Ottawa sues Catholic entities involved in residential schools

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas

February 3, 2014

The federal government is suing Catholic entities involved in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement over $1.5 million in contested funds.

"We had requested mediation," said Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan, who chairs the board of the Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement.

The corporation represents more than 50 Catholic entities, either dioceses or religious orders, that ran Indian residential schools.

Pettipas said the Catholic entities had requested mediation and binding arbitration.

He also expressed "frustration" with the results of a fundraising campaign that was part of the $79-million settlement with residential school survivors.

"We were to take up a Canada-wide campaign to try to raise $25 million," Pettipas said. "It is evident to us now we are not going to meet that goal."

The fundraising portion of the agreement is not part of the lawsuit and, contrary to news reports, is not owed the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the archbishop explained.

"It's a 'best efforts' campaign. We're supposed to exercise our best efforts. We could contend we have exercised our best efforts. Short of a miracle, I don't think we're going to be able to make it."

The Corporation of Catholic Entities was set up because there is no central "Catholic Church" in Canada the way there is an Anglican Church of Canada, he said. Each diocese and religious organization is its own corporation.


Under the residential schools settlement, the Catholic entities were allowed to apply to the federal government for a mitigation of the $20.5 million they owed "if those expenses came out greater than the interest we would make on our money," Pettipas explained.

Expenses did end up as more than the interest, he said, and the Catholic entities requested the amount be lowered. The government conceded some expenses, but "there is a remaining amount of $1.5 million that is in dispute," he said.

"We sought mediation; we sought binding arbitration, but the federal government said, 'No, we are going to court and let the court settle this.'"

The second element of the $79-million settlement was the provision of $25 million in "in kind" services toward healing and reconciliation.

"We have exceeded that," Pettipas said. "We stopped counting at $30 million" because it made no sense to keep running the committee necessary to verify the expenditures.


Pettipas said the plight of aboriginal peoples is most evident in the West where many reserves exist and a large number of native people live in the cities.

He spoke of the "degree of poverty, lack of hope," high numbers of suicides, incarcerations and family violence that far exceed national averages. "Like most situations in life, these are often more complex than can be solved with a one-liner."

The "difficulties and struggles of our native peoples cannot be reduced to residential schools," the archbishop said. "It's one piece of what has been, in many ways, a tragic history. But it is not all history or in the past, it's still happening."