Trudeau government faces pressure to change name of Langevin Block, home to PMO
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 16, 2017 4:40AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 16, 2017 1:35PM EST
OTTAWA -- The federal government is facing mounting pressure, including from within the Liberal caucus, to change the name of the building that houses the Prime Minister's Office -- the Langevin Block, located across the street from Parliament Hill.
The building is named after Hector-Louis Langevin, a politician and father of Confederation who also happens to have expressed strong support for establishing what would become the infamous, government-run residential school program.
That particular detail is a problem for indigenous leaders including Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who raised his concerns in a letter to the government obtained by The Canadian Press.
Bellegarde wants the government to find a new name for the building in consultation with indigenous peoples, something he says aboriginal communities would take as a sign of good faith.
"Canada has committed itself to launch an era of reconciliation and that important work cannot advance without facing the harsh truths of Canada's colonial past," Bellegarde wrote in a letter to Public Services Minister Judy Foote.
A group of aboriginal MPs -- independent Hunter Tootoo, the NDP's Romeo Saganash and Georgina Jolibois and the Liberal indigenous caucus-- are also asking the federal government for a new name.
Saganash, the NDP's indigenous affairs critic who spent 10 years in residential school, said he has been on a lifelong mission to reconcile with the people who put him there.
"It doesn't help to walk beside a building and be reminded of the principal architect that sent me away," he said Thursday during a news conference on Parliament Hill.
"You can ask any survivor of residential school that you meet ... it is a trauma you carry throughout your life ... I can still remember how it looked, I can still remember the smell, the odour of the place. I remember all of that. We carry that."
Would be 'good, symbolic step'
It would be fitting if the building home to the prime minister is named after one of the First People of Canada, Tootoo said.
"I think this would be a good, symbolic step by the government ... to continue to move forward on reconciliation."
The demand is not without precedent: last month, the City of Calgary said it would rechristen its Langevin Bridge as Reconciliation Bridge, part of its own effort to foster reconciliation with indigenous communities.
"Canada has committed itself to launch an era of reconciliation and that important work cannot advance without facing the harsh truth's of Canada's colonial past," Bellegarde said.
Action would be particularly poignant in a year where the country is marking a key anniversary of Confederation, he added.
"This is all the more important as Canada proceeds with its Canada 150 events."
For his part, Saganash does not plan to celebrate the anniversary.
"I must admit that I have never celebrated July 1 in my life," he said.
"Even to this day, as every Canadian will be probably partying this year, our kids and our youth continue to take their lives. Our women and girls continue to disappear and get murdered in this country."
Langevin, who died in 1906, was a lawyer, newspaper editor and Conservative MP from Quebec. He spent more than 25 years in federal politics, resigning as public works minister in 1891 amid a corruption scandal.
It was in his role as minister of public works that Langevin argued for a separate school system with a specific mandate to assimilate indigenous children.
Foote's office said it will respond to Bellegarde's letter, adding that any decisions will be made in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action and in full partnership with indigenous people.
The commission released 94 sweeping recommendations in 2015 after it spent six years documenting the long-standing impacts of residential schools.