Head of residential school probe into quits

Mon Oct 20, 2008 5:27pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The high-profile examination into decades of systemic abuse of aboriginal children at church-run residential schools ground to a halt on Monday when the head of the federal commission looking into the matter abruptly resigned, citing a power struggle.

The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission is supposed to travel across Canada listening to some of the 150,000 aboriginal children who were forced into residential schools, where many say they were sexually and physically abused.

The commission -- which is due to spend five years on the task -- started work on June 1, shortly before Ottawa made an official and emotional apology to the country's one-million strong aboriginal population.

Chairman Harry LaForme cited an "incurable problem" as the reason for his resignation, saying the two commissioners working under him would not take his directions.

This, he said in a letter to Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, had put the commission "on the verge of paralysis". The letter was released to the media.

As part of the official apology, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Parliament that there could be no excuses for what happened at the government funded, church-run schools, which mainly operated from the 1870s to the 1970s.

In May 2006, Canada reached a C$1.9 billion court settlement with the roughly 90,000 school survivors. The commission was created as part of the settlement.

Native leaders said in June they hoped the apology would lead to greater reconciliation between non-native Canadians and the often marginalized aboriginal population, which routinely suffers from poor living conditions and high unemployment.

Ted Yeomans, a spokesman for Strahl, said he was disappointed by LaForme's decision.

"As this is a court ordered settlement agreement, this resignation will need to be reviewed by the courts and we await their direction on moving forward," he said.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)