ICMP Visits Canada and Releases Interim Report

21 March 2024, Ottawa, Unceded Algonquin Territory, Ontario: Canada can take effective steps to support First Nations, Metis, and Inuit rights holders as they seek justice and accountability for the death or disappearance of children in the former Indian Residential School System, Kathryne Bomberger, the Director-General of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), said today.

Ms Bomberger was speaking at the presentation of an Interim Report on the work of ICMP’s program to help Indigenous communities in Canada find their missing children. She said ICMP can assist the stakeholders “in a process to establish the fate and whereabouts of children who went missing, and work with families and Canadian authorities to secure truth and justice, which are a prerequisite for reconciliation.”

The Interim Report on Missing Children and Unmarked Burials covers work carried out by ICMP in Canada between January 2023 and March 2024 and recommends next steps. The objective of the Canada Program is to engage with Indigenous communities and explore options for addressing the issue of missing children, including investigating unmarked burials and potential repatriation of children’s remains.

States are responsible for locating missing persons and investigating the disappearance and for securing the rights of surviving families of the missing to truth, justice and reparations.   Canada’s Indigenous communities are exploring strategies to locate sites and investigate the circumstances of the disappearance of thousands of children.

More than 150,000 children were removed from their families and sent to Residential Schools in the late 19th century and much of the 20th century for the purposes of assimilation and the eradication of their languages and culture. Death among students was common, resulting from violence and abuse, illness, malnutrition, overcrowding and, tragically, in failed attempts by children to escape and return to their home communities, which in many cases were several hundred kilometers from the IRS location. Children were often buried in unofficial cemeteries or unmarked burial sites, and families were routinely not notified of the burial location.

“The needs are great, and foremost among those needs is the desire for the truth,” said ICMP Canada Program Director Sheila North, adding that “One phrase kept coming to mind as we met with people, and it remains with me: ‘They Were Children’.”

Through its engagement with Indigenous rights holders and partners, ICMP has identified key themes for consideration in future planning, including the importance of:

  • recognizing Indigenous autonomy and jurisdiction,
  • supporting Indigenous Self-Determination,
  • providing technical assistance on the ground, and
  • developing and maintaining visibility and accountability.

The report recommends that the Government of Canada ratify the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; amend the Technical Arrangement with ICMP so that communities and Survivor groups can work with ICMP more easily; convene a multijurisdictional dialogue on the subject of lands and territories within which unmarked graves have been found; establish continued, sustainable, and adequate funding beyond 2025 for Indigenous communities that wish to retain technical advice or services, or that are leading their own investigations; and ensure that Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) continues to coordinate and implement support to communities.

The Interim Report on Missing Children and Unmarked Burials can be accessed here.


About ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so.