Source: (2012) Canadian Journal of Law and Society. 27(1): 81-99.

When we talk about truth and reconciliation commissions, we are accustomed to speaking of “transitional justice” mechanisms used in emerging democracies addressing histories of grave injustices. Public inquiries are usually the state response to past injustice in the Canadian context. The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is the result of a legal settlement agreement involving the government, representatives of indigenous peoples who attended residential schools for a period lasting more than a century, and the churches that operated those schools. Residential schools have been addressed in a series of public inquiries in Canada, culminating in the TRC. I argue that some of Canada's previous public inquiries, particularly with respect to indigenous issues, have strongly resembled truth commissions, yet this is the first time that an established democracy has called a body investigating past human-rights violations a “truth commission.” This article considers some of the reasons for seeking a truth commission in an established democracy and looks to a previous public inquiry led by Thomas Berger, the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, for some useful strategies for the TRC as it *99 pursues its mandate. In particular, I suggest that a commission can perform a social function by using its process to educate the broader public about the issue before it. (author's abstract)