OTTAWA (Dispatches) – United Nations rights experts have called on Canada and the Catholic Church to carry out thorough investigations after the remains of indigenous children were found at a former residential school, as the Canadian prime minister blasted the church for ignoring its past crimes.
A mass grave of 215 Indigenous children was discovered last month at Kamloops residential school in British Columbia, which operated between 1890 and 1978 under the auspices of the Catholic Church and later the Canadian government.
“We urge the authorities to conduct full-fledged investigations into the circumstances and responsibilities surrounding these deaths, including forensic examinations of the remains found, and to proceed to the identification and registration of the missing children,” nine UN human rights experts said in a statement on Friday.
They called on the Canadian government to conduct similar investigations into all of the country’s former residential schools, which were set up to forcibly assimilate indigenous children.
According to the statement, criminal investigations should also be launched into all allegations of suspicious deaths, and claims of torture and sexual violence against children at the schools, they said.
Perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive should be prosecuted and sanctioned, the UN experts said, adding that it was “inconceivable” that Canada and the Vatican would leave such “heinous crimes” unaccounted for and without redress.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also criticized the Catholic Church for ignoring its role in running many indigenous residential schools in the country following the recent discovery of the remains of children.
He called on the Catholic Church to “take responsibility” and release records on indigenous residential schools under its direction after the mass grave containing the remains of children of the indigenous Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc group was found.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years,” Trudeau told reporters. “We expect the Church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this.”
Trudeau recalled a May 2017 trip to the Vatican during which he sought a formal apology from Pope Francis for abuses of indigenous students, as well as access to church records to help account for more than 4,100 students believed to have died from disease or malnutrition.
“We’re still seeing resistance from the Church,” Trudeau said.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has yet to respond to the plea.