In a vote that garnered support across party lines on Tuesday, MPs supported a motion presented by NDP MP Charlie Angus for the House of Commons to ask for a formal apology from the Pope to the Indigenous peoples of Canada for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by the thousands of children forced to attend the schools.
A total of 269 Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Green and other MPs voted in favour of the motion.
Ten Conservative MPs opposed it but the motion has passed.
“I am very, very proud today,” said Angus to reporters ahead of the vote.
“This is a historic day for our country.”
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had personally asked the Pope to issue an apology during a visit to the Vatican in 2017.
A papal apology was one of more than 90 recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission but in March 2018, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter saying they had raised the matter with Pope Francis but said “he felt he could not personally respond.”
That refusal to apologize sparked fierce condemnation.
Trudeau said he was “disappointed” by the decision and NDP MP Romeo Saganah, himself a survivor of residential schools, said hearing the bishops defend the decision not to apologize disgusted him.
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“Already when the Pope announced he wouldn’t apologize, I was of course, as a survivor, very disappointed. After hearing what they said today, now I’m disgusted,” said Saganash
“You probably noticed that I walked out because I wanted to go throw up in the bathroom.”
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All three other Christian denominations that ran residential schools have issued formal apologies.
However, the Catholic Church ran two-thirds of the schools and has refused to apologize or pay the monies it has been ordered to give as compensation to survivors.
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Angus and Saganash have repeatedly criticized the refusal as an attempt by the Canadian bishops to shield themselves and the Church from further legal liability over the schools.
They say they want what the current and previous popes have given to survivors of abuse by the Church in other jurisdictions.
While the former pope made an “expression of sorrow” to Indigenous leaders for the schools in 2009, survivors say that did not go far enough.
His apology to the Chilean survivors came on the heels of outcry after he accused them of slandering the priest at the centre of the allegations.