‘Pompous posturing’ – Bishop accuses Trudeau of deflecting blame on residential schools

Trudeau deflecting blame

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to whitewash the Canadian government’s role in the deadly operation of residential schools by deflecting blame to the Roman Catholic Church, said Most Rev. Fred Henry, bishop emeritus of the Calgary diocese.

In an open letter to the prime minister, Henry, who presided over southern Alberta Catholics from 1998 to 2017, accused Trudeau of deflecting blame for the deaths and misery of Indigenous residents at the schools by voicing his “disappointment” over the church’s failure to formally apologise for its role.

“While acknowledging our own sorrow and guilt, and trying to own our sinfulness in the participation in residential schools, it is important to note the wording in our statement, especially the words, ‘participation in government policies,'” wrote Henry in the letter dated June 7.

He went on to say the schools, some of which were also operated by other Christian denominations between 1831 and 1996, were often starved of resources by the federal government.

This lead to tragic outcomes, including the deaths of thousands of children, many of whom were buried in unmarked graves.

Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Toronto, said comments made by Trudeau were “unfair.”

“I think it’s much more helpful, as we’re all working on this long journey of reconciliation to work together, and not to be making these kinds of unfair attacks upon those who are trying their best to bring about and to work with all the Indigenous people for reconciliation,” the archbishop said.

Henry’s message was sparked by the backlash over the recent discovery through the ground-penetrating radar of the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, British Columbia.

In the letter, Henry quotes the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

It highlighted Ottawa’s culpability in the national disgrace of the residential schools that forced 150,000 First Nations children from their homes.

“The federal government never established an adequate set of standards and regulations to guarantee the health and safety of residential school students. This failure occurred even though the government had the authority to establish those standards,” Henry quoted the report.

“The failure to establish and enforce adequate standards, coupled with the failure to adequately fund the schools, resulted in unnecessarily high residential school death rates.”

The neglect included malnutrition, improper clothing, poor sanitary conditions and ventilation that led to many deaths by tuberculosis, states the report.

Henry noted the document states Ottawa’s failure to provide disciplinary standards contributed to the harsh treatment of students. This included sexual abuse and physical assault.

In concluding his letter, Henry stated, “We have a right to less pompous posturing and more forthright action on the part of (the) federal government.”

But, he admitted the moral failures of spiritual leaders at the schools can’t be brushed off.

“We didn’t show enough respect to the native peoples in their beliefs and culture,” said Henry.

A survivor of a Catholic-run northern Alberta residential school said the church’s guilt in the severity of how they were directly run can’t be overlooked or shuffled elsewhere.

“I hold the government responsible and the religious denominations responsible because (the churches) had the boots on the ground,” said Cora Voyageur, a sociology professor at the University of Calgary.

“The churches could have said, ‘We don’t want any part of it,’ but they never did. There was an idea from the churches of religious and spiritual supremacy. They were in the community — the government wasn’t.”

A recent poll suggests two-thirds of Canadians believe churches were responsible for the tragedies of the residential schools. The poll indicated about half of the respondents blamed the federal government.

Henry said that kind of mindset combined with Trudeau’s comments are frustratingly misinformed and galvanised him to speak out.

Henry has yet to receive a response from the prime minister’s office.


Calgary Herald

CTV News

The Province

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