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Harry LaForme resigns

TORONTO – The highly respected chair of the Canada’s Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission has resigned, citing irreconcilable differences with his fellow commissioners.

“This painful decision did not come easily to me,” Harry LaForme, an Ontario appeal court justice and member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, wrote in his Oct. 20 letter of resignation to Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.

The two commissioners – Claudette Dumont-Smith of the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi, Québec, and British Columbia lawyer Jane Brewin Morley – “have come to show disrespect for me, personally and as chair.”

He said the two refused to recognize his leadership and accept that their role was to provide advice and assistance to the chair, instead insisting on a majority rule, even retaining legal counsel to try and force LaForme to agree to their demands.

This, he said, put the commission on the verge of paralysis.

“They have compromised commission independence. By their conduct they have contributed to an atmosphere that has even adversely affected my health. But most fundamentally, in the end they have lost my confidence and, I feel, betrayed my trust. There is now no going back.”

A spokesman for Strahl said the resignation is disappointing.

“As this is a court-ordered settlement agreement, this resignation will need to be reviewed by the courts and we await their direction on moving forward,” Ted Yeomans said in a prepared statement.

“Justice LaForme has cited both personal and professional reasons. Unfortunately, a court appointed mediator was not able to reconcile differences between the chair and the two commissioners. The courts will now review Justice LaForme’s decision.”

Mike Cachagee, executive director of the National Residential Schools Survivors’ Society, one of the groups that sued the government and churches on behalf of 150,000 aboriginal, Métis and Inuit children, said he was saddened by the news.

“Harry is a very honorable person with a high degree of integrity and conviction,” he said, adding that LaForme had warned when he took the position of chair that he would not tolerate interference.

“Where was the interference coming from? I think it’s more internal than external.”

The commission was set up by the Canadian government as part of the settlement of the lawsuit, but without any involvement of survivor groups, he said. Had there been involvement, Cachagee said, LaForme might have been more cautious regarding a couple of appointments that set him on a collision course with aboriginal groups.

One was the selection as commission counsel of Owen Young, a lawyer who acted for the Ontario government in the mining dispute that ended in the jailing of Algonquin leader Bob Lovelace and the chief and council of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

The other was the appointment of federal civil servant Aideen Nabigon as executive director of the commission. Her situation, as a non-aboriginal woman who has Indian status through marriage, is a painful reminder to female survivors who lost their status through marriage, Cachagee said.

Dumont-Smith and Brewin Morley could not be reached for comment.

LaForme was also not giving interviews.