TRC head questions why Catholic Church didn’t sell property to compensate victims

TRC head questions why Catholic Church didn’t sell property to compensate victims

The former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says the argument the federal government made in 2015 that the Catholic Church was unlikely to raise the money it promised to residential school survivors is “blatantly dishonest.”

Murray Sinclair, a former senator, says the Catholic Church owns many properties across the country that it could have sold to fund the pledge it made as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

That 2006 agreement had a group of Catholic entities sign on to provide financial compensation to residential school survivors, including by way of a $25-million fundraising campaign.

The matter ended before a Saskatchewan judge, who in 2015 ruled that the Catholic entities were free of their remaining obligations in exchange for a payment of $1.2 million.

At that time, the Catholic groups had raised less than $4 million of the $25 million promised, leaving them able to walk away from ever fulfilling that pledge.

Canada was in the middle of a federal election at the time, but internal briefing documents show the Conservative government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper chose not to appeal.

The documents, which The Canadian Press obtained through an access-to-information request, show one of the considerations officials weighed was the fact they felt the chance of being able to compel the Catholic entities to meet that fundraising promise was “very low.”

Justice Murray Sinclair, who was Manitoba’s first Indigenous judge, led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and served as a senator, stands in the ballroom at Rideau Hall after being invested as a companion of the Order of Canada and receiving a Meritorious Service Decoration (Civil Division), in Ottawa, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Sinclair says the argument the federal government made in 2015 that the Catholic Church was unlikely to raise the money it promised to residential school survivors is “blatantly dishonest.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.