Government still balks at issuing apology for residential school abuses

  • May 13, 2007
Parliament has added its symbolic apology to that of four national churches, voting 257 to zero May 1 to say sorry for Canada’s official program to wipe out aboriginal culture through residential schools.
The government, however, won’t be chiming in with Parliament’s apology to Canada’s native people. Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said that a government apology would not be appropriate while the government is setting up a truth and reconciliation process and implementing a compensation deal worth $2.2 billion.

“That’s just a cop out,” KAIROS aboriginal rights program director Ed Bianchi told The Catholic Register. “Everyone knows what happened. At least it seems like everybody but the government knows what happened.”

The four churches most involved in administering the government-mandated residential schools — Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United Church of Canada — have all issued formal apologies for the role they played in the schools. Canada’s Catholic bishops apologized in their 1993 brief to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, “Let Justice Flow Like a Mighty River,” for helping the government in a program of assimilation aimed at eliminating First Nations’ languages, customs and culture.

An official apology from the government of Canada is important to many of the people who attended the residential schools, said Bianchi.

“Everything I’ve heard from the survivors is that a formal, public, official apology from the government of Canada would go a long way toward healing,” he said. “The money is good, but it’s really the apology that’s necessary.”

An apology was part of the Kelowna Accord negotiated between the previous Liberal government and aboriginal leaders Nov. 25, 2005.

While the current Conservative government is committed to concluding arrangements for $2.2 billion in compensation to more than 80,000 former residential school students by September, an apology has been put on hold.

Bianchi doesn’t think the government has to wait for the results of cross-country truth and reconciliation hearings before it apologizes.

“Why do they have to wait for that? What are they going to find out from the commission that we don’t already know?” he asked.

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