On September 2nd, 1998 a McDonnell Douglas MD11 aircraft operated by Swiss Air crashed 8 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia and sank in 55 meters of water. All 229 passengers and crew were killed.
The search and rescue response and investigation took 4 years to complete at a cost of over $55 million. The majority of the victim identification was conducted forensically. DNA was collected worldwide from closest family members to compare with the parts and pieces of victims dredged from the ocean depths. Incredibly, most victims were positively identified through DNA matching, dental records, and fingerprints.
Over 350 investigators from multiple agencies worked tirelessly to collect, collate and analyze physical and technical data that resulted in a conclusion to the cause of the crash and provided closure to the family and friends of the victims. A memorial, established at Peggy’s Cove, is a historical reminder of the tragedy and a current focal point to the memory of those tragically lost.
Although there was no initial indication that the crash was a result of a criminal act, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police conducted a criminal investigation until such time as the incident was ruled an accident. A successful conclusion was subsequently reached.
In June 1999, the RCMP sent eight investigators, all experts in crime scene examination to Kosovo, for a 4-month mission to investigate allegations of ethnic cleansing atrocities. Previous missions to Bosnia and Rwanda formed part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to the United Nations in support of genocide investigations.
Here at home, the RCMP operates a Sensitive and International Investigations Section with a mandate to investigate sensitive, high-risk matters that cause significant threats to Canada’s political, economic, and social integrity of its institutions across Canada and internationally. Jurisdiction over offences investigated is not limited by region but by the nature of the offence.
In 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report concluded that at least 3,200 indigenous children were believed buried at former residential school locations across Canada. At that time, the TRC asked the Federal Government to fund projects that would identify burial site locations and bring closure to families of those missing children. Funding was denied.
On May 28th of this year, the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation in Kamloops BC, announced that they, on their own, had discovered the unmarked graves of 215 children, using ground-penetrating radar, on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
On June 2nd, the Government of Canada announced funding in the amount of $27 Million to assist indigenous communities to locate other graves of children who died at residential schools in locations across Canada. However, the location of these graves and the children interred in them will be difficult to identify due to the fact that the religious organizations that hold records of the deaths and burials of these children have refused to release them to investigators.
In response to this overwhelming need that would challenge the best investigative skills of anthropologists and police investigators alike, the Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister for Canada announced that the distribution of the $27 million, in the search, recovery, and identification of these missing children, will be Indigenous-led, community-based and culturally sensitive.
And in making that announcement, is it not ironic that the Minister would propose a solution to this atrocity that should have been the original anchor of government interaction with and support to First Nations communities back when?
And by this announcement, does it not seem like the Government of Canada is setting up the recipients of the $27 million to fail?
Excuse us but, where multiple deaths by unknown causes and unmarked burials across the country knowingly exist, does Canada not have a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to fully investigate the cause of these deaths and hold those responsible, accountable where a criminal act or the absence of care can be proved? Or at least demonstrate that they tried?
It’s what Canada did in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Rwanda.
And if Canada can sift the ocean depths for pieces of DNA to identify victims of an accident and provide closure to the relatives of those lost, would it not seem equally important and culturally sensitive to unearth those shallow graves of children who have been equally lost for decades to those that loved them.
Across the country, tiny shoes are being used as a symbol, left at various memorials and outside homes, to symbolize the lives of those that never had a chance to outgrow them.
Imagine if one pair of those shoes were those of your child or grandchild.
What would you say then? And to whom?
Bill Adams & Terry Dyer-Adams