Monday, July 12, 2010

Research director resigns from reconciliation commission

Research director resigns from reconciliation commission
Further upheaval in senior ranks of residential schools inquiry prompts concerns

Ottawa — From Monday's Globe and Mail

.Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian residential schools is in the midst of another shakeup of its senior ranks following the resignation of the director of research and the appointment of a new executive director.

The personnel moves come just weeks after the commission’s first national event in Winnipeg, which was largely viewed as a success for gathering former students, teachers and religious leaders together to share stories about the boarding schools that operated for decades before almost all were closed in the 1970s.

Already more than a year behind schedule due to the resignations of the original three commissioners who were then replaced in June 2009, the changes at the highest levels of the support staff are prompting concern of further delays to the commission’s herculean task.

A product of the 2007 multi-billion out-of-court settlement between former students and the federal government and churches that ran the schools as a joint venture, the commission has a five-year mandate. But the commissioners are up against a deadline to produce a report by the end of its second year on “historic findings.” The problem is that the commission has yet to even get its hands on the church records because of continuing technical negotiations over what form these documents should be in when they are handed over.

The resignation of research director John Milloy, who had only been in the position for a few months, comes after he delivered a face-to-face apology to church leaders during a meeting in Winnipeg over controversial remarks he made expressing his frustration over the pace of the document negotiations. The chair of the commission, Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, sent a letter of apology to church representatives in April after Mr. Milloy’s comments were published.

Dr. Milloy, a Trent University professor and author of a history of residential schools called A National Crime, will continue to play a key role with the commission later this year as a special adviser on research to the commissioners.

“I’m sorry to hear he has resigned because I do believe that will stall things for a time,” said Cecile Fausak, the United Church’s liaison minister for residential schools.

In an interview, Dr. Milloy said his resignation had nothing to do with his remarks, which included a comment suggesting the Roman Catholic Church was afraid of lawsuits against living priests if diaries reveal details about “buggering boys in the basement and that sort of thing.”

Rather, he says the position involved far more administrative work than he had expected and that his preference was to leave that to someone else so that he could focus solely on research.

“It’s a bigger administrative job than everybody thought it would be,” he explained, adding that research projects have all been assigned to others so his move should not delay those plans.

In a statement, the commission said Paulette Regan, a senior program adviser with an academic background in residential schools research, will replace Mr. Milloy as interim director.

In another move, the commission’s executive director, Tom McMahon, has been replaced by Kim Murray, a lawyer and law professor from the Kanesatake First Nation of Oka.

Mr. McMahon will also stay on with the commission as general counsel, with a focus on establishing a National Research Centre on residential schools.

Ms. Murray is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School who won an award for her work advocating for the rights of aboriginal people who have been detained or incarcerated. She had recently joined the commission as special adviser of “statement gathering and regional liaisons.”

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