Record beyond reproach
Toronto -- Justice Harry LaForme's resignation as chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission is truly a troubling event (Native Leaders Divided Over Future Of Residential Schools Panel - Oct. 22). More troubling is the unhelpful comments of some leaders of the aboriginal community.
Bill Wuttunee suggested that Judge LaForme was less than qualified for the position. He then asked if Judge LaForme had "the enthusiasm to work in that position or was he too lazy?"
Suggestions that Judge LaForme is unqualified or lazy could not further miss the mark. His appointment was met with universal acclaim. His work ethic during his accomplished career speaks for itself.
The judge's resignation is telling. I am certain it was a decision he agonized over and only reached due to the impossibility of the situation in which he found himself.
Judicial independence key to LaForme's resignation
As Mr. Justice Harry LaForme agonized over whether to stay on as chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he was faced with the question of whether he wanted to spend five years fighting for his own independence and authority.
The 61-year-old Ontario Court of Appeal judge consulted commission counsel Owen Young, whom Judge LaForme had stood by despite the opposition of some native groups to his hiring.
Mr. Young tried to persuade Judge LaForme, the country's highest-ranking aboriginal judge, to stay. “Harry, the country needs you,” he said.
“We're not giving up this fight for reconciliation,” the judge replied. “But we're going to have to move to another context.”
An intermediary explored the possibility that Jane Brewin Morley and Claudette Dumont-Smith, the two commissioners who opposed Judge LaForme, might resign to break the deadlock, but they said they would not.
“He did the thing that he could control, let me put it that way,” Mr. Young said. “He could have asked them to leave; they wouldn't leave.”
His resignation Monday caught many by surprise. Attempts at conciliation had been launched at the behest of Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler, led by Toronto lawyer Will McDowell. People close to the discussion felt that, given time, solutions could have been found to the issues that divided the three: whether there was a hierarchy in the group, whether decisions would be made by consensus, whether the commission would focus on truth or reconciliation or both, and how close the commission would be to the parties to the court-supervised settlement of lawsuits over the schools. Creation of the commission was a cornerstone of that agreement.
The three commissioners met with Mr. McDowell on Sept. 30 in Toronto.
Judge LaForme was still frustrated by the other two commissioners' trip to Ottawa four days earlier at the request of the Assembly of First Nations to meet with the parties to the settlement. He had said he wouldn't go, and recommended the two commissioners do the same.
The judge said that decision was based on the need to defend judicial independence. He believed the commission had to be sympathetic to the survivors, but couldn't be seen to be captive to the AFN, according to a source close to the commission.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail two weeks ago, Judge LaForme gave no hint of what he later called the “incurable problem,” but chose to emphasize the importance of independence.
“My view of independence is such that I would defend it as strongly against the government of Canada as I would against any political organization or any church,” he said.