Survivors, First Nations leaders and legal scholars across Canada interviewed by CBC News all agree that this is a public document and should be released immediately. “We have to see it,” said AJ Felix, a Sturgeon Lake First Nation elder and residential school survivor. “The church has managed to push its way through all of these legal disputes. They got away with it. But not more. “
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents Saskatchewan First Nations, said the lack of transparency of the Catholic Church and now the courts is wrong.
“This information is the property of First Nations survivors and their descendants,” Cameron said. “I don’t understand why the Court of Queen’s Bench doesn’t publish this. What are they hiding? We’ve had enough of this cat and mouse game. “
The document describes the “in-kind services” that the church has agreed to provide as part of an agreement with the federal government to compensate residential school survivors in Canada.
Court officials confirmed the existence of the Catholic Church register requested by CBC News, but declined to provide it.
The procedure is followed, according to the chief judge
Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Martel Popescul declined an interview request. In an emailed letter to CBC News by a court official on Friday afternoon, Popescul said the court “has an oversight role over court records” and the proper procedure is being followed.
“The tribunal will not change its procedures, speed up its processes, or ignore core responsibilities to meet your deadline,” the letter said.
Mayo Moran, former dean of the University of Toronto Law School, said full and immediate disclosure is even more important in light of recent discoveries of more than 1,000 anonymous graves near residential school sites in Kamloops, in British Columbia, in the Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan. and elsewhere in Canada.
“If we look at the national conversation that we’re having, I think it’s really important that all participants are as open as possible,” said Moran, who served as chairman of the independent compensation committee for the Settlement Agreement. Indian Residential Schools in 2005..
“We have to do everything we can to give survivors the information they deserve… Do it. Do it quickly. Do not make it more painful for those who have already suffered so much. “
Prior to the 2005 accord, the federal government and various churches faced billions of dollars in lawsuits from survivors and their families.
The Catholic Church, the only party to refuse to sign the main agreement, struck a side deal with Ottawa. Dozens of lawyers hired by the 48 Catholic entities finally signed.
These entities included various dioceses and archdioceses in Canada and orders of priests and nuns who ran some of the schools. The other three churches that operated schools – United, Anglican and Presbyterian – signed the original agreement and paid full compensation years ago without incident.
“It would be helpful to see what’s on this list”
The Catholic Church made three pledges to survivors, totaling $ 79 million.
He initially accepted a cash payment of $ 29 million. Most of that appears to have been paid, with the church obtaining a court order in 2015 that it was only to pay $ 1.2 million of what was left.
Second, the church has agreed to use “its best efforts” to raise $ 25 million. Less than $ 4 million was paid to survivors. Citing the “best efforts” clause, a Saskatchewan judge absolved the church from any further fundraising in the same 2015 case. Following a recent CBC News investigation, calls for a boycott of churches and revelations that more than $ 300 million has been spent during this period on the construction of cathedrals and churches, bishops across Canada have announced a new fundraising campaign to be launched this fall.
Third, the Catholic Church was allowed to claim the final $ 25 million as “in-kind services”. The agreement specified that the services were to directly benefit survivors and their descendants. Wider community projects could also be eligible, but they were not the focus of attention.
Felix of the Sturgeon Lake First Nation and other survivors say they have no idea what these in-kind services were and they have a right to know.
“It would be helpful to see what is on that list. I haven’t heard from any of my clients getting any of these services, ”said Eleanore Sunchild, a member of the Thunderchild First Nation, a lawyer who has represented thousands of survivors.
CBC News has requested a detailed account of in-kind services from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious organizations. They say they don’t have it.
The Catholic corporation formed to negotiate the 2005 settlement was dissolved. One of the attorneys representing this group has repeatedly told CBC News in recent weeks that no one can speak collectively on behalf of the 48 “Catholic entities” that made up the now defunct company.
“I want to remind you … that neither the Archdiocese of Regina nor I have the authority to speak on behalf of other Catholic entities,” Regina attorney James Ehmann said in an email to CBC News in the month. last.
Bishops “fully engaged” in reconciliation
CBC News has requested a copy of the ledger. Court staff confirmed the existence of the document and said it did not appear to be sealed or subject to a publication ban. It was submitted as part of the 2015 court case and was deposited in a warehouse in Regina used by the Court of Queen’s Bench.
But the official refused to provide it, instead giving it to Judge Neil Gabrielson, who oversaw the 2015 case. Gabrielson also refuses to immediately provide it to CBC News. Instead, he said an application must be submitted and all parties involved in the 2015 case must be notified.
Legal experts say the process could take months, an unacceptable delay for survivors and the public.
“Behind the curtain, the crux of the matter is the factual and financial evidence on file to demonstrate the ‘in-kind’ services of Catholic entities they provided between 2007 and 2015,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Judge of the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan and Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Center at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
“These recordings should be fully accessible now. “
Thomas McMahon, who served as general counsel for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the Catholic engagement was “a good deal” compared to the responsibility the church faced.
“Catholics’ respect for the settlement agreement cannot be a secret hidden from survivors. It would violate the spirit and intent of the settlement agreement, truth and reconciliation, ”he said.
In a statement, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said it did not have the ledger because it was not an official member of the national Catholic corporation.
“Having said that, it must be said that more work needs to be done and that bishops are fully engaged in an ongoing journey of healing, dialogue, atonement and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” CCCB said in an email. .
The time for patience is over, says the elder
Chief Justice Popescul said access to a court exhibit “is controlled by the presiding judge” and that it would be inappropriate to intervene now that Gabrielson has made his decision.
“Judicial independence is a fundamental principle of our legal system,” Popescul wrote.
“You will have your answer in due course, and if you don’t agree, you can consider appealing to the Court of Appeal – the proper and usual procedure. “
Elder AJ Felix, who was forced to attend St. Michael’s and Lebret residential schools in Saskatchewan, said these institutional attitudes are a big part of the problem. He said the law has been used to deny justice and dignity to First Nations people since first contact with Europeans.
“We will kill their buffaloes. We will withhold medication for the disease we bring. We will confine them to reserves, ”Felix said.
“And yes, we will build residential schools. We will brainwash them, teach them that their people are devils and that they will go to hell if they continue on this red road. We even bury their children without telling them. genocide.
“It was all ‘legal’, supported by the RCMP and the government. “
With COVID-19 restrictions lifted, Felix once again leaves his home in Sturgeon Lake First Nation in central Saskatchewan to speak with other survivors, youth groups and others across the Prairies.
Felix, a pipe bearer for the Numbered Treaty Territories, said education is key to overcoming the devastating legacy of residential schools. This cannot happen if the courts, the Catholic Church and others continue to hide the truth, he said, adding that the time for patience is over.
“I’m angry, but I can’t lose it,” he said. “Our people depend on us. “
Do you have any information on the anonymous graves, the children who never made it home, or the residential school staff and operations? Email your advice to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAre [email protected]