The three commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the chief commissioner Judge Murray Sinclair (left) at the TRC national event in Edmonton in March.

WCR FILE PHOTO

The three commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the chief commissioner Judge Murray Sinclair (left) at the TRC national event in Edmonton in March.

November 3, 2014
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

The Catholic entities involved in Indian residential schools have been unfairly targeted by the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), says lawyer Pierre Baribeau.

"We have a feeling that we have been discriminated against by the TRC, compared to the way they have treated the other churches," said Baribeau. "That's a strong feeling, and it's very unfortunate."

"We have had some very difficult times," he said. "We have felt targeted by the TRC and by other parties."

LONG ROAD

Baribeau was reacting to a speech in Winnipeg Sept. 29 by TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair, who said the road to reconciliation after 150 years of Indian residential schools will be a long one and the Catholic Church isn't helping.

The Prairie Messenger reported Sinclair said the "government of Canada and the Catholics have not provided documents."

"Those comments are erroneous," said Baribeau, who negotiated on behalf of 50 Catholic religious orders or dioceses in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

He remains a director of the Canadian Cooperation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement.

Baribeau cited numerous examples where religious entities such as the Oblates and the Grey Nuns have opened up their archives, making available photographs of thousands upon thousands of original documents to the TRC.

"I did meet with the director of the TRC in order to facilitate the forwarding of documents," he said.

"It is unpleasant to read those negative comments by the chair," Baribeau said. "They created sadness, misunderstanding and they achieve no good results.

"We feel they are misrepresentations of the facts and of the contributions of Catholic entities individually and as institutions," he said.

Catholic religious orders or dioceses were involved in more than 70 per cent of the Indian residential schools. Other churches, such as the Presbyterian, United and Anglican churches are getting better treatment, he said,

"We tried very hard, but we were the black sheep," he said. "Out of the four groups, we are the black sheep and they don't really like us."

Baribeau said there is no "Catholic Church" in terms of the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. "Every entity is independent."

Yet the religious orders and dioceses have made efforts to coordinate in order to help the TRC process.

The entities have also contributed hundreds of initiatives of reconciliation that are worth well over $30 million, Baribeau said. That value was assessed by a representative from the Assembly of First Nations and from the government. These efforts at reconciliation are still going on.

Baribeau said reconciliation needs to work both ways. He asked the chair some time ago to begin that process of reconciliation around the table with the stakeholders and nothing happened.

Instead of "concrete gestures of reconciliation," the TRC has used some of its funding to take the entities to court.

At a mediation event, Baribeau said he and members of the executive were shocked to hear the TRC counsel accuse the Catholics of being "perpetrators."

This is disrespectful, he said.

RELIGIOUS WERE DEDICATED

Many of the religious men and women gave their entire lives to working in the Indian residential schools, and they should not be lumped in with those who committed abuse, he said. Most of them "are not culprits."

"That's not to say the Catholics didn't do wrong," he said. "We agree. We acknowledge wrongs were done, and they had to be followed up."

Baribeau said he recently contacted the TRC, offering to help them get residential school artifacts that are "part of Canadian history." Those include at least two dozen dictionaries of First Nation languages that are part of the archives of the Oblates and other religious congregations.

"We were willing to assist but nobody called us."