NDP calls for criminal probe into residential schools
The federal New Democrats are calling on Ottawa to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential crimes committed against Indigenous people at residential schools, and their alleged perpetrators.
Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and her fellow NDP MP Charlie Angus held a press conference on Parliament Hill Thursday to ask federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti to reach out to the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into a system they said “represents a crime against humanity.”
“The map of Canada is covered in crime scenes,” Qaqqaq said.
“We need a full and independent investigation that has the power to shine a light on every facet of this national crime, and has the power to bring perpetrators to justice,” Qaqqaq said.
“We have been saying this for generations, and it’s time for Canada to face the truth.”
The NDP’s demand comes after weeks of revelations about unmarked graves at residential schools in Kamloops, B.C., Cowessess, Sask., and other sites throughout the country.
The NDP is also asking for “a serious increase” in funding to do proper forensic investigations at former school sites, so bodies can be exhumed and returned to their families.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Justice told Nunatsiaq News that Lametti does not have the authority to launch such a criminal investigation, saying that would be up to the police.
“Minister [Lametti] has held frank and productive discussions with Indigenous leaders about the next steps the government needs to take to support Indigenous communities, particularly survivors and their families, following the horrific discovery of graves in Kamloops and Marieval,” said Chantalle Aubertin, press secretary to Lametti, in an email.
“We will consider all options that will allow the survivors, their communities and the country to move forward on the path to healing and reconciliation.”
But Qaqqaq insists the justice minister does indeed have the authority to appoint a special prosecutor but chooses not to exercise it.
Qaqqaq said an investigation should extend beyond just residential schools to examine any institution that Indigenous people were forced to attend, providing the example of southern sanatoriums Inuit were sent to between the 1940s and 1960s to recover from tuberculosis.
“There are possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of Inuit [buried] outside of sanatoriums across the country,” she said.
During the press conference, Qaqqaq held the image of French Oblate priest Joannis Rivoire, who is accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children who attended residential schools in Nunavut communities in the 1960s.
In 1997, Rivoire was charged with sexual interference and sexual assault in connection with incidents alleged to have occurred in Naujaat and Arviat between 1968 and 1970.
The RCMP issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998, but CBC reported in 2019 that warrant had been stayed. It’s unclear if the government ever sought to have Rivoire extradited from France.
“Instead of facing justice for his crimes, Rivoire is living a luxurious life in a home for priests in Strasbourg, France, and the federal government is doing nothing about it,” Qaqqaq said.
“The abuse at his hands has caused generations of trauma,” she said. “The federal government and the church are responsible for the fact that people like Rivoire destroyed childhoods. And continues to destroy childhoods today.”
The NDP said Rivoire is just one of potentially thousands of perpetrators who abused Indigenous children through the residential school system, and any investigation must come with full access to documents and names.
Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the Catholic church to disclose documents related to potential crimes and unmarked burial sites at its residential schools, a demand religious orders in some provinces have agreed to.
Trudeau has also expressed a willingness to launch an investigation into residential schools but said Indigenous communities should lead that process.