Former child watchdog to head UBC centre on residential schools

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to lead university’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre

B.C.’s first-ever children’s rights watchdog is taking on a new role as director of the University of British Columbia’s centre on Indigenous history and residential school system.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond will be lead the school’s new Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, which officially opened April 9, UBC announced Thursday.

Turpel-Lafond, who’s Cree and Scottish, will aim to ensure the centre provides residential school survivors access to the records gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“This opportunity to deepen the dialogue and respond to the legacy of residential schools is historic,” Turpel-Lafond said in a statement.

“What happened with these schools, and the policies that permitted them to flourish, must never be forgotten or set-aside.”

READ MORE: Former B.C. children’s watchdog sues province

READ MORE: Bernard Richard resigns from children’s representative office a year and a half

UBC president apologizes for ‘failing to confront’ over residential schools during opening of Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. (The Canadian Press)


Turpel-Lafond resigned as B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth just one-month shy of her 10-year term, in October 2016.

Created in 2007, the independent office is in charge of investigating and providing insight into how the government runs its youth welfare system.

She championed several cases of children who had fallen through the cracks in government care, notably Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old boy who fell to his death from a hotel room while in the care of a delegated aboriginal child welfare agency.

“She was the voice for young people who were not able to speak up for themselves,” said UBC president Santa Ono.

“Mary Ellen will ensure that the voices and the experiences of people who suffered at Indian residential schools in their childhood for a century are articulated and understood.”

The centre, located on UBC’s Vancouver campus, opened with an apology made by Ono earlier this month, when he told a crowd that universities bear part of the responsibility for residential schools because they trained many of the policy-makers who administered the schools and tacitly accepted the silence surrounding it.

Turpel-Lafond is also a professor at UBC’s Allard School of Law.

She holds a doctorate in law from Harvard Law School, a master’s in international law from Cambridge University, a JD from Osgoode Hall at York University, and a bachelor of arts degree from Carleton University.


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