Erin O’Toole says Canada Day is a chance to ‘recommit’ to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says this Canada Day is an opportunity to “recommit” to the project of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.In the wake of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools, O’Toole told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday this year’s pandemic-enforced “subdued” Canada Day celebrations will be an opportunity to reflect on the country’s past.“That’s how, I think, we build a great country,” O’Toole said.“And we recommit to reconciliation and to making sure that dark chapters of our past, like the horrible residential school program, should fuel our desire to meet the calls to action that have been out for six years and provide a road map for us.”A source close to O’Toole said the comment was not meant as an endorsement of the 94 recommendations, or calls to action, made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Instead, O’Toole is calling for the federal government to provide a plan for locating and commemorating residential school cemeteries.O’Toole’s comments Tuesday were more subdued than his speech to Conservative MPs last week, when he expressed disbelief that local leaders in communities across the country have scaled back or cancelled Canada Day celebrations.“There is a difference between acknowledging where we have fallen short. There is a difference between legitimate criticism and always tearing down the country,” O’Toole told his caucus. “Let’s acknowledge where we fall short. Let’s ensure we do not cover it up. But let’s also channel the pain of a Canada falling short to build up the country, not tear it down.”Canadians have been forced to reckon with the horrors of the residential school system in recent weeks, after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former institutions in Kamloops, B.C. and Marieval, Sask.Ground-penetrating radar detected what is believed to be 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School, just east of Regina. The revelations followed what is believed to be the remains of 215 children were discovered at another residential school site in Kamloops.It’s likely that more unmarked graves are still to be found.In response, some communities have decided to cancel or scale back Canada Day celebrations — already hampered by COVID-19 public health orders.Throughout the Conservative leadership race, O’Toole positioned himself against the so-called “cancel culture.” Statues of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and one of the architects of Ottawa’s policy on Indigenous peoples, often decorate his desk and the backgrounds of his streamed public appearances.Last year, O’Toole was forced to walk back comments that the residential school system was intended to “provide education.”“It was not. The system was intended to remove children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures,” O’Toole said in a December statement, calling residential schools a “terrible stain on Canada’s history.”Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

Erin O’Toole says Canada Day is a chance to ‘recommit’ to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says this Canada Day is an opportunity to “recommit” to the project of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

In the wake of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools, O’Toole told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday this year’s pandemic-enforced “subdued” Canada Day celebrations will be an opportunity to reflect on the country’s past.

“That’s how, I think, we build a great country,” O’Toole said.

“And we recommit to reconciliation and to making sure that dark chapters of our past, like the horrible residential school program, should fuel our desire to meet the calls to action that have been out for six years and provide a road map for us.”

A source close to O’Toole said the comment was not meant as an endorsement of the 94 recommendations, or calls to action, made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Instead, O’Toole is calling for the federal government to provide a plan for locating and commemorating residential school cemeteries.

O’Toole’s comments Tuesday were more subdued than his speech to Conservative MPs last week, when he expressed disbelief that local leaders in communities across the country have scaled back or cancelled Canada Day celebrations.

“There is a difference between acknowledging where we have fallen short. There is a difference between legitimate criticism and always tearing down the country,” O’Toole told his caucus. “Let’s acknowledge where we fall short. Let’s ensure we do not cover it up. But let’s also channel the pain of a Canada falling short to build up the country, not tear it down.”

Canadians have been forced to reckon with the horrors of the residential school system in recent weeks, after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former institutions in Kamloops, B.C. and Marieval, Sask.

Ground-penetrating radar detected what is believed to be 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School, just east of Regina. The revelations followed what is believed to be the remains of 215 children were discovered at another residential school site in Kamloops.

It’s likely that more unmarked graves are still to be found.

In response, some communities have decided to cancel or scale back Canada Day celebrations — already hampered by COVID-19 public health orders.

Throughout the Conservative leadership race, O’Toole positioned himself against the so-called “cancel culture.” Statues of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and one of the architects of Ottawa’s policy on Indigenous peoples, often decorate his desk and the backgrounds of his streamed public appearances.

Last year, O’Toole was forced to walk back comments that the residential school system was intended to “provide education.”

“It was not. The system was intended to remove children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures,” O’Toole said in a December statement, calling residential schools a “terrible stain on Canada’s history.”

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier