The Morning Brief – 06.10.21

By Bruce Carson


Discussions and now disagreements dealing with residential schools took place over the past weekend and continue.

The importance of an apology from the Pope?

The records of residential schools, how they operated, children in attendance and children dying are crucial not only for accountability but for closure for families.

One main issue for those involved in dealing with this tragedy is how to keep it in the public eye so that it gets the political attention it deserves until all calls to action are satisfied.

I attended the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report held in ceremony at a hotel in downtown Ottawa; one could feel the pain, it was visible in that room and the need for answers. That pain continues as well as the need for answers today.

Prime Minister Trudeau accepted all of the Calls to Action in the report, immediately, sight unseen.

It was finally a positive but the trust of mid-June, 2015 has been broken—it needs to be reconstituted by words and actions.

It would be overly simplistic to suggest there are only two issues that surround the discovery of the bodies of the 215 children at the Kamloops Residential school, but given the discussions since the discovery came to the public’s attention; a Papal apology and the production of records would seem to be near the top of the list of matters that must be resolved to the satisfaction of those involved.

The Pope last Sunday did not apologize for the destructive role played by the Catholic Church in the residential schools it ran in Canada. The best that survivors, their families and Canadians could take away from the Pope’s words on Sunday was an acknowledgement of pain and sadness.

Murray Sinclair, who headed up the TRC said that an apology from the Catholic Church was a necessity. For Sinclair it would be an “affirmation of responsibility and an admission of responsibility.” As he said the Catholic Church seems to want to go directly to redemption without admitting they did anything wrong. He went on to say that families need to find closure, find their child’s body and be able to say good bye.

He acknowledged that “getting to the truth, the entire truth will take time.” And reconciliation could take several generations as it took many generations to get to this place.

Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations based in Saskatchewan described residential schools as places of “torture, abuse and death.” In Saskatchewan the search for unmarked graves will be led by survivors involved from “start to finish.” Reconciliation will occur under the direction of First Nation survivors.

Commenting on the words of the Pope, Cameron added that “we are all pained and saddened. Who isn’t? This is a worldwide tragedy. We are sorry, we pray; how difficult is that for the Pope to say?”

The real disagreement on Sunday came in the various interviews with Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto. He referred to Prime Minister Trudeau’s comments dealing with suing the Catholic Church regarding the release of records of residential schools. Trudeau also said the “Church has to step up and take responsibility.”

Cardinal Collins referred to Trudeau’s comments as unhelpful and then as unfair. He went on to say on the CTV News Channel “I think it is much more helpful, as we’re all working on the long journey of reconciliation, to work together and not to be making these kinds of unfair attacks upon those who are trying their best to bring about and to work with all the Indigenous people for reconciliation.”

On document disclosure, Collins started another firestorm when he offered “to suggest that the Catholic Church or the Bishops or the Vatican or someone is trying to hide documents is just unfair.” He went on to say the call for an apology “may well be something that will be on the road ahead.”

But, there is far more to be done beyond an apology.

On the issue of document disclosure, former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine just didn’t believe the Cardinal regarding documents. On the subject of an apology, Fontaine said that a full apology from the Pope is needed. He did add though, that he thought an apology was “entirely possible.”

Fontaine reflected on the situation we are now in saying there will be “many, many dark days ahead” if there is no cooperation among the government, churches, especially the Catholic Church and Indigenous people. There needs to be a renewed commitment to work together.

With regard to the 215 children and the Kamloops site, he said we must “dignify the children—there has to be dignity around the site.”

But if what happened at the Kamloops Residential School site and presumably with the discovery of similar sites, is to have lasting effect on the consciousness of Canadian political leaders and Canadians generally; there has to be a concerted effort to mobilize public opinion on both seeking the “truth” and then “reconciliation.”

An opinion piece in the Globe by former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould is instructive on this matter. She starts by saying that the Kamloops residential school’s “unmarked graves is a painful reminder of why we need leadership.” It is her view that lowering the flag is not enough. “Symbolism will not bring back the 215 precious children, their achievements, happiness, and contributions they would have made to the world.”

Canada needs “bold, transformative leadership from Canada’s elected officials.” Canadians are demanding real change. She is quite critical of the present federal leadership saying that it focuses on “appearance over substance.” She added “principle must guide us more than partisanship.”

She concludes by asking “will our leaders lead? Will our leaders honour the children?”

Where do we go from here to keep these matters uppermost in the minds of Canadians? In addition to the implementation of the Calls to Action of the TRC, there is now the government’s response or federal pathway to the 231 Calls for Justice from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

In addition next Monday, the federal government is in court fighting the decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal dealing with Indigenous children. It is hard to understand why this matter has not been settled so that money can flow to those aggrieved.

Hopefully focus will remain on Indigenous issues and not fade as the next shiny object appears.

If Trudeau’s most important relationship is with Canada’s Indigenous people, it is high time he proved that to be true.

In recent days Canadians have been confronted with a reality that has led many to say that this country may not be what they once believed it to be. The discovery of 215 dead children on the grounds of the Kamloops residential school and the murder of four members of a Muslim family in London Ontario, just because they were Muslim, shocked many Canadians into a new reality.

Many reacted to these events with the phrase this is not the London I know or this is not the Canada I know. Reality tells us otherwise and answers are in short supply.

Over the next days, we need to take time to reflect on the occurrences, what they mean and how all of us can do better to counter racism and terror in our communities and our country. As many have said this can’t go on, but it will until Canadians gather in strength to counter it.

Yes, leadership is needed, but the will to conquer racism and hatred has to come from Canadians, all of us.

To Come

  • Timothy Lane, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada delivers a speech on Digital Transformation and Canadian Economic Resilience
  • The Parliamentary Budget Officer releases a legislative costing note
June 11-13
  • G7 meeting in Cornwall UK
June 14
  • NATO meeting in Brussels
June 16
  • CPI numbers for May to be released

The Morning Brief returns on Wednesday, June 16.

– BC