Photo by Michael Swan

Ignore at own risk

  • March 9, 2023

Canada appears to be busting out with “special rapporteurs” this week, although one remains unnamed and the other remains unreachable at least to representatives of the Canadian Catholic Church.

In a gesture of humility, or a humiliating climb down depending on your political perspective, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to appoint a special rapporteur — essentially an empowered independent investigator — to get to the bottom of Communist China’s reported interference in our federal elections.

The Prime Minister was initially perplexingly intractable in rejecting calls for an inquiry but this week announced not one, not two, but three of them, including the special rapporteur. The PM deserves credit for acknowledging, however belatedly, the threat even allegations of foreign electoral interference present to Canadian democracy. Whether voters will reward or punish him democratically for his slowness off the mark remains to be seen, as does the special yet-to-be-named rapporteur.

The name is known of the UN’s special rapporteur wrapping up a 10-day visit to Canada this week, though the same can’t be said of his whereabouts. José Francisco Cali Tzay has gone cross-country to test Canada’s compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which became part of Canadian law in 2021. 

As The Register’s Michael Swan reports in this issue, Cali Tzay “will meet with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, representatives of all three national Indigenous political organizations — the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Metis National Council — along with judges, human rights organizations, civil society and ‘relevant stakeholders.’ ”

But his travel agenda is all “Where’s Waldo?” when it comes to meeting with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Diplomatically, CCCB General Secretary Jean Vezina notes the organization channelling the pastoral wisdom of Catholic bishops who lead 11 million Canadians — 30 per cent of the population — has “not received an invitation to meet with the UN Rapporteur.”

Out of charity, we might ascribe Cali Tzay’s skip past the church door more to him wearing crepe soled shoes than doing anything cloak and dagger. We could assume he’s being cautious in hearing out one side of the conversation around Indigenous rights, and will return in due time to hear the papist take.

The obstacle to such an assumption is its presumption there remain immutably different “sides” in relations between the Canadian Church and the Indigenous population. Such a belief was utterly put paid last summer by the visit of Pope Francis. He publicly apologized robustly, repeatedly and nation-wide for the Church’s sins of omission and commission in its treatment of First Nations peoples. His words resounded throughout Canadian Catholicism, and have been universally accepted as the way forward. Certainly, differences remain, but of degree not kind.

Surely such commitment merits according the Church “relevant stakeholder” status at a minimum. Surely, continued ignoring of the Catholic voice risks any report of the UN special rapporteur being, if not a bust, at least deserving of special anonymity. 

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