Wilson-Raybould not consulted to release Catholic Church from residential school compensation deal: source

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No one in the federal government is saying who made the final decision to relieve the Catholic Church of its financial responsibilities to residential school survivors.

But a source with first-hand knowledge of the controversial 2015 case told CBC News then Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was not consulted, even though an attorney in her department had been consulted. signed the final communiqué.

“It’s breathtaking. It’s just unbelievable that the Indigenous Prime Minister of Justice was left out of a decision like this, ”said Tom McMahon, a former general counsel for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who also spent 17 years. as a lawyer in the Department of Justice.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, director of the Center for History and Dialogue on Residential Schools at the University of British Columbia, said she was also alarmed to learn Wilson-Raybould had been left out of the loop .

“This was a critical case on one of the most important issues facing the country,” said Turpel-Lafond, former Saskatchewan provincial court judge and member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. .

“Why didn’t they consult her? Were they worried that she had a different opinion?

An official from the Department of Justice forwarded a request for an interview to the CBC to the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations; no one in that department returned interview requests on Tuesday or Wednesday. Wilson-Raybould herself declined CBC News’ interview request.

Catholics in Saskatoon raised $ 28.5 million to build this cathedral in 2012. Critics say the church’s promise to compensate residential school survivors was largely ignored at the time. The story was similar across Canada. (Jason Warick / CBC)

In July 2015, Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Neil Gabrielson ruled on a multi-year dispute between the federal government and Catholic Church entities.

Under the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSRC) of 2005, Catholic officials and their team of lawyers overseeing the deal made three pledges totaling $ 79 million.

They pledged to do “their best” to raise $ 25 million for survivors; in the end, less than $ 4 million was raised. They promised to pay compensation amounting to $ 29 million in cash; this sum was not paid in total after the church spent millions of dollars in legal and administrative expenses.

And they pledged to provide $ 25 million in “in-kind” services as compensation to survivors; critics say some of the spending was designed to convert survivors, not to help them heal.

Gabrielson ruled in favor of the Catholic Church, approving the Catholic Church’s buyout proposal for less than $ 2 million and releasing the Church from its remaining financial commitments to residential school survivors.

Less than a month later, on August 14, 2015, the federal government filed an appeal. In a four-page document, provided to CBC News this week by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, a senior Justice Department attorney cited several reasons for challenging Gabrielson’s decision.

The document says Gabrielson erred in assuming a deal was made, erred in assuming the federal lawyer on file had the authority to approve the deal, and made “palpable and overriding errors. in its assessment of the facts “. The federal government has called for the July decision to be overturned or “overturned.”

That fall, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority government. On November 4, 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau’s first office was sworn in. Jody Wilson-Raybould, member of the We Wai Kai Nation and former Crown Attorney, has been appointed Indigenous First Minister of Justice of Canada.

Six days later, on November 10, another document was filed with the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal by senior Justice Department counsel.

The “Notice of Abandonment” informed the court that the federal government’s position had changed. The appeal was withdrawn and the case was closed immediately. No reason was given.

“I cannot know who was informed”: former deputy minister

Michael Wernick, who resigned in 2019 as Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet following allegations that he and others pressured Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavalin file, was previously under -minister within the department then known as Native Affairs and Northern Development.

In a series of email responses this week to CBC News, Wernick said he had nothing to do with the decision to drop the appeal, neither the Cabinet nor the Privy Council.

“I can’t know who was made aware at the time,” Wernick wrote.

Then-Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick arrives for a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2019. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

Wernick said the decision may not have reached the ministerial level because it was not seen as important enough.

“… You look at it in hindsight and hindsight, where it looks bigger now six years later because of what we now know than it was then in the context of a myriad of other questions and issues swirling around, especially in the turbulent times of the integration of a new government, ”Wernick wrote.

“Matters brought to the attention of people at the top are always subject to judgment. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for their portfolios, but cannot know everything that is going on.”

“It does not stick”: Turpel-Lafond

Turpel-Lafond and McMahon said Wernick’s argument made no sense.

“That tells you something. How could this not be considered a major issue? Do survivors think so? McMahon said.

Turpel-Lafond said survivors deserve answers.

“It doesn’t match. It does not legally match. she said.

“You don’t appeal vigorously and then abandon it for no reason. What happened ? “

She said the legal appeal process is now closed, but still calls for an independent review of the actions of the federal government and the Catholic Church.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is Director of the Center for History and Dialogue on Indian Residential Schools at the University of British Columbia. (Mike McArthur / CBC)

A senior Justice Department official (CBC agreed not to name the person) said the minister should always be made aware of important decisions like this. The official said the lawyer working on the case would send an “early warning brief” to the deputy minister and then to the minister, usually within hours.

The official said it was “inconceivable” that no one had flagged the file as an important one. The decision to leave Wilson-Raybould out must have been a deliberate one, the official said.

Longtime NDP MP Charlie Angus has been asking these questions for years. In 2016, he wrote to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett about the decision to absolve the Catholic Church of its responsibilities.

“The Catholic Church got the better of the courts, crying poor. No one understood why they were allowed to go away,” Angus said.

Angus said the timing of the call drop is suspect.

“Trudeau appoints cabinet. Government drops call. Had to discuss what to do with the Catholic Church, and they let them walk. I asked for answers and got none. none, ”he said.

“Who was it that let the Catholic Church walk? “

Last month, following calls for a boycott of Sunday Mass and a petition to revoke tax exemptions from the Catholic Church, Canada’s Catholic bishops issued a public written apology to the survivors. They also pledged to launch a new fundraising campaign to raise $ 30 million over five years.

Survivors interviewed by CBC News say they are skeptical given the history of broken promises.


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