the Roman Catholic Church has failed to issue a clear and unequivocal apology. Further, the Catholic Church has failed to pay its share of compensation. We call on the federal government to force the Roman Catholic Church to comply with its obligations.”

    Mr. Bushfield then reverses his field and declares that the government lacks the power to force the Catholic Church to comply with its obligations. In fact, the federal government is in court to force to force the church to cover a portion of this obligation (see: The issue is political will.

    Probably Mr. Bushfield’s most disingenuous suggestion is that HC is opposed to those recommendations not directly mentioned in our two page response paper. He uses this ruse to falsely accuse HC of supporting the spanking of children. Given our general support for the commission report, a more reasonable assumption would be that we support those recommendations not specifically mentioned in our response paper. The one commission recommendation we have questioned relates to the concept of “spiritual violence” defined as occurring when “a person’s spiritual or religious tradition, beliefs, or practices are demeaned or belittled” (p. 272). We explained:

    “If what is meant by this term is that conversations be respectful, then we would agree; however, if the term is meant to stop discussion thereby limiting the capacity for personal growth, then we would disagree.”

    As a humanist organization we must be vigilant to the rights of people, aboriginal as well as non-aboriginal, to have no religion. Given how many of us were raised, this will involve a questioning of supernatural beliefs that were pressed upon us as children. The indoctrination of children by the Christian churches was at the core of their program of cultural assimilation. Our proposed added recommendation, that all forms of religious indoctrination of children be considered to be a form of abuse, would deal with this occurrence.

    Finally, Mr. Bushfield argues that our call for Canada to sign the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Rights was redundant. I think Mr. Bushfield has been confused by Prime Minister Harper’s political footwork. What Mr. Harper “signed on” to in 2010 was a non-binding “aspirational” document that was “contrary to ordinary international law” and “fundamentally incompatible with Canada’s constitutional framework.” This “non-signing” was not in keeping with the understanding of the other parties to the agreement and led to Canada being the only UN member to reject the 2014 landmark indigenous rights document.

    The HC position that Canada should endorse the UN position on indigenous rights supports Truth and Reconciliation recommendations 43 and 45. Curiously, Mr. Bushfield approvingly posted a letter from Secular Connexion Séculaire that states:

    “A first, simple action would be to sign the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Rights that the Harper government voted against in 2007. While this same government claims that it accepts the document as an “aspirational document” it must, in the words of Justice Sinclair “aspire to it.”

    The reasons for the antipathy displayed by Mr. Kincaid and Mr. Bushfield towards the Humanist Canada position are not easily discerned from their words. It is not because we opposed the T & R Commission, because we supported it. Instead of simply parroting the “me too” line of some political parties, we added to it. To ignore inconvenient facts in support of a political narrative, especially when accompanied by rants to silence dissent, is a definition of totalitarianism. To seek out and incorporate counter-indicative facts to build a better theory is a more scientific approach and one which humanists will support.


    Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson

    1. Indi

      Seriously? You’re standing by that release? You’re even standing by the bit where you blamed the victims? And your justification for blaming the victims is that you met a few who preferred the rapey, abusey, culturally-genocidey residential schools to their even *worse* home environment? I mean, it didn’t occur to you that perhaps the proper *humanist* solution would be to free them from the terrible and dehumanizing residential school system… *AND* take steps to improve their terrible home life? You just figured, “meh, I *know* they’re being physically and emotionally abused at the schools… but it’s not *that* bad – beats bein’ at home, amirite?”.

      Dude, Kincaid’s comment was not vulgar. It just had some curse words in it.

      Humanist Canada’s statement, and your response… now *those* are vulgar.

      1. Lloyd Robertson

        Indi, this is the first time I have heard anyone attempt to apply the “blame the victim” meme to the Humanist response paper. Can you please point one at least one instance where a victim has been blamed, because I don’t see it?

        1. Indi

          Are you kidding me? All the substantive and detailed criticisms of that release… but you choose to focus in on a single point for irrelevant pedantry?

          Alright, I’ll bite. Accusing the chiefs of being complicit in the residential schools system is ridiculous – a clear-cut case of blaming the victims. The chiefs who fought for the residential schools to stay open, or to open new ones, were *forced* to do so because if the residential schools closed they would likely have *nothing*… no education *at all* for their kids. Do you seriously believe that they thought they had a choice between residential schools versus schools that would provide quality education and respect the dignity and culture of the kids? Of course not. They had nothing but shitty choices before them, and chose what they thought was the least shitty. And with the Department of Indian Affairs talking up how wonderful residential schools were, how is it any wonder that some of the chiefs made *that* particular shitty choice.

          Calling out the chiefs who supported keeping schools in their area open as being responsible for the residential schools system is as disingenuous and fucking inhumane as would be calling out the prisoners who helped guards keep other prisoners in line as being responsible for the concentration camp. When the only options given to you by the people in charge – in this case, the government of Canada – are all horrible, then even if you make the best choice possible it will still be a horrible choice… but *you* shouldn’t be held responsible for that, the people in charge who put you in that position should. The HC report dumps blame on the chiefs, but does not put *any* blame on the Canadian government that put them in the horrible situation where their best choice was still an awful one.

          And if you’d actually bothered listening to the aboriginal people themselves, instead of just using them as a platform from which to attack the churches, you’d see that even those leaders who supported the schools regret it. (Page 121 of the executive summary, for example. Notably, the chief even says that what he wanted was a school, and poorly chose a residential school rather than a day school.)

          In its response, HC blames the churches, the chiefs who supported the system, even the TRC for not being “balanced”. Yet never once does it blame the government of Canada. Not even once. The only things that come close to charges against the government are where it talks about them keeping the schools open (and increasing funding), and about them ignoring allegations of abuse. And in *BOTH* of those cases… it shifts the blame to the churches.

          1. Lloyd Robertson

            Indi,I responded to your lame attempt to justify a “blaming the victim” charge against the HC about four days ago, and I returned to the site to discover it had disappeared. I gather Canadian Atheist had some problems, so I will re-submit.

            You reported that a chief said he supported residential schools because there were no educational alternatives. In fact, the feds were offering day schools on reserve and/or the option of attending provincially run schools when they set out in the 1970s to mothball the residential schools. You may be interested to know that a day school was built in Stanley Mission, just north of where I live, in 10972, but over half the parents continued to send their children to a residential school well into the 1990s.

            Two conditions must be met to justify a “blaming the victim” argument: first, there has to be a victim; and, second, there has to be blame assigned to that victim. You assume that the chiefs who supported the continuation of an Indian Residential School system in Saskatchewan were victims. Not so.

            I was Director of Health and Social Development for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations during the early 1980s and I worked for these chiefs. Because of my earlier experiences with residential schools, I was surprised by their attempt to keep the system albeit without church control. Almost all of the leaders of FSIN were graduates of two residential schools. They told me they like the sports programs and they said the schools prepared them for leadership. Some even mentioned cultural programs. The bottom line is that these were empowered leaders making policy decisions in opposition to existing government policies. They were not victims in the exercise of that leadership.

            The second condition that must be met in a “blaming the victim” argument is that blame is assigned. You will note that at no point did HC blame the chiefs for their decision to fight for residential schools, we only noted that they did so and called for research into those who reported positive experiences at such schools.

            Since neither condition necessary to satisfy a charge of “blaming the victim” is present, the charge is fallacious, even slanderous. If you are ethical, you will apologize to Humanist Canada for this baseless charge.

            In conclusion, please do not now infer that HC is defending residential schools because we are not. If you read our statement with a fresh eye you will note that we lay blame on both the federal government and the churches for what happened with the understanding that conditions in the schools likely varied both temporally and by location.

            Nineteenth century colonialism was built on the pillars of military, economic and cultural imperialism. In the North-West the military force was provided by the North West Mounted Police whose ranks were largely made up of veterans of the Boer Wars. Economic imperialism was led by the CPR and the federal government’s immigration and land use policies of which the treaties were a part. Cultural imperialism was led by the churches. Do not minimize their culpability. They continue to mix education and proselytization, often with harsh discipline, in much of their missionary work today.

          2. Indi

            Good grief, you’re *still* at it? And now you have the gall to lecture me on ethics while misrepresenting what i said, and being dishonest about the release itself?

            Okay, let’s deal with your misrepresentation of me first. First: “You reported that a chief said he supported residential schools because there were no educational alternatives.” That is a lie. Straight up. That is not even *close* to what i said. If *you* are an ethical person, will *you* apologize for lying about what I said? I won’t hold my breath.

            What I *said* was that it was often the case that all the choices before them were horrible, and residential schools were sometimes just the least horrible choice… but still a horrible choice. I’m quite well aware that day schools were offered in some situations, thank you, (in fact, the chief i referred to actually said he wished he’d chosen a day school instead – so *clearly* i didn’t say he had “no educational alternatives” to choose from). But day schools were sometimes a pretty shitty choice, too (there is a separate class-action lawsuit specifically for them, because they weren’t covered by the residential schools lawsuit).

            I also, despite your pretence, never claimed there were *no* aboriginal people who supported the system – you’re much better at building straw men than you are at writing press releases, it seems. I don’t doubt for even a second that there were many aboriginal people, including chiefs, who vocally and wholeheartedly supported the system. In fact, I believe they exist even today.

            Do *you* claim that – in the entire century-long existence of the system, all across Canada – that there was never even ONE… SINGLE… CHIEF… who was forced by circumstance into supporting the system, even though they didn’t want to? No? Then there were victims. Did you account for them when you undertook your clumsy “noting” about who should be blamed? No? Then you blamed victims. QED.

            And don’t even try to worm your way out by claiming you weren’t laying blame. The release says that they should be “judged by the same standards” as the churches that you spent most of the rest of the release calling monsters. Are you seriously going to say that you meant for that to be interpreted as “they should be judged… but not blamed!”?

            But all of that is just covering your distortions of what i said, and none of it is relevant to the point I was making. Criticizing your shitty release is not “slanderous”; your pseudo-litigious bluster doesn’t scare me. If you want to drag the discussion down into petty little pendantics to avoid the larger, substantive criticisms, i’m not going to let you do it.

            The larger point that you seem bound and determined not to address is that an actual *HUMANIST* response to the report and its revelations *should* have been more focused on aboriginal Canadians – yanno, the actual humans involved. They are, after all, the victims of a century long effort at “cultural genocide” carried out by *US*… not the churches, *US*, the rest of Canada – your response’s dogged insistence on dumping all the blame on the churches and the chiefs while leaving Canada itself and all of us completely off the hook is one of its most insidious aspects. Despite what you claim, there is not one, single, unequivocated word putting the blame on the Canadian government, who were the actual architects and implementers of the whole system. You only come vaguely close to it twice, and in both those occasions you divert the blame right back onto the churches. And there is not even the slightest hint of acknowledgement that non-aboriginal Canadians have been the beneficiaries of the mistreatment and neglect of aboriginal Canadians.

            There are many forms an actual *HUMANIST* response could have taken.
            * You could have apologized – as Canadians – for your part in supporting and benefiting from the system.
            * You could have looked into humanism’s own guilt and responsibility (are you *sure* no one who ever identified as a humanist took part in it?).
            * You could have taken the opportunity to make an official statement about how humanism is utterly incompatible with what was done, and the attitudes behind it.
            * You could have brought up the beliefs and practices of some of the larger cultures, and showed how humanism is compatible with them.
            * You could have announced steps HC is taking to help educate its members and the general public about aboriginal history, cultures, and/or issues.
            * You could have given the floor to aboriginal humanists or humanist groups, and let *them* talk about what the report, or humanism, means to them.
            * You could have used the opportunity to create connections between humanist groups and aboriginal rights groups.

            I could go on! *ANY* of those things would have been a more *HUMANIST* response than dumping blame on the churches and chiefs, downplaying the secular government’s guilt, and ultimately ignoring the actual victims except for using them to justify attacks on the churches.

            You can continue to try and nitpick and argue little pedantic points about the release, but you’ll just be wasting your time and mine. It won’t change the fact that as a *HUMANIST* response to the report and its larger context, that response you wrote was fucking terrible. If that’s what you think humanism looks like, then you don’t get humanism.

          3. Lloyd Robertson

            I liked the focus on the children contained in the Humanist Canada statement. I also think the attempt to develop universal rules from the residential school experience is both reconciliatory and anti-racist. Specifically, the Humanist Canada suggestion that the forced religious indoctrination of children should be declared a form of child abuse would have helped protect the children in residential schools from forced cultural assimilation and would also help to protect present and future children of all races.

            While Humanist Canada supports moves toward aboriginal self-government, it is important that all in positions of authority be held accountable. In some perverse way you have attempted to use that to support your fallacious argument that Humanist Canada is in some way “blaming the victim.”

            When a child is subjected to physical or sexual abuse it does not matter what the assigned race of the perpetrator is, the child is the victim. Similarly, if such abuse is widespread and an administration or governing authority fails to take action to protect the children then that authority should be held accountable regardless of their racial make-up. In the end, such a position of establishing universal principles should serve to unite us in shared equality and concern for all children.

            Your claim that Humanist Canada is attempting to absolve the federal government for their responsibility is a lie. What we stated was that not enough attention has been paid to the role of the churches, but of course the churches and government were working in concert.

            Your claim that we could have done more is true. It is always possible to do more. However, what Humanist Canada has done is offer a contribution as part of a much larger dialogue.

    2. Ian

      Please read and consider what I write before calling me disingenuous. Here’s my response. Let me know if Humanist Canada is actually interested in creating a meaningful response on this.

  4. Pingback: A full response to Humanist Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation statement | Terahertz

  5. Joe

    Humanist Canada? Are you kidding?

    I should say, I’m not really up to speed on this topic. I have read a few news articles on it, that is all.

    But this missive from HC seems to me like blatant self-serving opportunism, and an embarrassingly trasparent attempt to hijack this very serious issue.

    I don’t care who HC blames for residential schools.

    What has HC done to set things right? How has HC helped the victims. Where were humanists when this shit was going on?

    I mean, its cool you want to jump on the blame bandwagon to get some press, but maybe you should put some boots on the ground before going full-smugselfrighteous

    1. Lloyd Robertson

      Hi Joe. I personally have been working with Indian Residential School students and former students for more than 30 years. This includes being a consultant to projects of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in northern Saskatchewan.

      I think the best contribution Humanist Canada can take is to offer a secular perspective. For example, the Reconciliation Commission introduced the concept of “spiritual violence” and we can understand why. Children at these schools, especially prior to WWII, were told their parents were heathens and were going to hell. Humanist Canada came up with the suggestion that all form of religious indoctrination of children is a form of child abuse. I think this is a workable idea that will protect children of all races.

      1. Joe

        No disrespect intended, but this.. this should have be the foundation of any press release:

        ***”I personally have been working with Indian Residential School students and former students for more than 30 years. This includes being a consultant to projects of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in northern Saskatchewan.”***

        This is real, this is what is being done, this is what we hope to achieve.

        That is awesome.

        But lets be clear. While I’m not a fan of the word spiritual, we are talking about the long term and systemic abuse of children and really an entire population of people. I don’t give a fuck about HC’s perspective on the word ‘spiritual’. And the percentage of government resposibility vs church vs chief…. This is not the time for quibbling. It has no value in this context. It is petty in this context.

        If you want to write an academic paper on it, go ahead, but as a response to this report, its embarrassing.

        I know, Humanists/Atheists generally suck at PR, but we have to do better than this. I’m no bastion of compassion, but trying to score political points on abused kids is messed up. This is not about being right, its about priorities. HC needs to reassess.

        1. Lloyd Robertson

          Joe, are you saying that the suggestion that the religification of children is a form of child abuse and should be banned is an attempt to score political points on the backs of abused kids?

          1. Joe


            I don’t know that word.

            But…if your intent is to equate ‘telling children jesus loves them’ with beatings/threats of hellfire, then I would say you’re trying to score points for anti-relgious bigotry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.