A child's red dress hangs on a stake near the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School June 6, 2021. CNS photo/Jennifer Gauthier, Reuters

Glen Argan: Setting the record right on settlement

By 
  • October 27, 2021

The first responsibility of a journalist is to get the facts right. In that regard, I failed in my column “Lack of transparency shatters credibility” in the Oct. 17 Catholic Register. In that article, I took Canada’s bishops to task for failing to meet their responsibility to live up to agreements to provide healing and reconciliation to the survivors of residential schools.

First, I should have differentiated “Canada’s bishops” from the legal “entities” which ran residential schools — some dioceses and several religious orders. I knew the distinction and did not make it in my column. As a result, I included all bishops with the heads of Catholic entities which were party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) of 2006 and thus imputed guilt to them which was not theirs. I apologize to them.

Second, I argued that the bishops (actually it was the entities) included their legal and administrative costs as part of the $29 million they were to pay to survivors and Indigenous organizations as part of the IRSSA. This was not true, and I apologize for getting this wrong. Two “cash calls” on the entities were made to pay those costs, and those payments were independent of the amount paid under the agreement.

Third, the $25 million of in-kind services (not $28 million as I wrote) for healing and reconciliation provided by the entities were services recognized as valuable and agreed to by chiefs and band councils or by the leaders of other Indigenous organizations. They were also agreed to by a panel chaired by the Assembly of First Nations which also had representatives of the entities and federal government.

When those in-kind services were part of the ordinary operations of the Church, Indigenous leaders nevertheless accepted them as valuable contributions to healing and reconciliation. I was not aware of the Indigenous organizations having agreed to the in-kind services. Their agreement renders those in-kind services a suitable fulfilment of the entities’ commitments.

I made these errors by relying heavily on reporting in mainstream media, reporting which was not always factual. It is my responsibility to get the facts right and state opinions based on those facts. So, I first apologize for getting the facts wrong and drawing sweeping conclusions about the bishops.

I thank Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, chair of the board of directors of the Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential School Settlement, for providing me with his understanding of the issues relevant to the bishops’ involvement.

All of this is complex. But understanding it is crucial to understanding whether Church entities lived up to the terms of the IRSSA. Rightly or wrongly, the courts ruled that the entities did live up to the agreement.

Still, the public holds the Catholic Church as responsible not only for the residential schools but also for being evasive in its failure to provide healing and reconciliation. Many people do not distinguish the Church from the entities with direct responsibility for particular schools. I don’t blame them. The Church is one body no matter how many legal entities operate under its umbrella.

Further, there remains the issue of the seven-year national fundraising campaign to raise $25 million for healing and reconciliation. That campaign raised only $3.7 million. The campaign was doomed to fail because the bishops did not make a concerted effort to meet their target.

The bishops of Canada’s 73 dioceses and eparchies will now launch a five-year campaign to raise $30 million to fund healing and reconciliation projects in their local dioceses. If successful, this will be an important step toward providing healing to survivors and others devastated by the residential school system.

The $30 million will be difficult to raise. Not only is there justifiable anger about the residential school system itself, but the credibility of the bishops and the Catholic Church has suffered since 2006. Their credibility will suffer a further blow if the new goal is not met.

Catholic involvement in the residential school system has done untold damage to innocent children, and their families and communities. That involvement cannot be solely ascribed to the “entities” which operated schools. It reflects on the whole Church in Canada. Few spoke out against the schools, and the Church has been slow to shoulder its responsibility for its sorry past. It is to be hoped that the corner is being turned.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Appreciate the update and your journalistic integrity to get the facts right. Throughout this debacle, among the things the Church has got wrong is its attempts to steer the conversation to the legal facts. As you rightfully suggest in your...

Appreciate the update and your journalistic integrity to get the facts right. Throughout this debacle, among the things the Church has got wrong is its attempts to steer the conversation to the legal facts. As you rightfully suggest in your concluding paragraphs, in these circumstances that bar is not high enough to meet the Church’s moral responsibility and obligation. The Church’s own teachings dictate that it is this latter bar that must be met.

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Nick Pantaleo
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