Truth and Reconciliation
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has documented the profound damage and ongoing inter-generational trauma that arose from concerted efforts to Christianize the Indigenous peoples of Canada. The Indian Residential Schools were a key element of this strategy. Funded by the government and operated by the churches (Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, or United), the education they provided was aimed at destroying Aboriginal spirituality. Corporal punishment was used to enforce children’s compliance in these schools. It was common for children to be beaten, denied food and water, whipped and strapped.
Four churches have apologized for their role in the Residential Schools: The United Church of Canada, 1986; Anglican Church of Canada, 1986; Catholic Church of Canada, 1991; and Presbyterian Church of Canada, 1994. But these apologies are only a small step toward reconciliation. Canadian churches must examine the scriptural interpretations that drove the punitive actions of so many priests, nuns and teachers in the past – and that continue to justify and encourage punitive violence against children in their homes today.
In 2015, the TRC issued 94 Calls to Action, providing a road map for reconciliation. The sixth of these calls upon the Government of Canada to remove the law that allows corporal punishment of children - Section 43 of the Criminal Code. A private member’s bill to implement Call to Action #6 has been re-introduced by Senator Murray Sinclair, the former Chair of the TRC. If passed, this bill would enhance protection for all children in Canada. One of the barriers to its passage is the theology that has for so long been an obstacle to effective child protection.
We believe it is our obligation to address this theology as we progress toward reconciliation between the churches and Indigenous peoples, and to strengthen our commitment to protecting of all children in Canada.
The question that emerges for the church is twofold. First it is how to genuinely stand up for the child in our society,
and second is how to respond in a responsible way - in a pastoral way -
to the calls for reconciliation from the TRC.
- The Reverend Dr. William Morrow, Professor of Hebrew and Hebrew Scriptures, School of Religion, Queen’s University