International Criminal Court will give ‘consideration’ to request to investigate Canada, Catholic church over residential schools

International criminal court

The International Criminal Court in the Hague. Photo: ICC.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague says it will “consider” a request from more than a dozen lawyers across the country who are asking for an official investigation into crimes against humanity committed by Canada and the Catholic Church.

The lawyers filed the request, pro bono, following the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS).  

“The Complaint is regarding the recent discovery of a mass unmarked grave of 215 Indigenous children who were under the forced care of the GOC and the Vatican,” the 14 page complaint to the ICC said. “The death of the 215 Indigenous children resulted from their enrolment in the GOC residential school system forced on the Indigenous peoples of Canada by way of GOC legislation and administered by both the GOC and the Vatican.

“The Complainants submit the deaths, mass unmarked grave and general treatment of the 215 deceased children constitute crimes against humanity.”

The investigation could lead to the prosecution of the Catholic Church, the Government of Canada and any living member that took part in the residential school system. 

“It is a subject that is near to my heart my mom having to attend one of these schools, the fallout from her attendance at the school and the impact that it’s had on her and the rest of my family,” said Red Deer-based lawyer Andrew Phypers. 

“To me, initiating this process with the International Criminal Court characterizing as a crime against humanity is fundamentally important to get answers.” 

Phypers, a member of the Lower Kootenay Band in Creston, B.C., said some members of his community attended the Kamloops school after repeated attempts to run away from the St. Eugene Mission. 

He said the international court is the only way to bring answers to the many communities affected. 

“What happened to these 215 children, and likely others in other mass graves in and around residential schools throughout Canada, is evidence of murder, extermination, forcible transfer of a population, rape/sexual slavery, persecution against an identifiable group, enforced disappearance of persons, apartheid, and general inhumane acts of intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to the body or to mental or physical health,” said the statement.

“In short, the 215 children were victim of crimes against humanity at the hands of the agents, employees, and actors of the GOC and Vatican. There are likely far more such victims beyond these 215 children.”

On June 7, the ICC wrote a response stating it has opened a file to determine whether the investigation will take place.  

Mark P. Dillon, head of the Information & Evidence Unit at the ICC, wrote, “We will give consideration to this communication, as appropriate, in accordance with the provisions of the Roman Statute of the International Criminal Court.” 

Brendan Miller, a Calgary lawyer, said the investigation has to be done by an agency outside of Canada.

“The fact is, the government of Canada, including the RCMP and including the Vatican, including the churches, all have an invested interest in the truth not coming out,” said Miller. 

“You have to remember that continuing to suppress and cover up a crime against humanity is a crime a crime against humanity itself. It’s, frankly, is an absolute embarrassment to this country that Canada, one of the purported, great, human rights advocates and supporters of the United Nations internationally, has failed miserable in dealing with this massive crime against humanity.” 

Despite a call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, requests from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Indigenous leaders across the country, the Vatican has so far refused to apologize for its role in the schools that were often run by the Catholic church.

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