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A Personal Reflection on National Truth and Reconciliation Day

I feel honoured to have had the chance to participate in commemorative events today at Parliament Hill and Lebreton Flats and to have shared that moment with family. I am grateful to the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation for their warm welcome on to their traditional, unceded territory. If you were not able to watch the events, please do via APTN National News.

While there are many moments from today’s solemn events that will stay with me; I was particularly struck watching a fifty-meter-long banner stroll past me adorned with forty-one hundred plus names of little ones who never made it home. May their bodies be found, may their lives be remembered, and may their spirits find peace.

To the survivors who bravely shared their stories with us. I hear you, and I believe you. I am sorry that for so long your stories were repressed and denied. I am sorry that for so long the harms that you suffered were ignored. No longer and never again. May your voices spread across Turtle Island and your stories reach the ears of all those who need to hear them.

As a lawyer and a jurist, I feel an additional sense of duty and responsibility when it comes to National Truth and Reconciliation Day. That is to acknowledge and confront the difficult truth that the systems of law which I love, and in which I practice, are colonial systems. Colonial Canadian law has been used to put into place policies, practices, and systems which sought the erasure of Indigenous peoples, their laws, and their cultures. These harms continue today, and Canada’s legal systems continue, in large part, to operate to the detriment of Indigenous peoples.

As a jurist, I must acknowledge this truth. I must confront it because it is ugly, because it is hard, and, most importantly, because ignoring it only furthers the harms suffered by my Indigenous neighbours. The obligation to decolonize Canada’s legal systems falls not on Indigenous jurists, but on non-Indigenous ones. It is our obligation to bear. It is our responsibility, and, as we undertake it, we must also stand alongside and support our Indigenous neighbours as they work on the resurgence of their own Indigenous legal orders and systems. I long for a day when these systems, and Canada’s legal systems, operate side-by-side, in harmony.

Today, I recommit to this vision.

Phillip B. Turcotte is a Queer, Disabled lawyer, practicing law in Ontario. The preceding opinion was his own and not that of his employers, or organizations he supports, past or present.

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