Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he understands Indigenous leaders’ frustration at the slow progress of change following the discovery of unmarked burial sites at the sites of former residential schools across Canada.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation, which announced the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this year, has said she has been disappointed by the “glacial pace” of change, saying reconciliation has failed to be a key issue during the federal election campaign.
“From what I have witnessed to date, there is really little to no real discussion other than a few headlines that have been mentioned and tossed around during the debate,” Casimir told Global News.
In an exclusive interview Monday, Trudeau told Global News he agreed with those voicing their dissatisfaction.
“I agree with the impatience that people feel,” he said. “I agree with the impatience that Indigenous people feel because I feel it, too. We need to be moving as fast as possible.
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“But it’s not just for the federal government to decide, ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going to do that.’ We have to work with the communities.”
Casimir said Trudeau has yet to visit her community.
“I will go to Kamloops as soon as it is right and possible for me to go there,” he said, adding that conversations are taking place with Indigenous communities.
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“When it is right for me to be there to support, when we have things to announce the path forward that are ready to go from the community’s perspective, I will be there as I have been across the country in communities.”
Trudeau said the lifting of seven long-term boil water advisories in the Shoal Lake area in Manitoba highlights his commitment to First Nations, but also illustrates how long it can take to effect change.
“When I first got elected, I made a commitment around a road and a new plant, and we’re delivering that this week,” he said. “It took five years — it took six years. These are things that take [a] long [time] to get them right, but we keep working on them in partnership at the pace dictated by Indigenous peoples.”
Meanwhile, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said no excuse is acceptable for the Liberals’ failure to deliver on their 2015 promise to lift all drinking water advisories in First Nations communities.
In the interview, Trudeau also reiterated his pledge to issue travel documents and temporary residence permits to Afghans who helped Canadian Armed Forces.
“There are challenges getting out of Afghanistan right now, but we are working with partners,” he said. “We are working to do that. Canadians want us to do more. We want to do more, we are doing more. We’re going to welcome 40,000 Afghans to Canada.”
In an interview last month, a B.C. veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan slammed government efforts to evacuate Afghans who helped Canada, as the Taliban solidified control in the country.
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“Ineptitude. They’ve been warned about this for months. Years, actually,” Cpl. Trevor Street (Ret.), who was in Afghanistan in 2006 and again in 2009-2010, told Global News.
“The veterans community have been screaming at them about this, to get our people out, that they will face reprisals. And nothing was done until the very last minute.”
Trudeau said he understands veterans’ sense of frustration.
“I fully understand how frustrated people who sacrificed, who fought alongside extraordinary Afghans, who were there to help to build a better future, can be frustrated by what the international community, including Canada, was unable to do to prevent the Taliban from taking over or unable to get more people out of that airport during the during that evacuation,” he said.
“But we are not giving up. We are not letting down our efforts. Diplomats, active forces, members, consular officials — we are all continuing to do the work necessary to get tens of thousands of Afghans out of Afghanistan to their new lives in Canada.”
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Trudeau also said British Columbians are focused on big-picture issues during this campaign, such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier in the day, both the NDP and Liberals pledged to criminalize protesters that block hospitals or harass health workers, as party leaders denounced planned demonstrations at hospitals countrywide.
Voters go to the polls on Sept. 20.
– With files from Neetu Garcha, Simon Little and The Canadian Press
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