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

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OTTAWA — The former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says the argument Ottawa 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, also believes the current Liberal government should seek outside legal advice on the final agreement that released Catholic entities of their remaining financial obligations, including raising $25 million for survivors.

“I don’t think that Justice Canada has come out very well, not only in regard to this, but with regard to other matters, including the fact that it advocates so strongly against the interests of survivors,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview earlier this month.

“I think that relationship needs to be looked at more closely.”

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Documents released to The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request detail the reasons Ottawa decided not to appeal a 2015 court decision that ruled in favour of Catholic entities that were party to the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The 2006 agreement included a group of Catholic entities who signed on to provide financial compensation to residential school survivors, including by way of a $25-million fundraising campaign.

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

By that time, the Catholic groups had raised less than $4 million of the $25 million promised, and the court decision allowed them to walk away without fulfilling the rest of the pledge.

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

The briefing notes contain a copy of the signed agreement Canada struck with the Catholic entities following the court ruling. It shows Canada agreed to “forever discharge” the Catholic groups from their financial obligations under the residential school settlement agreement.

The documents also show that one of the considerations officials weighed when deciding whether to appeal the court decision had been that they felt the chances of being able to compel the Catholic entities to meet the fundraising promise were “very low.”

“It’s blatantly dishonest,” Sinclair said in reaction.

He said Catholic entities own “considerable properties” across the country, which they could have disposed of to finance their fundraising campaign.

“That’s what they should have done.”

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minster Marc Miller said in a statement that he hasn’t sought further review of the 2015 release agreement. “Outside legal counsel was not sought, as after review, it was confirmed that there were no outstanding or unresolved questions about the legal parameters of the agreement.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national assembly representing Catholic leadership in the country, has acknowledged that the first fundraising campaign was a failure that sowed significant disappointment and anger among residential school survivors.

The conference was not a party in the initial settlement agreement.

Nonetheless, in fall 2021 it committed to undertake a new drive to contribute $30 million to reconciliation-related initiatives over five years.

The conference released a statement on Thursday that says 73 Catholic dioceses have committed to paying into the fund, which has been registered as a charity.

So far, $5.5 million has been raised in that campaign, the statement says.

More scrutiny has been applied to the steps the Catholic Church in Canada has taken to make amends to residential school survivors since last year.

That’s when First Nations across Western Canada began announcing that ground-penetrating radar technology had confirmed the presence of what are believed to be unmarked graves at the former sites of residential schools.

More than 150,000 Indigenous people were forced to attend the institutions, where many suffered physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect and malnutrition. A majority were operated by the Catholic Church.

Friday marks the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors of the system and the children who died.

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

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Quebec coroner questions why witnesses failed to report drunk driver before crash

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A Quebec coroner is questioning why people who saw a drunk driver get behind the wheel failed to call authorities before he got into a crash that killed four members of a family north of Quebec City last year.

The report by coroner Donald Nicole says multiple witnesses saw Éric Légaré drinking at a bar all afternoon and subsequently driving erratically, but only one person called the police.

Evidence showed Légaré was driving at least 130 kilometres an hour in a 70 km/h zone when he crashed into another vehicle stopped at a red light, killing a man, his adult daughter and her two children.

In April, Légaré was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to several charges, including impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death.

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Blood sample analyses taken after the crash showed that Légaré’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit and he also had traces of cannabis in his blood.

The coroner says that through his discussions with alcohol awareness groups, he learned that very few people intervene when they witness a drunk driver get behind the wheel.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 7, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Canada commits $800 million to support Indigenous-led conservation projects

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Ottawa will spend up to $800 million to support four major Indigenous-led conservation projects across the country covering nearly one million square kilometres of land and water, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday.

Trudeau made the announcement at the Biosphere environment museum in Montreal accompanied by Indigenous leaders and federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault as a UN meeting on global biodiversity, known as COP15, takes place in the city.

Trudeau said the four projects — which will be located in British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, northern Ontario and Nunavut — will be developed in partnership with the communities in question.

“Each of these projects is different because each of these projects is being designed by communities, for communities,” he said.

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Chief Jackson Lafferty, of the Tlicho government in the Northwest Territories, said Indigenous groups have long been working to protect their lands and water but have lacked the resources and tools to fully do so.

Lafferty, who attended the announcement, called the funding “a significant step forward on a path to reconciliation across Canada.”

Among the projects to be funded is a marine conservation and sustainability initiative in the Great Bear Sea along British Columbia’s north coast, championed by 17 First Nations in the area.

Another project includes protection for boreal forests, rivers and lands across the Northwest Territories, spearheaded by 30 Indigenous governments.

Funds will also go to an Inuit-led project involving waters and land in Nunavut’s Qikiqtani region and to a project in western James Bay to protect the world’s third largest wetland, led by the Omushkego Cree in Ontario.

Trudeau told reporters that the exact details of the agreements have yet to be worked out — including which portions of the lands will be shielded from resource extraction.

The Indigenous partners, he said, will be able to decide which lands need to be completely protected and where there can be “responsible, targeted development.”

“We know we need jobs, we know we need protected areas, we know we need economic development,” he said. “And nobody knows that, and the importance of that balance, better than Indigenous communities themselves that have been left out of this equation, not just in Canada but around the world, for too long.”

Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council, said the B.C. funding to help protect the Great Bear Sea would allow Indigenous groups to build on previous agreements to protect the terrestrial lands of Great Bear Rainforest, which were announced about 15 years ago.

“I did media all over the world, and I got home and my elder said, ‘Don’t sprain your arm patting yourself on the back, because until you do the marine component, it doesn’t mean anything,'” he said.

Grand Chief Alison Linklater of the Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven Cree communities in northern Ontario, said their traditional territory includes ancient peatlands that store “billions of tons” of carbon, as well as wetlands that are home to many migratory birds and fish, and 1,200 kilometres of coastline.

She said caring for the lands is one of her sacred duties as grand chief and one of the main concerns of the people she represents.

“Without our lands and waters we do not exist,” she told the news conference.

In a statement, the federal government said the program would employ a “unique funding model” bringing together government, Indigenous Peoples, philanthropic partners and other investors to secure long-term financing for community-led conservation projects.

The government did not specify how much of the funding would be allocated for each project.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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B.C. Premier David Eby unveils his new cabinet

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B.C. Premier David Eby to reveal new cabinet with health, safety, housing priorities

Here is a list of British Columbia Premier David Eby‘s ministers following his first major cabinet shuffle since taking over as leader:

Agriculture and Food — Pam Alexis (new to cabinet)

Attorney General — Niki Sharma (new to cabinet)

Children and Family Development — Mitzi Dean (unchanged)

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Citizens’ Services — Lisa Beare

Education and Child Care — Rachna Singh (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for child care — Grace Lore (new to cabinet)

Emergency Management and Climate Readiness — Bowinn Ma

Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation — Josie Osborne

Environment and Climate Change Strategy — George Heyman (unchanged)

Finance (includes Columbia River Treaty) — Katrine Conroy

Forests and minister responsible for consular corps. — Bruce Ralston

Health and minister responsible for Francophone affairs — Adrian Dix (unchanged)

Housing and government house leader — Ravi Kahlon

Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — Murray Rankin

Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation — Brenda Bailey (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for trade — Jagrup Brar (new to cabinet)

Labour — Harry Bains (unchanged)

Mental Health and Addictions — Jennifer Whiteside

Municipal Affairs — Anne Kang

Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills (includes immigration/foreign credentials) — Selina Robinson

Minister of state for workforce development — Andrew Mercier (new to cabinet)

Public Safety and Solicitor General (ICBC) — Mike Farnworth (unchanged)

Social Development and Poverty Reduction — Sheila Malcolmson

Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport — Lana Popham

Transportation and Infrastructure (BC Transit and Translink) — Rob Fleming (unchanged)

Minister of state for infrastructure and transit — Dan Coulter (new to cabinet)

Water, Land and Resource Stewardship — Nathan Cullen

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022

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