On November 5th 2020, the Ryerson Conservatives student organization at Ryerson University in Toronto posted a video on their Facebook page of Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speaking to the group and defending Egerton Ryerson by justifying keeping the name of “Ryerson” University. In O’Toole’s speech to the students, he defends Ryerson’s part in the residential school system and deflects the wrongs done through the schools to the Liberal party and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He goes on to say that it was the Conservatives who stopped the residential school system and apologized for the actions committed by the system towards the First Peoples of these lands. O’Toole then says that the Conservatives have a “better record” when it comes to the residential schools and their history and closes by saying that the system was put in place “to try and provide education”.

Erin O’Toole’s speech implies that government actors (both Liberals and Conservatives) within the Canadian State defines “providing education” as something that includes political torture to children through the actions of sexual, mental, physical, spiritual, and cultural abuses – and even death. O’Toole states that even after 100 years of the residential school system being in place, they knew it wasn’t working but yet kept the system alive to continue the assimilation and cultural genocide towards the First Peoples’ of these lands. Everything about O’Toole’s speech is nothing new when it comes to the continued attempts to justify all of the wrong doings done towards First Nations’, Inuit, and Metis on a National setting and their attempt to make it seem ‘not that bad’.

This kind of justification has to stop. Residential schools were NOT a place of education but rather a place of a horrific lived nightmare for our peoples every moment they were there. A nightmare we are still trying to heal from and deal with. A nightmare that continues to haunt us today and will continue to haunt our precious generations to come.  Attempting to justifying our horrific past, ongoing experiences, and the ongoing violence that is being committed towards us every day within this governing nation does not make the committed wrongs disappear. There are still several individuals across these lands who remember walking the very halls of the institutions that took so much from them and replaced it with so much ongoing hurt. Do you think they care whether or not it was the “Liberals” or the “Conservatives”? At the end of the day, the residential school system was created and maintained by the Canadian governing systems and all those that participated within them. 

The Circle is disappointed in this nation’s governing system. Imagine five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report coming out and political bodies, let alone a party leader, still refer to the residential school system as being justifiable through this twisted notion that it was a system to “provide education”. Not to mention using the importance of the Orange Shirt to make a statementthat you “acknowledge” the historical and ongoing violence being committed towards us through your very own governing institutions.

Circle of First Nation, Metis & Inuit Students Chairperson,

Aliqa Illauq