Canadian professor Matt James would define this approach as lacking the “victim-centered” substance, which TRCs need to initiate the long-term social healing, and reconciliation required to transform the “systems of domination” which “produced” the human rights “violations in the first place” (James 2012). Emphasizing this point, is the discursive link forged by Canada’s current government, between DFATD’s African post-conflict reconstruction programs, its support of broader international frameworks, such as the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as its role in contributing towards meeting the United Nations Security Council’s mandate of maintaining “international peace and security” for all nations and peoples (DFATD, “Building Peace & Sec. For All”). This leads to the questions of why and from where, this focus and commitment to “transitional justice” and “truth-seeking” in wider Canadian foreign policy discourse on post- conflict reconstruction in Africa, emerged? Are TRCs and the establishment of mechanisms to achieve transitional justice in post-conflict Africa a coherent policy objective within broader Canadian foreign policy? This blogger maintains that this focus embodies nothing more than a rhetorical monolith in the current government’s foreign policy goals. In this blogger’s view, the extravagant language advocating “transitional justice” and “truth-seeking” lacks political coherence, substance, or will within Canada’s current foreign policy objectives.
This view emerges and is justified from the realization that Canada’s discourse on the importance of truth and reconciliation is and has remained just that - only discourse, which lacks the level of long-term commitment required for the comprehensive delivery of the victim-centered justice owed to those whose human rights have been systematically abused. This conclusion emerges from the reality that Canada has remained only symbolically tied to the importance of TRCs through the issuing of strategic policy statements, position papers and public statements both abroad and at home.
Internationally, Canada has paid lip-service to the importance of TRCs in countries, through varying policy statements which lack the ability to hold the dominant institutions which perpetrated the human rights abuses accountable for meeting victims’ needs for transformative measures of social change and reconciliation. A prime example rests in Canada providing rhetorical support for the current truth commissions in Sudan, Kenyan and Sri Lankan (ICTJ 2013, Walker 2009). While there are some financial commitments made to “national and international transitional justice efforts” via DFATD’s Global Peace and Security Fund (DFATD The Global Peace & Security Program 2013), these commitments are paired only with minor staffing and funding contributions to the functionality and presence of TRCs in various African countries, and with the Canadian Government’s support of workshops detailing the importance of learning “from past commissions” initiated within South Africa and Sierre Leone (Canadian Mennonite University 2012). These initiatives provoke a pressing question and paradox. If the stability and peace of post-conflict zones is truly one of the desired objectives within DFATD and the current Canada’s government’s foreign policy objectives, then why only discursively support the implementation of TRCs?
What this paradox embodies, is the larger problem of a developed nation’s willingness to export heavy language on the importance of TRCs mechanisms in establishing social order and stability coupled with a hesitancy to commit to upholding the most crucial legacy of past commissions – the empowerment of the “victims themselves” in extended processes of social healing (James 2012).
Instead of enhancing its support for the local actors ensuring the success of the commissions in Africa, Canada’s hollow commitment to TRCs within its own national borders, makes the task of identifying where the current foreign policy focus on transitional justice has emerged from a more perplexing feat. Since its “statement of reconciliation” towards aboriginal communities for its past “suppression of identity”, and violation of human rights within the federally-mandated Indian Residential School (IRS) system in 1998, to date, successive Canadian governments have consistently failed to accompany extravagant language on the importance of social reconciliation with the level of funding and resources required to advance important national conversations on the subjugation of its own Aboriginal communities (Corntassel & Holder 2008). Since the Canadian government’s decade-old “quasi apology”, a nationally-directed Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRCC) has been established, which experiences many of the same difficulties of the TRCs in Kenya and Sudan, in receiving low levels of “cooperation” and “support” from the dominant institutions which perpetrated the human rights abuses against victimized groups (TRCC 2012, James). As made clear by former Director of Research, Historical Records and Report Preparation John Milloy, the commission has been hampered by the inability to initiate complete and unlimited truth telling due to the hesitancy and reluctance of both the Catholic institutions and powers overseeing government archives to release documentation to the commission of the exact nature of the abuses (Milloy 2012).
In failing to move the dominant institutions responsible for mass human rights abuses towards enhanced accountability and participation in more victim-centered reconciliation, Canada cannot legitimately state its commitment to reconciliation. These facts provoke the conclusion that Canada has and continues today to remain only rhetorically and symbolically committed to the idea of truth and reconciliation both at home and abroad. However, as has been argued by one of the architects of the TRCC, Justice Murray Sinclair, as well as Eduardo Gonzalez Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice’s Truth Seeking Program, TRCs hold the normative capability to transform relationships characterized by exclusion and marginalization, and initiate national healing, only if and when a national government is willing to “see the process through” and “act on its findings”(CBC 2010). The looming cloud that this legacy of rhetorical and haphazard commitment to the importance of genuine and comprehensive truth-telling at home holds over Canadian foreign policy, invites the danger that Canada may never be able to wholly support these initiatives abroad. As long as it continues to remain only rhetorically committed to hearing the “diversity of victimized voices”, and enabling the grassroots social transformations implicit in properly initiating its own national process or re-telling and national healing at home, it is reasonable to assert that it does not own the right to demand such processes or exhort their importance, in post-conflict zones such as Sudan or Kenya.
In more specific terms, if Canada cannot at the most basic level understand the importance of imbuing TRCs at home with the long-term level of commitment required to complete the transformation of “daily conversations and interactions” and re-evaluate its own colonial past, what entitlement or credibility does it truly hold in exporting such processes to countries in the Horn of Africa?
1) Avouch, Kevin, and Beatriz Vejarano. "Truth and reconciliation commissions: A review essay and annotated bibliography." Social Justice: Anthropology, peace, and human rights 2, no. 1-2 (2001): 47-108.
2) Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade & Development. Canada-Sudan Relations. June 2014. Web. 05/22/2014.
3) Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade & Development. About the “Stabilization & Reconstruction Task Force”. Web. 05/22/2014.
5) Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade & Development. The Global Peace & Security Program. July 2013. Web. 05/22/2014.
6) Canadian Mennonite University. The Perennial Quest for Truth & Reconciliation: Learning from one another’s experiences. March 2012. Web. 07/01/2014.
7) Corntassel, Cindy et al. “Who’s Sorry Now? Government Apologies, Truth Commissions, and Indigenous Self-Determination in Australia, Canada, Guatemala, and Peru.” Human Rights Review 9, no.4(2008): 465-89
8) CBC. Truth & Reconciliation: Eduardo Gonzolez. Jun 18th 2010. Web. 06/22/2014