Indigenous

Justin Trudeau wants the Pope to say ‘sorry’

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have a private audience with Pope Francis after a G7 summit later this month, and it’s expected that he will request an apology from his holiness for the role that the Catholic church played in the residential school system.

Residential schools, many of which were run by the Catholic church, were responsible for the systematic attempt to remove Indigenous identity, culture, religion, and language from its students — often framed as ‘Christianizing’ the children.

In his first meeting with the Catholic leader, Trudeau is following through on calls to broker the apology from the church, according to the Canadian Press.

“The Prime Minister will raise the issue in his meeting with the Pope,” the prime minister’s office confirmed to VICE News.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was responsible for compiling records and testimony about the residential schools, has condemned the residential school system as an attempt at cultural genocide.

“We wanted to ensure that people in the future who didn’t believe, or who refused to believe, or who denied this history couldn’t get away with it.”

“The evidence is mounting that the government did try to eliminate the culture and language of Indigenous people for well over a hundred years,” Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told CBC.

“As commissioners we have concluded that cultural genocide is probably the best description of what went on here…they did it by forcibly removing children from their families and placing them within institutions that were cultural indoctrination centres.”

Sinclair told the Globe & Mail in 2015 that it was crucial the prime minister secure the apology.

“That is a request that, we think, has got to come from the highest official in the country because it is almost a nation-to-nation request,” Sinclair told the paper. “So I would hope that that request would be communicated at that level.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 calls to action in its final report, one of which was a formal apology issued by the Pope to the survivors of the residential school system for the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Trudeau has previously said, in meeting with Indigenous leaders, that he intended “to work with the Catholic Church, including with the Holy See, to move forward on implementing that recommendation.”

In 2009, Pope Benedict offered a personal apology to the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, Phil Fontaine, which has not been accepted by the TRC as the meeting was private and the apology was not offered to the survivors of the school system.

Sinclair had previously told reporters that Pope Francis’ willingness to apologize for crimes committed by his church in South America gave him hope that the spiritual leader would do the same in Canada.

“In 50 or 100 years from now, there’s going to be a totally different country, a country filled with people who have no direct connection to this history,” said Sinclair told the Globe.

“We wanted to ensure that people in the future who didn’t believe, or who refused to believe, or who denied this history couldn’t get away with it.”


Cover: Commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation commission is released, Tuesday December 15, 2015 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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