Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Photo by Michael Swan

Catholic entities ‘discriminated’ against by TRC commissioner

  • October 15, 2014

OTTAWA - A lawyer representing the Catholic entities involved in Indian residential schools has vehemently rejected criticism from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) head who has accused the Catholic Church of withholding documents.

Pierre Baribeau says commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair has unfairly targeted the Catholic entities.

“We have a feeling that we have been discriminated against by the TRC, compared to the way they have treated the other churches,” said Baribeau. “That’s a strong feeling, and it’s very unfortunate.”

Baribeau was reacting to a speech in Winnipeg Sept. 29 by Sinclair, who said the road to reconciliation after 150 years will be a long one and the Catholic Church isn’t helping, as reported in the Prairie Messenger. Sinclair said the “government of Canada and the Catholics have not provided documents” needed for the commission to complete its work. He also said the churches were being unco-operative, and the Catholic Church in particular fears more abuse stories will emerge against living clergy. 

Sinclair chairs the commission that began with a five-year mandate that has been extended by a year. It is  looking into the abuses that occurred over the years in Indian residential schools in which government policy was to assimilate Canada’s First Nations’ youth with the rest of Canadian society. From 1820 to the 1970s, the federal government removed aboriginal children from their homes and placed them in Church-run boarding schools in what became known as an effort “to kill the Indian in the child.” The children were not allowed to speak their language or practise their culture and many suffered abuse.   

“Those comments (by Sinclair) are erroneous,” said Baribeau, who negotiated on behalf of 50 Catholic religious orders or dioceses in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and remains a director of the Canadian Co-operation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement.

Baribeau cited numerous examples where religious entities such as the Oblates and the Grey Nuns opened their archives, making available photographs of thousands upon thousands of original documents to the commission.

“It is very unpleasant to read those negative comments by the chair... We feel they are misrepresentations of the facts and of contributions of Catholic entities individually and as institutions.” 

Seventy per cent of the 140 Indian residential schools were run by the Catholic Church with the remainder operated by the Anglican, United, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Methodist Churches.

“We tried very hard, but we were the black sheep,” he said. “Out of the four groups, we are the black sheep and they don’t really like us.”

Baribeau said there is no “Catholic Church” in terms of the agreement as every entity is independent. Yet the religious orders and dioceses have made efforts to co-ordinate to help the process.

The entities have also contributed hundreds of initiatives of reconciliation that are worth well over $30 million, Baribeau said, and they are still going on. 

Baribeau said reconciliation needs to work both ways. He said he asked Sinclair some time ago to begin that process of reconciliation around the table with the stakeholders and nothing happened. Instead of “concrete gestures of reconciliation,” the commission has been using some of its funding to take the entities to court. At a mediation proceeding, Baribeau said he and members of the executive were shocked to hear the commission counsel accuse the Catholics of being “perpetrators.”  

This is disrespectful, he said. Many of the religious men and women gave their entire lives to working in the schools and they should not be lumped in with those who committed abuse, he said. 

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