Month: October 2021

Once More We Hurry Up —and WAIT

The guidebook for York Minster – where I have been privileged to sit entranced many magical afternoons listening to the choir practice – tells us the magnificent Cathedral “since the 7th Century has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England and today remains a thriving church rooted in the daily offering of worship and prayer. The Minster was built for the glory of God. Every aspect of this ancient building – from the exquisite, handcrafted stone through to the unrivalled collection of medieval stained glass – tells the story of Jesus.”

I confess to feeling a little unsure about claims regarding that first York “church” in the early centuries other than that it would have been a primitive shelter-from-the-elements meeting place for the first Christians in Northumbria. The early missionaries’ priority would have been keeping warm and dry while they prayed, remembering that their faith-founder, a young Jew named Jesus, had taught that “where two or three are gathered together in my name,” he would be with them in spirit.

It was only centuries later, as readers with a penchant for dates can discover with a leisurely Google of York Minster that the massive stained-glass windows of today were installed to tell biblical stories. Solid stone walls, window frames and strong foundations support the ever-higher bell towers built, presumably, to get the bells a little closer to Heaven.

I haven’t been able to find a total cost to keep York Minster in good shape for tourists like me to visit and enjoy. However, relatively modest maintenance in recent years cost £2 million to replace, repair and maintain its glorious organ, with another £11 million to dismantle and restore major stained-glass in leaded windows. At the time of this writing, £1 million converts to $1.7 million Canadian. And I’m sure anyone visiting York Minster would say it’s worth every penny. 

But a £13 million ($22 million) price tag to repair an organ and stained glass windows does tend to raise eyebrows and force us, reluctantly, to engage in the always-unpleasant debate on what a country, or community, can afford when ancient monuments start to crumble. This debate is particularly germane when the once-traditional beliefs of misguided church and state leaders leave a legacy of damage and despair that raises pressing questions about the inadequacy of our governments’ spending on Indigenous social programs.

We are facing that unpleasantness in Canada today as we wrestle with the findings and recommendations of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the ever-growing list of unmarked graves of children who died – some hastened to their deaths by poor diet, abuse and neglect – while forced to attend Indian residential schools.

Several church organizations were involved in the failed attempt to assimilate Indigenous peoples. Only one – the Roman Catholic Church – has failed to resolve recommended compensation payments.

CBC Television and the Globe and Mail have been reminding audiences and readers since early October of tangled negotiations. On Oct. 13th, CBC claimed it, and the Globe and Mail newspaper secured the release of hundreds of pages of documents “revealing new details of Catholic Church compensation for residential school survivors.” The same day, CBC stated that in 2012, some $300 million was budgeted nationwide for Roman Catholic maintenance and building projects. Included was $28 million for the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.

In 2022, there is a hope that Pope Francis, head of the wealthiest church in the world, will be visiting Canada. Should he get to British Columbia, I’m sure he will be welcomed, and doubly so if the continuing debate on who pays compensation to the victims of historic evil decisions by government and churches has been resolved. There is no guarantee that it will. Last Friday, Oct.29, the federal government, minutes before the deadline for Appeal out, filed for another look at a Supreme Court ruling approving a compensation formula. The need for a formula has been a matter of debate for years now and Friday’s appeal of the ruling with the promise that a bi-partisan committee will now be established does not inspire confidence.

Prime Minister Trudeau has promised a solution will be found, Indigenous Nations will be compensated. Maybe he could confirm the sincerity of that message by imposing on his public servant team a firm, short, deadline.

Action! Would Speak Louder

“Apologies and signals of virtue are not enough” was the warning summation after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s belated visit to Tk’emlups te Secwepem last Monday. The visit was appreciated, but the Kamloops First Nation needed more than political gestures to resolve long-standing grievances.

Following the visit, an open letter to the PM was signed by 13 family heads, including former Tk’emlups te Secwepem Nation Chief Manny Jules. It stated they wanted to believe what he was saying – and would believe – when he translated his words into action.

The letter (made available to The Globe and Mail) contained seven requests that could prove complex as they deal with taxation, rights and resources within accepted Indigenous land boundaries. Some would be easy to declare solved – but expensive. And one – lowering our national flag to half-mast where officially flown around the world on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – was so easy to satisfy that Trudeau guaranteed it on the spot.

He was less prepared to guarantee that his recently-elected minority government will abandon any thoughts it may have of appealing two human rights tribunal decisions, which would cost billions of dollars in compensation to indigenous children victims and their families.

During his one-day visit to Kamloops, he would only say the matter was still under consideration. But, he assured Indigenous leaders his government stood firm on the promise that First Nation children will be compensated. The deadline for an appeal is Oct. 29th.

It was back in 2019 that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found Ottawa had discriminated against Indigenous children on reserves by failing to provide funding for children and family services. The Globe and Mail – which appears to be the only newspaper of stature and conscience interested in the saga of Canada’s wretched Indigenous track record – reports that two years ago, the CHRT ordered the government to “pay $40,000 to each First Nations child unnecessarily taken into care on Jan. 1st, 2006, or later…”

Readers who thought all this Indigenous residential schools’ tragic stuff took place back in the early days of the 1900s should check the chronology of abuse and genocide. If you are older than 20, it was still happening on your watch. It was happening on my watch for decades. As the old English saying goes: “There’s none so blind as those who will not see.”

There’s a lot of shame to share, but back briefly to the current timetable. In 2020, the CHRT issued further amendments to the rules to clarify that should there ever be disagreement about who should receive compensation – the child must have priority.

Ottawa protested and requested a judicial review. It was held, and on Sept. 29th and Federal Court Justice Paul Pavel upheld both Tribunal decisions.

In Kamloops, the prime minister waxed mildly eloquent: “I’m sorry I wasn’t here on September 30th. It was a mistake. Instead of talking about truth and reconciliation, people talked about me, and that’s on me. I take responsibility for that.”

Yes, well, he would have a lot on his mind on the flight over and beyond Kamloops to the relaxing sands of Long Beach.

A week later about all he had to say about truth and reconciliation was that the government had released a total of three million reports and studies, and that was all the government had. He avoided or declined comment on a request by the Canadian Bar Association – representing 36,000 jurists, including lawyers, notaries, and law instructors – asking Ottawa to accept Justice Pavel’s ruling and not continue legal action.

A few days ago, the Globe and Mail reported attempts to reach Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller. It received a reply “from his office” that Canada is reviewing the situation and further information will be forthcoming.

Sharing the reporting burden with the Globe and Mail is CBC Television. Look for Jason Warick at—residential-school-court-documents-1.6198275. CBC coverage focuses on broken Roman Catholic promises of financial aid for residential school victims while finding multi-millions to build new Cathedrals.

Waiting for the Ambulance

One of the very few blessings brought our way during the rampage of COVID-19 PLUS-4 is that it has taken the minds of West Coast Canadians off The Big One – the dreaded day when, every few hundred years, Mother Nature puts on a display of unprecedented violence to remind humans who’s in charge on Planet Earth. It is a dangerous date with disaster to forget.

Recently, I have been reminded of the pending event by stories in my local newspaper about law-abiding citizens who, having phoned for an ambulance because of a medical emergency, had to wait the longest minutes of their lives before help arrived.

The front-page headline this week read: “AFTER 15-MINUTE WAIT FOR AN AMBULANCE, SHE CALLED A CAB TO GET TO HOSPITAL.” The story told an increasingly familiar tale about a citizen hit by a genuine emergency who found no eye to pity, no arm to save. There is no comfort when the disembodied voice on the other end of the phone line says there will be “a wait.” Anyone who has ever experienced that kind of “wait” will know that time stands still.

To the credit of the lady involved in this ordeal, she learned from it and passed what she learned to those of us who still read newspapers. She said if she were ever again involved in an emergency, she would use the service again, but this time “I’ll be thinking of how I am going to get to the hospital or how else am I going get the help I need.”

That comment must resonate for the men and women in charge of our major emergency program who sometimes despair they will ever succeed in their efforts to convince the citizens of BC – especially those in the coastal earthquake zone – to be prepared for a three- to four-day wait in the ruins of a collapsed city before help can reach them.

Does that mean we should learn to live with the deficiencies in today’s ambulance service – especially in the response times? Not at all. What it means is we have to solve an already identified problem. For starters, we need trained dispatchers to respond to the first call for help who will stay on the line with the caller until an ambulance and paramedics arrive.

Can we afford such a program? Can we repair operational deficiencies?

Reasonable questions, but not as pertinent as: “Can we afford to delay while The Big One looms on a horizon closer today than it was yesterday?”

“Negligence,Indifference,Silence..” and Shame

It was an unusual sight, a banner headline streaming across the top of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) web page proclaiming “French Church Abuse: 216,000 Children were Victims of Clergy.” It offered the public the first tabloid-style glimpse of a report by an independent commission established close to three years ago to study and report on the behaviour of priests, nuns, and other church officials.

In BC – indeed across Canada – headlines recording death tolls in what were called Indian Residential Schools in the first half of the 1900s drew little attention. They were noted, sometimes given a tabloid front page lift, but not with any sincere rise in concern.

That didn’t come until about five years ago when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to check on growing concerns that residential schools, created to educate the children, had somehow gone awry. The original goal had been to scrub the children clean of their tribal origins and, if necessary, cleanse them with the use of belt and cane until they got the message.

They didn’t ask the parents if they would like their children educated this way. They just virtually kidnapped children, jammed them into overcrowded residences and left the Churches – Roman Catholic, Church of England, and others – to run the system at taxpayers’ expense.

Things rolled along fairly smoothly until maybe a couple of years ago. The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were published, and non-Indigenous Canadians were made aware that their fabled peace-loving country had been actively financing an act of genocide.

And, with taxpayers’ aid, some Christian churches had been actively engaged in dubious conduct. Crunch time came when at least 215 unmarked children’s graves were located on the Kamloops school site. Other residential schools are reporting similar discoveries, and the Roman Catholic Bishops Council has made tentative promises of millions of dollars in compensation.

Reconciliation has become an operative word, but similar promises of aid in the past have fallen far short of promised targets.

In France, Vatican officials said Pope Francis felt “sadness and shame” when informed that an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns in France from 1950 to 2020. Jean-Marc Sauve, head of the inquiry, told reporters the church had not only failed to prevent abuse but had also failed to report it and, at times, knowingly put children in contact with predators. “There was,” he said, “a whole bunch of negligence, of deficiency, of silence … an institutional cover-up.” 

A spokesman for the Vatican said the first thought of Pope Francis was for “the victims, with a deep sadness for their wounds and gratitude for coming forward. His thoughts also turn to the Church in France, and that, in recognizing these terrible events and united by the suffering of the Lord for his most vulnerable children, it can take the path to redemption.” 

There was no suggestion as to where the path to redemption might lead or what it might involve.

The inquiry in France doesn’t rule out financial compensation as part of the reconciliation. It states quite bluntly that the sexual abuse by priests “was systematic. It was the Church – not rogue individuals – that was responsible.” 

Whatever the cost of redemption, the Roman Catholic Church can afford it. It is believed to be the wealthiest corporation in the world, and as the authors of the Paris Report say: “The burden of the report is that ad hoc expressions of repentance and a bit of tinkering with ecclesiastical structure are no longer good enough.”

Financial compensation may no longer be an option in Canada as CBC television revealed a few days ago in recommended reading by old  Edmonton Journal Colleague Wilf Popoff, who regularly supports or challenges my weekly offering and keeps me up-to-date on Prairie thinking. It’s worth a read.

Apology Needs More Than Words

A few days ago, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada apologized “unequivocally” to Canadian Indigenous people for “grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and sexual.”

The single page apology said – “We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day” – and conveyed a commitment that the conference of bishops would raise up to $30 million to help Indigenous communities to “address historical wrongs.”

Admirable though $30 million may appear, it will be but a modest dip into the international treasure chest controlled by the Vatican. It has known assets between $5 and $6 billion and national wealth of around $30 billion. It owns banks in which “an approximate tonne of gold is stored” and an investment portfolio that Canada’s National Post newspaper once described as “secret.”  

So, be sure to read slowly and digest the words of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada as its President Bishop Raymond Poisson wrote in a press release dated Sept 27: “The Bishops, as a tangible expression of their commitment to walk with Indigenous Peoples of this land along the pathway of hope, are making a nation-wide collective financial commitment to support reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families and their communities  …With a target of $30 million over up to five years, this will include initiatives in every region of the country … parishes across are Canada being encouraged to participate.”

To put things in clearer perspective, the bishops have launched a drive to raise $30 million that will be used for reconciliation projects over the next five years. There is nothing wrong with that, providing it is clearly stated that every penny collected for “reconciliation” goes to that cause untouched by the Vatican.

The Vatican has not earned a saintly reputation over the centuries. Recently, it has had to ride out many scandals, some caused by collapses of morality in the ranks of cardinals, bishops, nuns and parish priests. These scandals range from dishonest bookkeeping to flagrant, often brutal, bullying and predatory sexual offences. 

A short time ago, on CBC’s As It Happens, Wall Street Journal reporter Francis Roccan commented that the Vatican had been doing poorly with some of its investments and had eliminated overruns in some accounts using funds from Peter’s Pence – the annual Catholic fundraiser created solely to assist the poor, sick and needy.

Roccan said he had asked Pope Francis to explain and justify using funds raised explicitly for charity to cover losses from poor advice or bad investments. He said: “Pope Francis has not responded … some people say, ‘Well he has every legal right to do it’ – and that’s true … he does. The problem, in this case, is misleading advertising. It’s not about the law governing (disposition of) the fund.” He has the legal right to dispense the funds, but they were raised specifically to assist the needy, not bail out unwise investors.

In December, a group selected from Indigenous leaders, elders and residential school survivors is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in Rome, where he is expected to make the bishops’ apology his own on behalf of Catholics worldwide.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Rose Anne Archibald has said she won’t be there. Canadian Press reports quoted her as saying: “We have been very public that we want the Pope here in Canada to offer that apology on Canadian soil.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made the same request, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Catholic by faith, also appealed for a personal visit. The Pope declined, asking the Canadian bishops to tell the PM he “could not personally attend.”

Our native leaders will be at great disadvantage in December, dazzled by opulence, surrounded by enough Vatican gold, silver, jewels, art and statuary to solve most of their problems – but not all of them. Those native leaders will represent Indigenous people who have suffered the loss of a child – worse, the loss of a generation of children. These wrongs cannot be resolved with money alone. However, a sincere apology for evil done in the name of God and funding to build living memorials, such as domestic water supplies for Indigenous communities, would soften the pain.

Maybe they should ask him to dip into Peter’s Pence, where an estimated $600 million still sits waiting for another deficit to cover – or be used as was intended to help people fate has dealt an unkind hand.