Unless the Harper government comes up with more funding, the downsizing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be felt by Indian residential school survivors.
“We’re going to have less staff and just the same amount of work we’re going to have to do. I’m concerned it will impact survivors,” said Kimberly Murray, executive director with the TRC. “There are high expectations in the survivor community and we have limited resources.”
While the mandate for the TRC was extended one year in order to compensate for time lost when the original TRC members resigned, additional dollars have not been provided. The initial TRC spent about $2 million of the $60 million budget that was established through the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
Murray said overtures have been made to the Treasury Board and the ministers of finance and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to replenish that $2 million. The first year of operation for the TRC involved almost entirely staff from Aboriginal Affairs setting up procedures, she said, and no statements were taken or documents collected.
“We’re hoping we’re going to sit down with (Aboriginal Affairs) Minister (John) Duncan, but that’s going back and forth with his office. We’re still trying to sort that out,” said Murray.
Another avenue for additional dollars would be to go to court and have the parties to the IRSSA agree to amend it. That would mean more money from the federal government, the Catholic entities, and the Presbyterian, United and Anglican churches.
“The commission has been talking to the parties and flagging this for a while,” said Murray.
In the meantime, the TRC has added a new staff member charged with obtaining corporate and sponsorship dollars for national events.
Murray said when the IRSSA was established, no one knew what a national event would look like nor that it would span three or four days. Not enough money was set aside to cover the seven events. The new dollars raised to host the national events are not to supplement the budget, she said, but to free up funding, which the TRC can then use in other areas of its operations.
Provincial funding will also be sought for national events.
With 26 months left until the end of the TRC’s mandate, changes have begun.
“We’ve ceased collecting documents the way we were because we can’t afford it,” said Murray.
Once more, the IRSSA did not include a large enough budget for the collection of documents. Murray said she believes no one understood the scope of documents that were out there and the time it would take to go through the archives. The collection of documents began with a consortium of companies doing the work, but that has since been stopped. Now, the collecting of documents will be left up to the federal government and churches. That presents a number of challenges, Murray said, including whether all the relevant documents will be handed over and the quality of digitization.
As well, regional liaisons have been reduced from seven to three, with only positions in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Yellowknife retained.
“The balance of the statement-gathering coordination for the other regions is currently being done by three TRC staff members based out of the Winnipeg office. This structure is working well as it is more cost efficient, making the most of our resources at this point in our mandate,” said Murray.
The communications branch has also been downsized.
TRC employees fall into one of three categories: indeterminate employees, who must receive 16 months’ notice before being let go; interchange employees, who are seconded from another organization for five years; and term positions; which means a variety of union rules and procedures must be followed when winding down employment, said Murray.
The Ottawa office will be closed next year and the TRC operations will run fully out of the Winnipeg location.
“We’re in full operation this fiscal year, but next fiscal year we’re cutting back, both in closing offices and fewer staff, but we still have all the activities we have to do,” said Murray.