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How Catholics Avoided Paying Millions in Reparations for Boarding Schools

After Pope Francis ended a series of meetings with indigenous peoples from Canada on Friday with an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in a notorious hostel system, my colleague Elisabetta Povoledo got the chance to speak with some members of the indigenous delegations.

Elisabetta, who lives in Rome but grew up in Winnipeg, spent much of the week following the delegates. She told me on Friday that the mood at her hotel and during a press conference after the last papal audience was “very upbeat”.

“The Pope’s words today were of course historic,” said Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council. “They were necessary and I appreciate them very much.” She continued, “And I now look forward to the Pope’s visit to Canada where he can address these sincere words of apology directly to our survivors and their families, their acceptance and healing are ultimately most important.”

Amenities were due in a landmark 2006 settlement of a class action lawsuit filed by alumni. Most of the CA$4.7 billion paid to tribal peoples in reparations came from the federal government. Protestant churches paid about 9.2 million Canadian dollars.

But the Catholic Church, which operated about 70 percent of the more than 130 schools, paid just 1.2 million of the 25 million Canadian dollars it had pledged in cash donations in redress.

In 2013, the federal government challenged millions of dollars in legal and administrative fees that the Catholic Church wanted to count as part of its settlement payments in the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan.

Disagreements over a proposed settlement of this case set off a legal chain reaction. At the same time, an attorney for the church told the court that the Catholic fundraiser raised only $3.9 million for the settlement — about $1.3 million of which went to a private fundraising company. What happened to the rest is unclear.

The government claimed that it had agreed to settle the dispute over the church’s fee claim in return for a payment of CAD$1.2 million from the church. However, church attorneys said the relatively small payment should relieve the church of all settlement obligations, including the CA$25 million.

Last October, based on newly released documents, CBC and The Globe and Mail reported that the judge sided with the church. The decision allowed the church to refrain from paying reparations.

Then the federal government appealed the court’s decision, only to have it dropped.

Among the many people shocked by the revelations last fall was Marc Miller, the minister in charge of Indigenous Relations, who, like all members of the Liberal government, believes the church would benefit from its Canadian$25 million pledge have to be held.

“Like everyone else, I’m baffled by this,” Mr Miller told The Canadian Press in November, specifically citing his confusion at the government’s decision to drop the appeal. “I want to get to the bottom of this,” he said.

On Friday I asked Mr. Miller what, if anything, his office had discovered. It turns out that the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper struck a deal with the church in the last few months of its term, capping the church’s payment at CA$1.2 million.

In September 2015, weeks before the general election, Mr Harper’s Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Bernard Valcourt, ordered officials to drop the appeal and exempt the church from its financial obligations in exchange for a payment of CA$1.2 million.

Government officials implemented Mr Valcourt’s order in October 2015, following the Conservatives’ electoral defeat and five days before Justin Trudeau and his cabinet were sworn in.

“This was a decision by the previous Conservative government,” Justine Leblanc, a spokeswoman for Mr. Miller, wrote in an email. “We cannot speculate about their internal decision-making process.”

In September, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would conduct a second fundraising effort, aiming to raise CA$30 million over five years. Rather than being part of a national effort, it will rely on each of the church’s 73 dioceses to raise money locally. In late January, the conference set up a charity to raise and administer the money.

On Friday, I asked the conference if local fundraising efforts had begun and how much money, if any, had been raised. The group did not respond to my request.


  • In the latest development in what appears to be an endless string of investigations and indictments related to sexual impropriety within the Canadian military, Jonathan Vance, the former top military commander, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice this week. Mr. Vance received a discharge that saved him from a criminal record in the case, which resulted from an MP investigation into allegations that he committed sexual misconduct while he was Chief of Defense Staff.

  • Garth Drabinsky, the Canadian impresario convicted of fraud and forgery and sentenced to five years in prison, is back on Broadway.

  • Valérie Lemercier spoke to Elisabeth Vincentelli about the making of Aline, her fictional account of Celine Dion’s life.

  • A new Netflix documentary, Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King, explores the story of Gerald W. Cotten, the founder of Canadian cryptocurrency exchange Quadriga CX, who died in 2018 and allowed many users access to their funds.

  • Caden Ricci, a 10-year-old Montreal boy diagnosed with autism, uses a QTRobot as a friend and teacher, writes Alina Tugend.

  • Speaking of real estate, Shivani Vora writes that Canada is “popular and respected for both golf and golf real estate” by buyers from around the world.


Ian Austen is from Windsor, Ontario, educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has been covering Canada for the New York Times for 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/02/world/canada/catholics-reparations-indigenous-canada-schools.html How Catholics Avoided Paying Millions in Reparations for Boarding Schools

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