RoseAnne Archibald, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, reacts as she marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa Sept. 30, 2022. CNS photo/Patrick Doyle, Reuters

CCCB, rapporteur at odds on visit

  • March 16, 2023

Representatives of the Catholic Church were not present at any meetings or consultations with him, and his initial report did not include any input from the Church, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples said at the end of his 10-day assessment visit to Canada. 

“We had no call for an invitation to meet with Church representatives and no expression of interest,” José Francisco Cali Tzay told The Catholic Register in an interview following a March 10 press conference in Ottawa where he presented his “end of mission” statement.

“We tried to get input from as many communities as possible, but we did not hear from the Catholic Church.” 

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, said it was never invited to meet with Cali Tzay, nor was it alerted to his presence in Canada.

“While it was most appropriate for the Special Rapporteur to give First Nations, Inuit and Métis representatives first priority during his short visit to Canada, it can also be confirmed that the CCCB was not given advance notice of the Special Rapporteur’s visit, nor did the CCCB receive any information on his itinerary or an invitation to meet with him,” said Fr. Jean Vézina, general secretary of the CCCB.

The list of organizations Cali Tzay met with did not include any Catholic ones.

“I heard directly from a broad range of First Nations, Inuit and Metis governments, organizations and individuals in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia, as well as civil society organizations,” the rapporteur said in his prepared statement.

In his preliminary report, Cali Tzay made several references to the “appalling legacy of residential schools,” but gave the government of Canada credit for some measure of progress in advancing Indigenous rights, while calling for faster action to address the rights on a nation-to-nation basis.

“The purpose of my visit was to understand, in the spirit of mutual cooperation and constructive dialogue, how Canada implements the rights of Indigenous peoples, to identify good practices and identify possible obstacles, and to present recommendations for overcoming them,” he said.

His end of mission statement sid Cali Tzay was “dismayed and saddened” by the harmful consequences on residential school survivors. 

“The negative legacies of residential schools are reflected in the child welfare system today. Despite comprising 7.7 per cent of the Canadian population, over 53 per cent of children in care are Indigenous, up to 90 per cent in some provinces.’’ 

Calí Tzay contended that intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools and structural racial discrimination has led to a number of present-day human rights violations and abuses, including the current crisis concerning missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. He said the full resolution of Indian residential school claims is the key to achieve true reconciliation. 

“This includes claims for Catholic Church-run institutions and residential schools established by the provinces.” 

Furthermore, the UN expert said he encouraged the Catholic Church, health-care facilities and other institutions to release the records of the children who went to residential schools in Kamloops, B.C., whose alleged graves were discovered in 2021.

Vézina said the bishops would like “to share with him our commitment as a Church to walking with Indigenous peoples toward truth, justice, healing, reconciliation and hope,” adding it is “important to give First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities priority in any endeavour that aims to further truth, justice, healing, reconciliation and hope.”  

Cali Tzay’s final assessment and recommendations for further action on Indigenous rights in Canada are to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September.

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