Canada’s Trudeau blasts Catholic Church for ignoring function in indigenous colleges By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Children’s shoes line the plinth of the defaced Ryerson University statue of Egerton Ryerson, believed to be the architect of the Canadian indigenous school system, after the remains of 215 children were discovered on British grounds
By Steve Scherer and Anna Mehler Paperny
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many Canadian boarding schools for Indigenous children, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday after the remains of 215 children were discovered in a former school last month.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed with the position the Catholic Church has taken now and in recent years,” Trudeau told reporters. “We expect the church to stand up for this and take responsibility for its role.”
The Canadian Bishops’ Conference did not respond to a request for comment.
Between 1831 and 1996, the Canadian residential school system forcibly separated approximately 150,000 children from their homes. Many fell victim to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described in 2015 as “cultural genocide”.
The declared aim of the predominantly Catholic schools run by the government and church groups was to assimilate indigenous children.
The discovery this week of the remains of children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978, has reopened old wounds and fueled outrage over the continuing lack of information and accountability.
From 1893 to 1969, a Catholic community called Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran the Kamloops School, which was once Canada’s largest.
On Friday, the head of Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc, Rosanne Casimir, on whose land the Kamloops School is still located, told reporters that the nation had not received any record of the Immaculate Virgin Mary oblates that would help identify the children .
“We want an apology” from the Catholic Church, said Casimir. “A public apology. Not just for us, but for the world.”
In 2008, the Canadian government officially apologized for the system. Trudeau said many are wondering why the Catholic Church in Canada is silent and not stepping up.
He added, “Before we have to start bringing the Catholic Church to justice, I very much hope that religious leaders understand that this is something they need to participate in and not hide from.”
Trudeau has not made such harsh comments about boarding schools to the Catholic Church since taking office in 2015.
On Wednesday, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said on Twitter that “the church has undoubtedly been wrong” and that his archdiocese will be transparent with its archives and boarding school records.
The conference announced on its website that each diocese was separate and responsible for its own actions.
“The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not affiliated with boarding schools, nor was the Canadian Bishops Conference,” it said.
Separately, United Nations human rights experts on Friday urged both Canada and the Vatican to further investigate the deaths of the children found in Kamloops.
“It is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See could leave such heinous crimes unheeded and without full redress,” a statement said.