Wed. Jun 19th, 2024
Introduction: Reconciliation in Canada

It seems like reconciliation policy is on the Canadian national agenda, as reconciliation emerges in the various statements of apology and policies emanating from the Canadian federal government. Thus, a reconciliation policy is essential for us to seek an approach that would secure amicable relationships and ensure past wrongs would not be replicated.

Reconciliation policy is used in diverse ways in Canadian politics. It ranges from a meaning that denotes the need for restrictions on the exercise of sovereignty on issues impacting Aboriginal rights to requiring the First Nation peoples to become reconciled to limitations of their rights in modern Canada. Thus, reconciliation policy is about First Nation peoples reconciling their rights directly with the Canadian Sovereignty . Meanwhile, this policy can also be about the need for the Canadian government to develop better relations with First Nation communities by acknowledging the effects of past policies aimed explicitly at assimilation of First Nation cultures.

Recent Approaches to Reconciliation: Good or Bad?

Recently, this country’s policymakers attempt to reconcile or to promote reconciliation within the First Nation communities. Examples are PM Stephen Harper’s apology to residential school survivors in 2008, Canada installs First Indigenous governor general in 2021, and emergence of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

However, their conception of reconciliation is on the assumption that the wrong giving rise to the harm is the past. Since we are in a post-conflict situation, the process reconciliation begins an issued official apology and follows up with eventual acceptance of the apology and adequate compensation. Due to this vision, reconciliation policies focus more on individual apologies and forgiveness in interpersonal relations rather than the reshaping of collective relationships or redress for broader structural and systemic harms.

The procedures and practices of government are too politically driven. An apology is issued just because it is “politically correct,” or a policy is introduced in response to the unmarked gravesites that shock Canadians. For example, Harper’s apology in 2008 focused exclusively on the after-effects of residential schools. It does not mention how these schools fit into a broader policy framework of assimilation of First Nation peoples. The predominant theme in most legal processes has been truth revealing and remedial relief rather than reconciliation.


The government’s issued apology and policy have identified reconciliation as an essential component of the constitutional protection of the rights of First Nation peoples. Nevertheless, there has been continued debate about what is necessary to make reconciliation a reality. As noted above, most policies and apologies are legalistic mechanisms that only focus on individuals and treat the historical conflicts, such as residential schools, as an isolated policy initiative of the past. Under such an approach, the Canadian policymakers frame their reconciliation and other First Nation policies according to their logic rather than providing meaningful restitution for the damages done by the past wrongs and effective solutions for First Nation peoples to succeed in the commentary world.

Although the government takes action, it addresses individual wrongdoing rather than the more significant systemic and structural issues. Because the approach slants toward individual amnesty, there is little hope of the systemic legacy of assimilation policies being held accountable and mainly gone unpunished.


James, M. “A Carnival of Truth? Knowledge, Ignorance and the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” The International Journal of Transitional Justice, vol. 6, no. 2, 2012, pp. 182-204.

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Statement of Apology”. CBC News Canada. 2008. Accessed 13 August 2021.

Lutz, Ellen L. “INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND VIOLENT CONFLICT; Preconceptions, Appearances, and Realities.” Cultural Survival Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, 2005, pp. 13.

Corntassel, Jeff, and Cindy Holder. “Who’s Sorry Now? Government Apologies, Truth Commissions, and Indigenous Self-Determination in Australia, Canada, Guatemala, and Peru.” Human Rights Review (Piscataway, N.J.), vol. 9, no. 4, 2008, pp. 465-489.

This is an opinion article; the views expressed by me.

36 thoughts on “Reconciliation Policy and Apology in Canada”
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