The West Block – Episode 23, Season 11

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WATCH: Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Mercedes Stephenson – April 3, 2022. – Apr 3, 2022


Episode 23, Season 11

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Host: Mercedes Stephenson


Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President

Lesia Zaburanna, Ukrainian MP

Megan MacKenzie, Simon Fraser University

Location: Ottawa, ON


Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: An unprecedented delegation from Canada’s Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities, travels to the Vatican, and a historic apology.

Pope Francis [Voice of translator]: “And I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry.”
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Mercedes Stephenson: Pope Francis asks for forgiveness for the Catholic Church’s involvement in Canada’s racist and abusive residential school’s system.

Chief Gerald Antoine: “We seek to hear these words of apology on our land and our homes.”

Mercedes Stephenson: We talk to Inuit leader Natan Obed about meeting the Pope, his apology, and what this visits means for reconciliation.

From their beloved Ukraine under attack, to Parliament Hill, Ukrainian MPs travel to Canada, to raise awareness and ask for help. We’ll speak to the chair of the delegation about Russia’s invasion and what Canada can do.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We need to, all of us, work together to transform, for the better, the culture of the armed forces.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Canada’s former top soldier, retired General Jonathan Vance, pleads guilty to obstruction of justice and receives a conditional discharge. We’ll talk to an expert about the message that sends to survivors of military sexual misconduct and what it means for efforts to change the culture in the Canadian Armed Forces.

It’s Sunday, April 3rd, and this is The West Block.

Hello. It’s so nice to be back with you here on The West Block, after reporting from Latvia, Ukraine and Moldova. I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to the show.

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A historic apology from the Pope that was decades in the making, delivered at last.

Phil Fontaine, Former National Chief and Residential School Survivor: “This moment, I think, reflects that the determination and the courage of many that kept up the fight over the years.”

Mercedes Stephenson: That was former national chief and residential school survivor, Phil Fontaine. He led the first Indigenous delegation to the Vatican back in 2009.

The Pope’s acknowledgment of the trauma caused by the church-run residential schools and his declaration to come to Canada came at the end of an emotional week for the Inuit, Métis and First Nations delegates.

For more on the significance of the Pope’s apology, I’m joined by Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Thank you so much for making time for us today, Natan. Can you tell us what this experience of receiving the apology and the request for forgiveness from the Pope was like for you, personally?

Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President: I’ve spent my career working for Inuit in various different roles, but from the residential school perspective, so many Inuit are affected by either having attended residential school or being intergenerational survivors of residential schools, meaning their parents or their caregivers went to schools. There’s so much trauma and so much hurt that has been generated from these schools. And in the Catholic Church’s case, they have chosen not to apologize for now almost 15 years after the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement was finalized. And then in keeping with that timeframe, it was 2008, when the Canadian Government apologized to Indigenous peoples in Canada for residential schools. So this is long-overdue. And then in the moment, I had great respect for Pope Francis, in that he must have taken a personal role in ensuring that the apology happened, and also the way in which he delivered it, which as very empathetic and very thoughtful.

Mercedes Stephenson: Natan, as you’re saying, an emotional an historic apology, but they’re words and there are so many actions that need to be taken. What did those actions need to look like?

Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President: First and foremost, we call upon the Catholic Church to immediately provide the $25 million that was part of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement that ordered the Catholic Church to pay as restitution to First Nations, Inuit and Métis residential school survivors. We also call on the Catholic Church to do all that it can, to implement not only the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, but also the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. We still hope that the Pope will come to Canada and apologize as per Call to Action 58, to Indigenous peoples in Canada. We also hope that the Catholic Church will work with us so that any records that they have associated with the running of residential schools are made public or made available to anyone who may be able to use them in a path towards healing. We also have called very clearly for the Pope himself, to speak with Johannes Rivoire, who is a Catholic oblate, who is wanted in Canada for charges of sexual abuse, and we would like to see him extradited from France and we believe that the Pope can play an instrumental role, personally, intervening on this case, to see justice done for the victims.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know that’s a very important case in your community and for so many Canadians with the request that that priest, Johannes Rivoire, be brought back to Canada, to face these allegations against him, which are extremely serious, of sexual abuse.

When you are looking at the Pope coming to Canada, to deliver an apology here, on Indigenous land in Canada, when do you think that visit needs to look like?

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Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President: We need to organize it with the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican so that we are all on the same page on how this visit will unfold. Pope Francis joked with us in his private meeting with Inuit about he would love to come and visit us, but not in the winter. Fair enough. You know, Italy is not the same as Inuit Nunangat when it comes to weather, and so I could see how he would be hesitant to come at -40. So we do hope that he is able to visit one of our communities in Inuit Nunangat as part of the larger visit to Canada, which will, I’m sure, involve going to First Nations and Métis communities as well. But we need to be involved in this and provide advice, and allowed to be a participant in the way that this all unfolds so that we can do the best possible job, to match the ambition of the Pope with the ability to make the best of that for all of us.

Mercedes Stephenson: Natan, Inuit voices have often been left out of discussions about reconciliation. Do you think that that’s changing and the voices of your communities are now going to be heard and more prominent in this discussion?

Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President: I think we live in a time where there is now an understanding of First Nations, Inuit and Métis, instead of just a broad understanding that there are Indigenous peoples in Canada. We have such a different colonial history; we also have a different relationship with the Government of Canada, whether it be through legislation or through federal government policy. So, a distinctions-based approach is necessary to ensure that our voices are understood and heard in the largest conversations that happen in this country about Indigenous peoples. I think the more that I’m on the air talking to you about Inuit, the more that Canadians understand the difference as well. Not very many Canadians have been to Inuit Nunangat, and people know that there are Inuit who live in the Arctic, but really how we fit into this country and how we fit into reconciliation, also the ways in which we fit into the horrific record of residential schools and also in the work that we were doing with the church, it starts with knowledge. It starts with understanding who we are and the specific concerns that we may have. And we’re very fortunate to live in a time where our voice is being heard more and more.

Mercedes Stephenson: Natan, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us and to join us. And we look forward to speaking to you about this many mores times in the future as this progresses. Thank you again, for making time for us.

Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: For anyone in need of support, there’s a 24-hour crisis line available to residential school survivors. The toll-free number is 1-800-721-0066.

Up next, Ukrainian MPs take their message for help to Ottawa. We speak to the head of the delegation about why protecting Ukraine’s democracy matters to the world.

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Mercedes Stephenson: A delegation of Ukrainian MPs have left their country behind, which is under siege, in order to travel here to North America, with an urgent message for Ottawa and Washington: Ukraine needs more military assistance and more sanctions against Russia, as well as humanitarian and financial aid for their people.

I’m joined now by the chair of that delegation, Lesia Zaburanna. Thank you so much for joining us. We’re sorry that it’s under the circumstances that it is.

I was just in Ukraine not long ago. Certainly incredible fight, incredible resistance, and resilience and determination of your people, but you’re here talking to Canadian and American politicians because you need help.

Lesia Zaburanna, Ukrainian MP: Yes, thank you for invitation. And first of all, I would like to say thank you for all Canadian people, to Canadian government, for the support and for their efforts. You know, that in Ukraine, we’re absolutely sure that Canada is one of the best friends for Ukraine. And now when we have really a terrible situation in Ukraine, we need more support. We need more support from your people, from your government, from your Parliament. And you’re absolutely right. First of all, here, we are trying to discuss and to highlight three main issues.

The first one is military assistance. We absolutely believe in our nation. We absolutely believe in our people, and we believe that will win. But, we would like to highlight that it’s not a war between Russia and Ukraine. It’s a war between evil and democratic world. So, we have to win. And I’m sure that with Canadian support, Ukraine will be a symbol of victory in this struggle.

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The next one, we need more Russian sanctions. We highly appreciate that Canada is brave with this question and we know that Canada started in the world with Russian sanctions, but we need more. We need strong sanctions.

And the last one, we’re also looking for new financial instruments for Ukraine, because from the beginning of the war, now we have more than $550 billion of financial loss.

Mercedes Stephenson: Lesia, I know you just left Kyiv a few days ago and we were talking before the show. You’re husband and your daughter, are still there. What does it feel like being here to deliver this message? And do you feel that Canadians and Americans and the world are listening to you?

Lesia Zaburanna, Ukrainian MP: You know, it was a big challenge for all of us to leave our country, to leave our people, and first of all, our family and to go to North America, but we are the members of parliament. We have a duty. We represent our people. We have to advocate our national interest. And when we come back, we have to answer to our people what we do for that victory. And frankly speaking, we try—do not few. We tried to do everything only in rational manner, because it’s impossible if you are trying to fuel something. You couldn’t do anything. So we know what we need to do and what we must do. And we are trying to be very responsible in this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Your strength is so admirable and incredible, and we saw that over and over again when I was in Ukraine—just amazing willingness to fight, and bravery and courage. I’ve been asked over and over again by Canadians, they want to know what they can do, to help Ukrainians. What would you say to our viewers at home about what they can do to help your people in Ukraine?

Lesia Zaburanna, Ukrainian MP: What we would kindly ask all Canadian people, you have a representative democracy in your country, so please, push your government, push your Parliament, because now Ukraine needs actions. We don’t need a long conversation, negotiations. We need actions. And Canadian people can push their government, to act.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think comes next for Ukraine? People have speculated over whether Vladimir Putin will back down, over whether he will become more aggressive and bomb civilian areas more as he’s losing this war and in a stalemate with the Ukrainians. What are you expecting as a Ukrainian leader, to happen in your country next?

Lesia Zaburanna, Ukrainian MP: You know, a lot of people ask us about peace talks, and I can say only one thing. We haven’t any peace talks. You know, we don’t believe Putin, absolutely. We will be successful in any negotiation, if we will be strong. And we can be strong only if we will have military assistance. And only after this, we will do what we have to. We have to kick out him from any inch of our territory. And we have to stop together, Putin in Ukraine, because we’re absolutely sure and all democratic leaders also know that if we will not stop him in Ukraine, then next it will be other European countries. And actually, of course, it’s difficult to understand, but this is actually the Third World War started and we have to stop Putin just now.

Mercedes Stephenson: Lesia, a dire warning and one I’m sure many Canadians are listening to. Thank you for joining us today. Please have a safe journey back home, and our best wishes to your family.

Lesia Zaburanna, Ukrainian MP: Thank you. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, a guilty plea but no criminal record. What message does retired General Jonathan Vance’s verdict send to the victims of military sexual misconduct? Military culture expert Megan MacKenzie joins us after the break.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Canada’s former top soldier, General Jonathan Vance, pleaded guilty last week to obstructing justice. The court heard that Vance encouraged Major Kellie Brennan, a subordinate with whom he had a clandestine intimate relationship, to lie to military police, to cover it up.

Global News has obtained a copy of Brennan’s victim impact statement, which was not read in full in court. In it, Brennan’s says, “It sickens me to have to say I have received over 200 emails from other members that conveyed to me the hardships they had also endured while they served.” She adds that, “As a soldier, I was trained to follow orders and respect my superiors. To find myself in a position where my superior was abusing his power, using his authority to intimate and silence me was a complete betrayal of everything I respected in the military.”

As part of his conditional discharge, Vance must serve 12 months of probation and complete 80 hours of community service. If he complies with those terms, he won’t receive a criminal record. That raises questions on what justice looks like as military sexual assault cases enter the civilian system.

Joining us now to talk about this is Simon Fraser University’s Megan MacKenzie. Megan, thank you so much for joining us today. You had a chance to see what was said in court. What were your thoughts on Jon Vance receiving a conditional sentence, which means there will be no criminal record despite his guilty plea if he complies with the conditions, and just the way that this was handled by the authorities in the justice system?

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Megan MacKenzie, Simon Fraser University: I mean, I think it’s just devastating. It’s devastating for—I’m devastated for victims. I’m devastated for all of those that were hopeful that the past year was going to be sort of a watershed moment. This was the most high profile case in a year when we had case after case of senior leaders being faced with allegations of sexual misconduct. So to have this culminate in a court hearing, where essentially the judge and Vance’s colleagues congratulated him for his service and focused on the burden that these charges have been for him, and as you said, that the victim statement wasn’t even read, I think is just so disappointing.

Mercedes Stephenson: We also know that the Crown told us that he suggested Kellie Brennan change parts of that statement, she did. He says that she agreed to that. Obviously, that was interesting, too, considering the fact that it was read aloud in court. But what do you think the message is that this sends to men and women in the Canadian forces who might be thinking about coming forward with their own stories? Will they still feel there’s enough of a sea change that they’re able to do that? Or does this really throw a wrench into things?

Megan MacKenzie, Simon Fraser University: There’s no evidence that there’s a sea change. There’s no evidence that this has been a watershed moment. I think there’s a lot of rhetoric and there’s a lot of, I think, good intentions and, you know, hope and commitments, but in terms of actually holding perpetrators accountable and actually having zero tolerance for sexual misconduct, here we see that even when a senior military leader admits guilt to a criminal charge, ultimately he’s not going to—he’s unlikely to have a criminal record. So, I can’t imagine, you know, it’s already very difficult for victims to come forward. It’s so personal. It’s difficult for their lives. There’s nothing for them to gain, other than a sense of justice. And so for them to see a case like this resolved essentially in a pat on the back and accolades rather than a criminal conviction, I think, is really discouraging.

Mercedes Stephenson: When you look at the changes that are underway, obviously they’re—we haven’t heard much about that other than the commitment to move sexual assault cases out of

the system. We’re still waiting on the Arbour Report. The government won’t answer our questions on exactly when that’s coming out, other than to say that it’s going to be some time in the spring or in the summer that that is likely to happen. In the meantime, there are things the military could do. For example, Jon Vance ha a number of military honours and awards. They could recommend to the governor general that things like his Order of Military Merit should be stripped. Do you think that that’s something the military should be looking at to send a message in the wake of this verdict?

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Megan MacKenzie, Simon Fraser University: I think it is something they should be seriously looking at. I think it would send a strong message. I think what we see here, is that—look, the civilian system isn’t great at handling sexual misconduct cases either. And so simply moving military cases into the civilian system isn’t going to be a silver bullet. We still have broader cultural issues, and so I do think removing someone’s honours and all of the access and benefits that they get from that is at least something in the face of a total failure of holding someone accountable in terms of justice.

Mercedes Stephenson: What did you think of the political response to this? We asked the prime minister about it, we asked the defence minister and they said well, we can’t comment on a criminal case, and that was kind of the end of it.

Megan MacKenzie, Simon Fraser University: Yeah, I think that’s disappointing. I think that we had a minister who expressed a very serious commitment to handling this issue and handling this issue means being accountable when you have a clear case where there isn’t any accountable to perpetrators or alleged perpetrators, where you have one of the—well the most senior member of the Canadian Armed Forces who’s essentially not going to face any criminal charges. I do think it’s important for political leaders to weigh in and clarify their position, to make, you know, clarifications around their commitments, and they have the power to do things like stripping honours. So, I think it’s not enough to sort of step back and then still use this rhetoric of cultural change. Well these are the examples that either change culture or entrench culture.

Mercedes Stephenson: Megan MacKenzie, thank you so much for joining us today.

Megan MacKenzie, Simon Fraser University: Thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thanks for watching. We’ll be back here next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

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