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‘They need to be charged’: Federal minister on residential school perpetrators


By Sarah Turnbull, Producer

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    OTTAWA, Ont. (CTV Network) — Canada’s minister of northern affairs says the religious leaders who operated the residential school system in Canada should be held accountable for any crimes committed.

“Of course they need to be charged. This is the sort of thing you read about in another country, you don’t read about this in Canada, but if people are still alive, then we need to do all things necessary to achieve justice, of course we need to bring charges forward,” said Dan Vandal in an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday.

However, the minister didn’t indicate concrete plans to lay charges. His comments come days after the discovery of more than 700 unmarked graves at the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Weeks earlier, 215 remains were found at the site of the former Kamloops, B.C., residential school.

Since then, Ottawa has faced mounting pressure to take action.

In early June, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the federal government would distribute $27 million in pre-announced funding to assist Indigenous communities in locating and memorializing children who died at residential schools.

Asked whether the Liberals would commit more money — as some Indigenous leaders say the initial sum isn’t nearly enough to achieve the stated goal — Vandal said all options are on the table, including boosting funding.

“We need to work with the chiefs and I think if more money is needed, then we need to find those resources. So again this is something that is a very, very sad period in Canada’s history, and we need to support Indigenous nations,” he said.

Last Friday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dodged questions around whether Ottawa would commit to ensuring an open, transparent investigation into whether there were crimes committed at residential schools and any cover-ups of wrongdoing.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has put forward significant calls to action that will allow for a proper understanding of what happened, of documenting, of giving families opportunities to grieve to heal, and that is something we are supporting full heartedly,” said Trudeau.

Indigenous communities have also been asking for a formal apology from the Catholic Church, as the majority operator of the 139 residential schools in Canada.

In a separate interview on CTV’s Question Period, Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon said a proposed plan by the national assembly of Catholic bishops in Canada to send an Indigenous delegation to meet Pope Francis before the end of the year will be an opportunity for survivors and elders to share their experiences.

“He’s setting aside an extraordinary amount of time for this this coming fall for each of those groups…to hear what they have to say and to respond to them,” he said. “The Pope has no problem making an apology and he’s never said he wouldn’t make an apology to Indigenous people.”

Gagnon added that he apologizes personally for “the way Catholics behaved historically in this situation.”

Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation said an apology from the Pope would bring peace to some of the mental and emotional suffering that’s been re-triggered over the last several weeks.

“Apologies come with responsibility, apologies come with professionalism and an understanding that yes, what I oversee today – something happened before and I take responsibility for that,” said Delorme on CTV’s Question Period.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line at 1-800-721-0066.

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