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Truth and Reconciliation Commission lawyer must quit: native leaders

Posted by smeddum on August 2, 2008

Truth and Reconciliation Commission lawyer must quit: native leaders

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CBC News
Native leaders and residential school survivors’ groups are calling for the resignation of a lawyer hired as chief counsel by the federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Assembly of First Nations, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the National Residential Schools Survivors Society all say Owen Young, who recently represented the province of Ontario in a case against native defendants, is a bad choice.

“I have a saying, you can’t suck and blow at the same time,” said Mike Cachagee, president of the National Residential School Survivors’ Society.

“You can’t call from the rooftops about crime and punishment, and then say we’re gonna talk about truth and reconciliation after the fact.”

Young represented the Province of Ontario in March in a case against native people opposing mineral exploration. During their sentencing he urged the judge to impose “a financial penalty that hurts.”

Two weeks ago, the Assembly of First Nations unanimously passed a resolution urging the commission to re-consider its choice of chief counsel.

Commission head Justice Harry LaForme has defended his decision to hire Young as his legal counsel, saying the lawyer’s comments are unfairly being taken out of context, and that Young has defended aboriginal people for much of his career.

“I would simply say trust my judgment and wait for the results of what we do as a commission because I thought long and hard about the right person for this job and I believed it was Owen Young,” LaForme said.

Young could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

While some say they have respect for LaForme, the leaders maintain that Young must be let go in order to protect the commission’s mandate.

“When I think of all the counsel that was available in Canada, [LaForme] could have found someone else that was less contentious,” Cachagee said.

‘High hopes’

Some native leaders say they hope Young will tender his resignation before LaForme has to make a decision on the matter.

“A lot of people, I think, have high hopes, especially those survivors who have waited a long time to tell their story,” said Alvin Fiddler, the deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations groups in Ontario.

“If he’s an honourable man, and by all accounts he is, then he’ll do the right thing and step down from the commission.”

LaForme said he’s waiting for a formal request from the AFN before deciding how to handle the issue.

The Canadian government formally established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in June as part of the court-approved Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement negotiated by legal counsel for former students, legal counsel for the churches, the government of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations.

The purpose of the commission is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to create a historical account of the residential schools and encourage reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

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