Indigenous

NDP to table House of Commons motion calling for Pope to apologize for residential schools

The NDP plans to table a motion in the House of Commons calling on Pope Francis to apologize for the abuses suffered by Indigenous children at Indian residential schools, according to a letter sent Monday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Pope Francis has decided not to apologize for abuses at Catholic-run residential schools

Pope Francis has said he does not plan to apologize for abuses suffered by Indigenous children at Catholic-run Indian residential schools. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

The NDP plans to table a motion in the House of Commons calling on Pope Francis to apologize for the abuse suffered by Indigenous children at Indian residential schools, according to a letter sent by the federal party's MPs Monday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The letter did not state when the NDP planned to table the motion, which would call on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to invite the Pope to Canada to issue the apology. 

"Easter is traditionally a time of renewal. But in Canada there can be no renewal, and the work of reconciliation will not be complete, without an apology from the Pope," said the letter written by NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Romeo Saganash.

The MPs called on Trudeau to support the motion.

'He could not personally respond'

The motion also calls on the Catholic Church to hand over the money it promised to raise when it signed the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and to turn over documentation related to the schools, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CBC News.

Trudeau has expressed disappointment with Pope Francis's recent decision not to apologize for residential schools.

NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with NDP MP Romeo Saganash. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Pope's decision was announced last week in a letter written by Bishop Lionel Gendron, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Gendron wrote that the Pope is "aware" of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) but "felt that he could not personally respond" to the requested apology.

One of the TRC's 94 calls to action includes an apology from the Pope.

The TRC was created by the residential schools settlement agreement.

Catholic Church ran most residential schools

The Catholic Church, through its various orders, ran 72 per cent of Indian residential schools, which were created to assimilate Indigenous children. About 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools during the institutions' over-century long history.

NDP MP Romeo Saganash wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with NDP MP Charlie Angus. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

One of the most notorious Catholic-run institutions, St. Anne's Indian Residential School, employed the use of a homemade electric chair and was the subject of a six-year police investigation in the 1990s that led to the conviction of two nuns and three other school workers.

St. Anne's, which sat in Fort Albany near Ontario's James Bay coast, was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Sisters of the Cross — with funding from Ottawa — from 1906 to 1976.

Catholic Church still owes money

Senator Murray Sinclair, who was the chair of the TRC, said in an interview last week that he believes the Catholic Church leadership does not believe the multitude of accounts of abuse suffered by survivors at the schools.

Commission chair Murray Sinclair shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation commission in 2015. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Catholic Church has never fulfilled its commitment to raise $25 million for residential school survivor healing programs.

It agreed to the amount as part of the 2006 settlement agreement. Ottawa let the Church off the hook during legal negotiations aimed at forcing the Church to pay another $29 million it committed to as part of the agreement.

Indigenous children suffered physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the schools, which also spread diseases like tuberculosis. At least 6,000 children died at the schools from diseases and abuse.

The true number of deaths may never be known and many children are buried in graves now lost to time.

Ottawa, along with the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, have all apologized for residential schools.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.