Politics

Stephen Harper urged to seek apology from Pope on residential schools

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have an opportunity to follow up on one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Thursday, when he has a face-to-face audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Minister's letter to the Vatican draws attention to the Truth and Reconciliation report

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hugs Elder Evelyn Commanda-Dewache, a residential school survivor, during the closing ceremony of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa last week. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have an opportunity to follow up on one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Thursday, when he has a face-to-face audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Last week, the commission's report urged the Pope to travel to Canada to issue a formal apology for "the Church's role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools."

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair raised the matter during the House of Commons' question period Wednesday, asking whether Harper would seek the Pope's apology for the Catholic church's role in residential school "horrors" during Thursday's meeting.

In response, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said he wrote to the Vatican last week to bring this and other key recommendations included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report to its attention.

"Some recommendations relate to the churches which operated residential schools in Canada," Valcourt said in the four-paragraph letter dated June 5.

"I wish to bring these recommendations to the attention of the Holy See."

Valcourt also wrote follow up letters to the provinces and territories and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Catholic officials in Canada have in the past apologized for the abuse suffered by thousands of aboriginal children in church-run residential schools, as have the United, Anglican and Presbyterian churches.

NDP urges action on TRC report

The government continues to come under fire for not immediately accepting all of the report's recommendations.

Harper told the Commons last week he needs to examine the full Truth and Reconciliation report before deciding to act on all 94 recommendations within it.

News of Valcourt's letter was made public by the government during question period this week after the Opposition New Democrats criticized the prime minister for being "deadly silent" on the recommendations.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report last week recommended an apology be sought for residential schools from Pope Francis. (Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)

"Our government remains committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools. As acknowledged in the prime minister's historic apology on behalf of all Canadians in 2008, there is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential school system to ever prevail again," said Mark Strahl, parliamentary secretary to Valcourt.

NDP MP Pat Martin pressed Strahl to tell Canadians whether Harper would raise the matter with the Pope.

"Will he or will he not push the Pope to apologize formally on behalf of the Catholic Church for the role that it played in this intergenerational tragedy?" Martin asked.

NDP MP Pat Martin asks if Prime Minister Harper will be asking the Pope to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for it's part in the residential schools abuses. 1:11

Strahl did not say but instead he let it be known that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development had written "to the provinces, the territories, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Vatican to bring to their attention the report and its recommendations," 

"We will continue to promote reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians," Strahl said.

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with files from The Canadian Press