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A moral obligation? The Catholic Entities? What bunk! [editorial]


Windspeaker Staff







Off the hook

It’s the Catholic Entities—again—that have thrown a wrench into the reconciliation part of Truth and Reconciliation, walking away from a third of its legal responsibility under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, approved  by a government lawyer with a “miscommunication” that got the Catholics off the hook for $25 million.

The Globe and Mail uncovered the fact that the healing programs money that the Entities were required to raise—by legally-binding agreement—was waved by the federal government that was actually trying to put pressure on the groups to pay.

After seven years of fundraising efforts to raise $29 million, the Catholic Entities fell flat and well short of its obligation under the settlements agreement, with donations of less than 10 per cent of total. The monies were to be used to alleviate the trauma inflicted on children in residential schools run by the Catholic churches. With $2.2 million in donations, and a top-up from other sources for a total of $3.7 million, the 50 Catholic groups that make up the Entities had thrown up its collective hands at the obligation.

Then along came incompetency on the government side, which was actually trying to bring down the hammer on the Catholics, and low and behold, the Entities are suddenly and actually free of their commitment.

In an attempt to make the Catholic Church pay the full amount of the $29-million cash settlement, the government inadvertently released it from any obligation it might have had to continue with a dismal fundraising campaign, the Globe and Mail reported.

The Globe and Mail detailed the “legal misstep” that allowed a government lawyer to scuttle a portion of “the largest class-action deal in Canadian history”. It reported that on July 16, 2015, a court settlement released the Catholic Entities from all three of their financial obligations under the settlement agreement … for a repayment of $1.2-million in administrative fees.”

A letter received by a concerned citizen from assistant deputy minister Andrew Saranchuk of Indian Affairs explained the deal “was due to miscommunications between counsel regarding the nature and extent of the settlement being discussed.”

In 2013, federal government had taken the Entities to court because the Catholics were short by $1.6 million on a payment to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Negotiations ensured and in June 2014, a lawyer with the Catholic Entities wrote to the government lawyer proposing that the Entities pay only $1.2 million in return for being released from “all matters between the parties,” meaning all the rest of its obligations under the IRSSA.

A government response led the Entities to believe government had made the deal. Back to court they went and a judge in Saskatchewan found that the Entities’ lawyer did in fact have reason to believe his offer to the feds had been accepted, and that deal was binding.

How was this decision allowed to stand?  Government said it respected the court’s decision.

Firstly, we have to ask, what low-level services are Canadian taxpayers getting from its team of taxpayer-funded lawyers?

And, secondly, let us say, what a boon for the Catholic congregation, which was tasked to use their “best efforts” to raise those funds.

And now the obligation falls to the Canadian government to shell out those funds, one assumes, despite protestations from Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, who says that the Catholic Entities have a ‘moral’ obligation to continue to fundraise for the remaining $25 million.

It’s laughable to even think that the Catholic Entities would be persuaded by a moral argument when their own lawyer initiated the deal to wave the legal obligation.

So, either the government must be responsible for the $25 million or the survivors will be re-victimized by it. Bennett said April 19 it is not up to the government to compensate for the shortfall.

Here we go again.

This whole situation is a particularly galling turn of events in light of the fact that Canada struggles to put dollars into equity funding for child welfare, a system exacerbated by the generational trauma suffered by children raised in the residential schools run by the Catholic Entities.

It is particularly galling that Aboriginal children across the country are looking for ways out of their own lives because of general despair, and Canada can’t find the money to respond with appropriate programs.

A moral obligation? The Catholic Entities? What bunk.