Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday urged the Catholic Church to “take responsibility” and release records of residential schools under his leadership after the remains of 215 children were found in anonymous graves.
And he warned his government was prepared to take “stronger measures,” including possibly legal action, to obtain the documents demanded by the families of the victims if the church does not comply.
Canada was shocked by the discovery of the remains at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, especially since there have only been 50 officially recorded deaths there.
The school was one of many boarding schools established a century ago to forcibly assimilate the country’s indigenous peoples.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed with the stance the Catholic Church has taken today and in recent years,” Trudeau said at a press conference.
He recalled a trip to the Vatican in May 2017 in which he requested a formal apology from Pope Francis for the student abuse, as well as access to church records to help explain more than 4,100 students who are believed to have died of disease or malnutrition.
“We still see resistance from the Church,” Trudeau said.
When asked if the government could require disclosure, the Prime Minister replied: “I think, if it is necessary, we will take more stringent measures.
But he added: “Before we start suing the Catholic Church, I am hopeful that religious leaders will understand that this is something they need to be a part of.”
– Truth before justice –
Trudeau urged Canadian Catholics to “reach out to (their) local parishes, bishops and cardinals, and make it clear that we expect the Church to step up and assume its role in this area and to be there to help with grief and healing, including with discs.
“This is something that a number of other churches … have done. It is something that we all expect the Catholic Church to do,” he said.
“We need to have the truth before we can talk about justice, healing and reconciliation.”
The Kamloops school in British Columbia, where the anonymous graves were discovered last week using ground-penetrating radar, was operated by the Catholic Church on behalf of the government from 1890 to 1969.
A total of 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Métis youth were enrolled in 139 of these residential schools, where students were physically and sexually assaulted by principals and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
These experiences are now blamed for a high incidence of poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence, as well as high suicide rates, in Indigenous communities.
In Kamloops, Tk̓emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir, who enlisted the help of the BC coroner to help identify student remains and causes of death, told reporters the tribe did not never received any documents from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who ran the school. .
“We want an apology” from the Church, she said, “a public apology, not just for us, but for the world … holding the Church to account.”
© 2021 AFP