My current research interests have to do with the scopes and bounds of an internationalized transitional justice. This includes the task of engendering transitional justice, the relationship between transitional justice and social or distributive justice, and legal pluralism in transitional context, in particular, the use of "traditional" mechanisms. My current research project is about the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools:
Summary of Proposed Research: The residential school system is one of the most unjust aspects of a cumulative policy of dispossession, displacement and assimilation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples into settler Canadian society. For more than a century, starting from the 1870s, approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children were separated from their families, often forcibly and for extended periods of time, to be schooled into a “civilized” way of life and made fit for the responsibilities and privileges of Canadian citizenship. Funded and supervised by the government, and implemented by the United, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Catholic churches, the residential schools were based on the infamous view that to save the child, one had to “kill the Indian.” Children were ripped from the familial “influence of the wigwam” and forbidden to speak their own language. The “civilization” into which they were placed was one of neglect, loneliness, harsh discipline, physical and sexual abuse, hunger and malnutrition, disease and even death. The intergenerational damage of the residential schools includes the loss of language and culture, family dysfunction, addiction, cyclical abuse and suicide.
For years, residential school survivors and Aboriginal leaders have sought recognition of their injustice and suffering. In 2006, survivors, the government and churches reached a comprehensive out-of-court settlement that provides for compensation, commemoration, the funding of healing programs, and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In June 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an official apology to the former students of the residential schools. The country now awaits the work of the TRC, which might serve as a key vehicle for acknowledging and reporting the truth of the residential schools as told by survivors, their families and communities, and for facilitating community and national reconciliation.
This project locates and investigates the TRC within an international body of practice and scholarship on truth, justice and reconciliation, also known as “transitional justice.” It asks to what degree the Indian Residential Schools TRC is influenced by, participates in, and departs from the international “template” for truth commissions. Drawing on comparative research which shows that truth commissions in general are ill-attuned to the structural violence that underlies instances of extraordinary abuse, the project tracks the extent to which the specific abuses of the residential schools are located within the broader history of colonization, social oppression and cultural genocide. Thus the project asks whether the TRC will unsettle or decolonize status quo constructions of peace and justice in Canada or, as in other cases of transitional justice, whether narratives of truth and reconciliation will be deployed by the state to foreclose Indigenous rights and social transformation. The study contributes to (1) normative and disciplinary debates on the boundaries of “transitional justice”; (2) empirical analyses of truth commission policy transfer; and (3) critical commentary on the politics of truth, apology and reconciliation in Canada.