POLITICS
04/18/2018 17:44 EDT | Updated 04/18/2018 17:58 EDT

NDP Bid For Residential School Apology From Pope Fails To Get Unanimous Consent In House Of Commons

Canadian bishops pressured to invite Pope Francis to apologize for residential schools.

NDP MP Charlie Angus stands during question period ion the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
NDP MP Charlie Angus stands during question period ion the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

An NDP push for Canadian bishops to urge Pope Francis to apologize for the church's role in residential schools failed to win the unanimous support of the House of Commons on Wednesday.

NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Romeo Saganash, a residential school survivor, sought unanimous consent from MPs for a motion calling on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to take the step.

At least one Conservative MP opposed the bid.

"It's up to the Parliament of Canada to accept our role and obligation in furthering the work of reconciliation and addressing the still harsh wounds from the forceable removement of Indigenous children to destroy Indigenous identity in the residential school system," Angus said.

The motion noted that the call for Pope Francis to make the apology in Canada was one of 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission.

The motion also called on Canadian bishops to:

  • "Respect their moral obligation and the spirit of the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement and resume best efforts to raise the full amount of the agreed-upon funds.

  • "To make a consistent and sustained effort to turn over relevant documents when called upon by survivors of residential schools, their families and scholars working to understand the full scope of the horrors of the residential school system in the interest of truth and reconciliation."

Yet when assistant deputy Speaker Anthony Rota asked MPs if Angus had unanimous consent to move the motion, Tory MP Garnett Genuis said no.

"Catholic entities involved in residential schools have apologized. The Holy See is responsible for next steps," Genuis later tweeted. "It is not for Parliament to call out or dictate to one faith community."

HuffPost Canada has reached out to Genuis for comment.

Angus told HuffPost via email that New Democrats will be bringing the motion back to Parliament for a full debate and vote. Liberals have already said they support the motion.

"What we saw today is Andrew Scheer working with the Catholic bishops to try and obstruct these efforts," Angus said, calling the move a delaying tactic.

"Justice for the residential school survivors requires us to take up this issue."

The CCCB sent a background paper to MPs and senators Monday seeking to clear up what they called "misunderstandings and factual errors" about the Pope's decision.

The group suggested that the decentralized structure of the Roman Catholic Church means a papal apology would be inappropriate. They noted the 50 "autonomous" Catholic entities that ran the schools have apologized and paid nearly $60 million in compensation under a 2006 settlement deal.

"The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the Residential Schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops," it reads.

The paper also highlighted that Pope Benedict "expressed sorrow and regret" for the abuses of residential schools with Indigenous leaders in 2009.

"To suggest that the Catholic community has not accepted responsibility for its involvement in residential schools is simply inaccurate. The Catholic Church has apologized in the way it is structured,'' the paper says.

The TRC report, released in 2015, called on the Pope to issue an apology "similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada."

In 2010, Pope Benedict released a letter apologizing to Irish Catholics for decades of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.

Earlier on Parliament Hill, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was asked by a reporter if politicians calling on a religious groups to take action interferes in the separation of church and state.

"There is a line when communities in our country have suffered oppression and genocide as a result of residential schools and survivors have faced such hardships, an apology is in order to acknowledge the hardships suffered," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the Pope to consider an official apology during a visit to the Vatican last year. Trudeau expressed disappointment with the Pope's decision, relayed through the CCCB late last month.

"We will keep working with communities, keep working with individuals on the path of reconciliation because we know that taking responsibility for past mistakes and asking forgiveness is something that is core to our values as Canadians," Trudeau said at the time.

With files from The Canadian Press

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