Unmarked burial investigation at Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University

The Independent Special Interlocutor is encouraged by an historic Settlement Agreement initiating investigation into potential unmarked graves and burials at site of the Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University in Montreal.

Construction has been paused on the redevelopment at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Quebec, pending a consensus by the parties on an appropriate archaeological plan to investigate the claims of potential unmarked burials on the site.

The Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites Associated with Indian Residential Schools, Kimberly Murray is optimistic that a recent settlement agreement approved by the Quebec Superior Court represents a significant step in the national effort to reconcile the historic injustices against Indigenous people.

As an intervenor in the Quebec Superior Court matter, Murray has worked to ensure that claims of the existence of potential unmarked burials were taken seriously ahead of a planned redevelopment to the site.

Murray is working to ensure that any investigation is guided by the best practices in archaeology, as well as respectful of Indigenous laws, protocols and cultural practices.

“Indigenous Peoples are often faced with institutional and government denialism when they bring forth concerns relating to burials,” Murray. “These concerns are often discredited, minimized, and not supported by action.”

Over the past six months, the parties have worked to agree on a credible process to conduct an investigation, which encompasses the best practices from the Canadian Archaeological Association, including the analysis of archival records, collection of survivor testimonies, and use of the latest technological methods to search the site for potential burials.

“The Settlement Agreement represents concrete action by all parties, which respects the concerns of the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers),” said Murray. “The terms are given the force of a court order to investigate potential unmarked burials through a transparent process, guided by experts with the appropriate experience, and following the guidelines of the best practices in archaeology, while being respectful of Indigenous laws, customs and protocols.”

The Independent Special Interlocutor’s Mandate has directed Murray to “identify needed measures” regarding the process of identifying, recovering, and protecting unmarked burial sites across Canada.

Last year, the Kanien’keha:ka Kahnistensera filed an application in Quebec Superior Court seeking an injunction to pause construction on the $850-million redevelopment project at the Old Royal Victoria Hospital.

The injunction was sought to allow for a full and proper search to determine if there are unmarked graves or burials of Indigenous children on the grounds.

The Office of the Independent Special Interlocutor was granted intervenor status by the Quebec superior court to assist all parties in understanding the link between hospitals, universities, and Indian Residential Schools, as well as provide guidance on how Indigenous laws, customs and protocols can inform and guide the work ahead.

Murray’s position as Special Interlocutor is independent and non-partisan and has a two-year mandate to deliver recommendations on a new federal framework to protect unmarked burial sites and support identification of the missing children.

The Independent Special Interlocutor is expected to deliver an interim report in June 2023 and a final report in June 2024.

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