Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Truth and Reconciliation Again

People spoke of being sexually abused within days of arriving at residential school. In some cases, they were abused by staff; in others, by older students. Reports of abuse have come from all parts of the country and all types of schools. The students felt they had no one to turn to for help. If they did speak up, often it was impossible to find anyone who would believe them. Those who ran away from abuse said that in some cases, this only made their situation worse. Those who raised complaints often had the same experience. Many compared the schools to jail (in some cases, complete with barbed wire), and fantasized about being able to return home. Those who ran away could find themselves in trouble at home, at school, and with the police. The Commission was told of children who died of disease, of children who killed themselves...
(2012 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Interim Report)

The Williamson report is out on Rico Sorda's blog, and extracts in the media, but not yet, as far as I can see, on the States own website. The States website is a minefield to navigate when you really want to find something!

The full text is available courtesy of Rico at


Rico also also gave the full text of the Verita review at:

That report is almost definitely not available from the States websites, although as I mention, it can be a veritable quagmire to navigate to anything specific, so it might conceivably be tucked away in some little nook or cranny. It does seem absurd that it is available online, available to the media, but not on the States own website!

Andrew Williamson's report says that "At the time of writing this report there are still three months remaining, for those who feel they have a claim to do so." As the closing date for the scheme is 30 September 2012, this means that Andrew Williamson's report has been complete or nearly complete since the end of June, and presumably has been sat on since then.

There are also some inconsistencies in what he is saying with regard to periods involved. He says that:

I would therefore recommend that, in order to avoid confliction with the Redress Scheme and various ongoing police matters the terms of reference for an enquiry are restricted to the issues of managerial and political accountability between 1960 to 1994 (the same period as the Redress Scheme).

But the Redress Scheme documents invited applications from people who can "establish that they were resident in the States of Jersey's full-time residential care at any time between 9 May 1945 and 31 December 1994". So that's not the same period that he is setting out. Has he been misinformed? Or is it just a slip of the pen?

On the plus side, he has been listening to people coming forward, and thinks the legal decisions made should be revisited by someone independent to look at the factual evidence.

There is however a strongly held view amongst some of the people who made contact with me during this review that a further examination of the decision whether or not to prosecute should be undertaken.  Given that the Redress Scheme is currently progressing it may be appropriate for the States of Jersey to commission an independent, legal review of the decisions to prosecute or take no further action.  This could be carried out by an independent non island based lawyer and will involve the reviews of factual evidence.

The idea of a Truth and Reconciliation scheme is also a good one:

Finally the States of Jersey may want to consider establishing a Truth and Reconciliation enquiry following the closure of all the claims made under the Redress Scheme.   This could be undertaken by a national children's charitable organisation and could provide ongoing support and consistency to those who are making claims in the Scheme but have made it very clear to me that they would not be prepared to give evidence to a formal public enquiry.

It should be noted, however, that most Truth and Reconciliation schemes operate both publically and privately. That is to say, they will take public statements as well as private ones, and take statements in different forms. I was looking at Canada's Truth and Reconciliation scheme, and it includes public hearings, and transcripts of those as part of the evidence collected by the Commission.

So I am in favour of a Truth and Reconciliation scheme, but so long as it is not restricted to just those individuals who want to give evidence privately, but also those who want to give it publically, as in the Canadian scheme.

Canada's scheme is well worth looking at. It deals with indigenous children being placed into boarding schools, often against parents' wishes. Here's an account of a public hearing which shows how this kind of scheme can work:

From June 21 - 24, I had the privilege of attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Saskatoon National Event. Along with other members of the Christian Reformed Church, I bore witness to the stories of survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Indian Residential Schools operated in Canada from the 1870s until the last school closed in 1996. During this time, the federal government removed Indigenous children from their homes and communities, often against their parents' wishes, and placed them in these church-run boarding schools. In most cases, the children were not allowed to speak their own languages or participate in traditional cultural activities. While some report having positive experiences at the schools, many Indigenous people suffered from the impoverished conditions and the alienation from family and friends, and from emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Hearing the stories of survivors of these schools was both an important and moving experience and one that highlighted to me the profound and urgent need for all Canadians to be engaged in this journey of healing.(1)

And here's another report, again of a public event:

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend one of the statement gathering sessions hosted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. These events, which are held across Canada and open to the public, provide the opportunity for survivors of residential schools and their families to make a recorded statement about their experiences.  It was very powerful to sit and listen to people share their truths. It was also inspirational to witness the incredible courage that was shown as people opened up and vulnerably expressed what they knew. It was raw. It was emotional. It was real. And it was all told so that healing and reconciliation could happen. And we listened because to listen brings credibility and dignity to a person's story. And we had our eyes opened, and our hearts moved, as we were reminded again and again about the horrific things that happened, and saw the resilience of people who would not let evil have the final word. (2)

Confidentiality is available in terms of the remit - if required. But it's not the only part of the remit:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will build upon the "Statement of Reconciliation" dated January 7, 1998 and the principles developed by the Working Group on Truth and Reconciliation and of the Exploratory Dialogues (1998-1999). These principles are as follows: accessible; victim-centered; confidentiality (if required by the former student); do no harm; health and safety of participants; representative; public/transparent; accountable; open and honourable process; comprehensive; inclusive, educational, holistic, just and fair; respectful; voluntary; flexible; and forward looking in terms of rebuilding and renewing Aboriginal relationships and the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.(3)

The road has been a rocky one. The first Commission was delayed because the members resigned stating that the Commission's independence had been compromised by political interference, which is always a danger with this kind of approach. The way forward was to select new Commissioners to lead it, and also - and to my mind most important with this kind of approach - to have an advisory body of victims of abuse:

The parties to the Settlement Agreement then selected three new Commissioners: Justice Murray Sinclair as chair, Chief Wilton Littlechild, and Marie Wilson. Their appointments took effect on July 1, 2009. A ten-member Indian Residential School Survivor Committee, made up of former residential school students, also was appointed to serve as an advisory body to the Commissioners. (3)

One of the weakness of Andrew Williamson's report is that it is very weak on details of "a Truth and Reconciliation Service". It seems - unlike most other schemes - to focus just on taking evidence from those who want to give it confidentiality. Canada's is broader - like that of South Africa, which pioneered this approach:

At Sharing Circles and Commission hearings, statements are made in a public setting. People who make their statement in a private setting can choose from two levels of privacy protection. The first option ensures full privacy according to the standards of the federal Privacy Act. The second option allows the statement provider to waive certain rights to privacy in the interests of having their experiences known to, and shared with, the greater public.
 (2012 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Interim Report)

My own recommendations for such a scheme would be:

1) political independence  (as seen in Canada, this is needed for trust)
2) advisory capacity by victims, perhaps Jersey Care Leavers Association would be a good body
3) both public and private sessions available to give evidence
4) documents and transcripts to be filed
5) a proper history written to reveal the complex truth about historical abuse.

They want respect. People are angry at being told they should simply "get over it." For them, the memories remain, the pain remains. They have started on their healing journey-usually with no help and no support. They told the Commission they will be the ones to determine when they have reached their destination.
 (2012 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Interim Report)

(1) http://www.crcna.org/pages/publicdialogue_mj.cfm
(2) http://www.diaconalministries.com/resources/documents/PartnersJune2012.pdf
(3) http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3
(4) http://www.attendancemarketing.com/~attmk/TRC_jd/Interim_report_English_electronic_copy.pdf

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