The Truth and Reconciliation Commission wants to know more about the role of the RCMP -- and its predecessor the North West Mounted Police -- in the residential school tragedy.
John Milloy, the TRC's research director, said Friday the Mounties were early proponents of the schools, seeing them as a way of pacifying and assimilating aboriginal people.
"The Mounties saw it very much as part of the process of stabilizing Western Canada," he said, noting the police force began advocating the formation of such schools before the 1885 Riel rebellion in Saskatchewan.
Milloy said the commission wants to know whether, or to what extent, the Mounties turned their back on crimes being committed against aboriginal children in residential schools.
A British Columbia researcher, conducting oral histories of residential school survivors, claims he was told that oftentimes the Mounties, when encountering kids who went missing and were found dead, would strip them of anything that would identify them as coming from a residential school. Whether that is some "wild urban myth" or whether there is evidence to back up the claims is something the commission is interested in, Milloy said.
He said he knows of one incident in which a Mountie, after visiting a residential school, wrote to his superiors, "If this was a white school, I'd have that principal in court tomorrow."
Milloy said the commission will soon contract out the RCMP study -- one of about 25 research projects it will undertake over the next three years -- to an academic institution.
The RCMP has just completed its own history of its involvement with residential schools.
The TRC had hoped it would receive a copy during the first national event in Winnipeg this week, but the report has yet to be released.
The RCMP document will be the starting point for the commission's own study.
The research team it employs will then comb the Mounties' files themselves.
As well as examining the period in which residential schools operated -- from the 1870s to the 1990s -- the commission will look at how the Mounties handled complaints in recent years from those who experienced abuse at the institutions.