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Draft speech on residential schools edited out blaming Ottawa for abuse: documents

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Ottawa was careful to avoid admitting abuses Indigenous children suffered at residential schools happened “at the hands of the federal government” in remarks prepared for a Liberal cabinet minister after the discovery of unmarked graves last year, documents show.

The Canadian Press obtained documents through the Access to Information Act that show a draft version of a speech written for Carolyn Bennett, who was then minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, originally contained those words before they were edited out.

“It gets to me that they’re still in a place of defending themselves,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

In May 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation announced ground-penetrating radar had found what are believed to be the unmarked graves of about 200 children on the site of a former residential school near Kamloops, B.C.

The revelation spurred a reckoning across the country about the legacy of residential schools, which were government-funded, church-operated institutions that about 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend in Canada over more than a century. Thousands of children experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, or even died.

The discovery also prompted questions about what Ottawa was going to do about it.

Days later, the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations was drafting a speech for Bennett in anticipation of a possible emergency debate on the matter in the House of Commons.

That never happened. Another form of debate was held and it appears the draft speech, as written in the documents, was not the one that Bennett ended up delivering.

One section of the draft remarks addresses the suffering children endured in residential schools, originally saying “they experienced unthinkable trauma, including physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of the federal government by simply attending school.”

Speech writing can be a lengthy process. Text is often drafted by the department and then sent to staff in the minister’s office and to the minister, and then sometimes back and forth again.

Edits contained in the 17 pages of drafts show the words “at the hands of the federal government” were struck out. The reason for the revision was redacted before the documents were released to The Canadian Press.

“The government, they talk a great deal about reconciliation,” said Eleanore Sunchild, a Saskatchewan lawyer and advocate from Thunderchild First Nation, who has represented many residential school survivors in physical and sexual abuse cases.

“That, however, doesn’t speak of reconciliation at all, taking out those words.”

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said he found it “disturbing … that Canada keeps trying to minimize its role in residential schools.”

The Crown-Indigenous Relations Department has not yet responded to a request to explain the change. But the office of the current minister, Marc Miller, said in a written statement that the federal government “takes full responsibility” for its role in the residential school system, “including the abuse that Indigenous children suffered at these institutions.”

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper apologized for Canada’s role in residential schools in 2008 as part of the historic Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.

In his speech, Harper apologized for the government “failing to protect” children at the institutions, which he said “far too often … gave rise to abuse or neglect.”

He also apologized for the separation of children from families and acknowledged it carried consequences for future generations.

In the speech that Bennett ultimately gave on unmarked graves on June 1, 2021, she said she wanted to give her “profound apologies to the families and survivors,” but she did not mention abuse or assign blame.

Last month, Pope Francis came to Canada to apologize for residential schools on behalf of the Catholic Church, which operated more than 60 per cent of the institutions.

The pontiff asked forgiveness for the “evils” committed by “many Christians” against Indigenous children in residential schools. Many Indigenous leaders said they had hoped for an apology that specifically spoke about the role of the Catholic Church.

Bill Percy, a Winnipeg-based lawyer who has represented survivors seeking compensation for sexual and physical abuse, said it’s possible government took issue with the words “at the hands of” in the draft.

“That implies that they were the physical abusers,” he said.

“Most of the direct abusers would be church-related employees, not federal government employees.”

Regardless, he said Canada has paid out most of the billions of dollars distributed to abuse complainants under the settlement.

“When push comes to shove, in the court cases, the federal government always has taken responsibility.”

Blackstock said she sees where Ottawa has “wiggle room,” given that the federal government did not directly perpetuate abuse.

“What the federal government did is knowingly leave children in situations where this was happening, and were choosing not to intervene to save them from the deaths and save them from the abuse,” she said.

She said whether it’s the Vatican or Canada, institutions have demonstrated a reluctance to take full accountability for residential schools.

“What I’ve been concerned about writ large is the portrayal by the federal government as this is a ‘dark chapter in history,’ and not really owning the fact that they knew what they were doing was wrong. They knew it was leading to children’s deaths.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

— with files from Jim Bronskill

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Joly to raise abortion, sexual violence in closing UN speech

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is urging countries to uphold women’s rights and abortion access while rooting out sexual violence, as the United Nations General Assembly comes to a close.

In a speech today in New York, Joly will summarize Canada’s priorities and concerns in foreign relations.

That includes being part of “a global coalition in support of equality” that will “defend against the growing attacks on women’s rights and freedoms,” according to drafted remarks in French.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls are being rolled back or denied in too many countries,” Joly’s drafted remarks say.

“Canada will always stand up for your right to choose.”

Though the drafted section on women’s rights does not mention the United States, Joly’s comments come after months of backlash to the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to ban abortions, with some seeking to prosecute those who help women end their pregnancies in other jurisdictions.

Joly’s remarks instead mention women targeted by autocratic governments, such as the Taliban preventing Afghan girls from attending school. She calls out Myanmar’s military junta imprisoning female democracy activists and sexually assaulting Rohingya women.

The speech cites Iran’s crackdown on protesters seeking accountability after the death of Mahsa Amini, when morality police arrested her for “unsuitable attire” in allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. Joly also notes Ukrainian women have been subjected to sexual violence by occupying Russian forces.

Joly argues deliberate policy choices are resulting in rising violence against women, who are excluded from “the negotiating table, the boardroom, the classroom.”

The speech is likely to take place around noon local time, and will include some of the themes raised last week in New York by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His remarks surrounded climate change and international development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Military en route to assist with recovery efforts

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Residents of Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec are coming to terms with the full scope of the damage left behind after post-tropical storm Fiona tore through the region over the weekend as one of the strongest storms Canada’s East Coast has ever faced.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to help with recovery efforts, with federal Defence Minister Anita Anand saying Sunday that about 100 troops a piece were either in place or en route to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to provide assistance with the cleanup effort.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the immediate need is to provide food and shelter for those displaced by the storm, which is why the federal government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.

However, he added that Ottawa will work with provinces to determine what is needed for recovery from a financial perspective, especially for Canadians who have lost everything. He said the first priority is the restoration of power and utilities, as well as clearing roadways to get essential supplies to those who need them.

At Fiona’s peak on Saturday, more than 500,000 customers across Atlantic Canada were without power, but by early Monday morning that number had been lowered to less than 300,000, with the vast majority in Nova Scotia. But even as crews workaround the clock to repair downed lines, some utility companies warned it could be days before the power is back on for everyone.

Authorities in western Newfoundland confirmed Fiona’s first Canadian fatality on Sunday. RCMP said a 73-year-old woman’s body was recovered from the water more than 24 hours after a massive wave struck her home, tearing away part of the basement. Her name was not immediately released.

The cause of death of a second person on P.E.I. has yet to be determined, but the Island’s acting director of public safety told a news conference that preliminary findings pointed towards “generator use.” No further details were provided.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Industry minister to represent Canada at former Japanese PM’s funeral

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OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday’s funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.

Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.

Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn’t know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.

But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.

“Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front,” he said.

“And we’ll be meeting with a number of people. I just don’t know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening.”

Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.

The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.

“I was literally giving a speech,” Champagne said. “I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened.”

Abe’s state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed.

Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.

In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

⁠— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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