Questions over Church’s “in-kind” services under residential schools agreement

Candles places at St. Laurent shrine in memory of all those lost at residential schools. An apology by Pope Francis on Canadian soil for the Church's involvement in residential schools is one of the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report. (Catholic Saskatoon News file photo)

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – As Catholics across Canada scramble to make up for the failed “best efforts” fundraising campaign of 2007 to 2013, they’re now answering questions about their “in-kind” contributions to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement — a stream of compensation that Catholic residential school operators over-fulfilled by at least $5 million.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan is asking the Church and courts to provide an accounting of the $25 million of “in-kind” services.

The Saskatchewan Provincial Court has the ledger with a record of the services provided, but it could take months for the court to release it to the FSIN. The former president of the corporation that represented Catholic entities in court doesn’t know where the Church’s copy of the ledger is.

The one thing Gruard-McLelland Archbishop Gerard Pettipas knows for sure is that the Catholics did more than they were asked to by the courts.

“We reached $30 million in much less than 10 years,” Pettipas told The Catholic Register. “Because it was costing us money to count that, we stopped at $30 million.”

The $25 million in community projects, family counselling and reconciliation work, aimed primarily at survivors and their families, was one of three streams of compensation required of 48 Catholic dioceses and religious orders who operated between 60 and 70 per cent of Canada’s Indian residential schools over more than a century.

The 48 Catholic entities also had to pay $29 million from their own resources and run a $25-million “best efforts” capital fundraising campaign.

After the agreement was wound up in 2014, the corporation that represented the 48 Catholic entities was dissolved. Pierre Berribeau, the lawyer who led and represented the corporation — known as CEPIRSS, for Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement — has since died.

Pettipas, who was president of CEPIRSS, is now searching for where the records may be.

All the in-kind services provided to fulfill this part of the agreement were vetted and approved by Indigenous people.

“These proposals, I guess you would call them, had to be signed off by some Indigenous leadership — either a chief in council or a friendship centre board or some other group like that,” recalled Pettipas. “Then it would go to this multi-party committee that would receive these and somehow agree on a dollar value.”

The complexity and the legal requirements of a decade ago aren’t easy to explain, said Pettipas.

“IRSSA was a legal agreement,” said the archbishop. “And even though I understand that lots of people were frustrated by how many lawyers had to be involved in this as it went on through history, it was a legal agreement. Whenever you have a legal agreement it’s both written by lawyers and it’s supervised by lawyers.”