Ottawa let Catholic Church off the hook for millions in residential school compensation

The source of an April 2016 Globe and Mail report outlining a mistake by federal government lawyers which allowed the Catholic Church to escape paying $21 million in obligations to the Residential School Settlement Agreement, now says that number is actually millions of dollars higher.

The source of an April 2016 Globe and Mail report outlining a mistake by federal government lawyers which allowed the Catholic Church to escape paying $21 million in obligations to the Residential School Settlement Agreement, now says that number is actually millions of dollars higher.

Ron Kidd, of Vancouver, said that of the $54 million various Catholic Church entities had agreed to pay, $37,875,660 has not been paid.

Kidd is a former provincial tax auditor, self-appointed church watchdog, and gay rights activist. He has a history of successfully leading anti-discrimination cases that trace back to the early 1990s.

He claims to have been instrumental in leading Globe reporters to the original story and then working closely with NDP MP Charlie Angus’ staff to put detailed questions to the government to access more information about the Church’s obligations.

“It was triggered by specific events, which is that in 1981 and 1986, the Catholic Church led the opposition to amend Ontario’s Human Rights Act to include gay people on the basis that we were a threat to family values. And I felt that if you really believe that human rights is sacred and divine, the church would be in favour of equality for gay people.”

After getting a Certified General Accountant designation in 1990, Kidd worked for the British Columbia government for more than a decade as a tax auditor.

He says the paper trail is clear.

“I’m being very careful to try to show you in all cases where I got the information. It isn’t a matter that an accountant is saying that the numbers are such and such,” he said.

(Ron Kidd)

In all, the 50 Catholic Entities who were parties to the settlement agreement committed to pay $54 million. Twenty-nine million was to go “in-kind” contributions to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. An additional $25 million was to go to “best efforts” fundraising. All of the money was intended to pay for programs that would help residential school survivors.

Most legal dictionaries refer to “in kind” payments as those that are made through providing “goods, commodities or services” rather than cash.

Lawyers differ on what the term “best efforts” means. Some say it’s a higher standard than making a “reasonable effort” to keep a commitment, others say a reasonable effort that can stop short of putting yourself at risk of bankruptcy is sufficient to be able to say you made your best effort.

The church entities committed to making their best effort to raise the $25 million but argued that despite those efforts, they did not succeed.


Best efforts campaign came up “woefully short”

“[Survivors] were supposed to get $25 million, and they got only one million,” Kidd said, adding he questions whether the entities made their best efforts

“The Protestant churches were busy fundraising aggressively because the Protestant churches all met their requirements. So from the government’s point of view, the money was coming in from the Protestants, but not the Catholics,” he said.

MP Charlie Angus had one staff member working more or less full-time on residential schools issues up until last year before Angus began his NDP leadership run. Working with that staff member and the MP, Kidd came up with very detailed written questions to the government in May of 2016.

Given the title Q-2052, the question asked the government, among other things: “(i) how much of the $29 million in cash donations owed was given to the survivors, (ii) how much of the $25 million dollars that was supposed to be fundraised, was fundraised, and of that money how much was donated to the survivors, (iii) what was the line by line account for the $25 million of in kind donations, (iv) how much of the total compensation owed was not distributed to survivors, as it was considered an expense, legal cost, or administrative fee of the church, (v) did government lawyers negotiate with other churches in order to waive their legal obligations, and, if so, when did these negotiations occur?”

When the government answered several months later, as required by Parliamentary rules, Kidd said he was not impressed.

“I was extremely dissatisfied. The question was something to do with how much of the $29 million was payable to the victims and the answer was, it was never payable to the victims. It was payable to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation,” he said.

He did not consider that a completely truthful response.

“Just by changing the word from ‘paid’ to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to ‘payable’ to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the answer became technically correct, but misleading,” he said.

The government response did not include the requested detailed accounting of how the entities’ in-kind commitment was fulfilled, so Kidd started combing public records.

Many of the organizations involved are licensed charities and must disclose certain financial information to maintain their charitable status.

“That money was paid on Jan. 11, 2016. And it appears on their 2016 audited financial statements. So I’m looking, to the best of my knowledge, he said, “The Catholic Entities paid $16,124, 340.”

Some of the money originally committed was forgiven by the federal government because the church had already paid some money out in lawsuits it had lost. As the Globe originally reported, a March 2016 letter to Kidd from an Indigenous Affairs assistant deputy minister explained that “miscommunications” between government lawyers allowed the church to escape paying its commitment in total.

“Although the Globe and Mail correctly reported that the results of the court case was that the Catholic Church was let off the hook for $21 million dollars. This statement tells you that there was an additional reduction to account for payments already made in separate lawsuits,” Kidd said.

According to Kidd, The settlement agreement was a court-supervised agreement that was approved by Parliament.

Justice Warren Winkler, the judge who ratified the agreement, warned that the federal government was in the unique position of administering an out-of-court settlement in which it had been a defendant and needed to take extreme steps to be open and transparent.

“So how can the Catholic Church and the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs do an agreement that reduces it? That’s the first thing, is the legality of it. If they’re really going to do that, they should have brought it to the attention of parliament,” Kidd asked.

The best efforts campaign came up woefully short.

APTN Investigates asked the government to comment on Kidd’s allegations. Rather than providing a departmental official to answer questions, the then Indigenous Affairs department provided a statement.

“The settlement agreement required the Catholic Entities to pay $29 million in a cash contribution. Included in this amount was $8.4 million for Indian residential schools abuse claim compensation, which the Catholic Entities paid prior to the settlement agreement,” the statement reads. “The remaining cash contribution was divided among the Aboriginal Healing Foundation [AHF], the Legacy of Hope, the Returning to Spirit charitable organization, and the Catholic Entities’ administrative costs.

“The Catholic Entities paid a total of $14.9 million to the AHF. Canada took the Catholic Entities to court over the remaining $1.6 million, which resulted in the Catholic Entities satisfying their remaining financial obligations with a $1.2 million payment to the Legacy of Hope Foundation (as the AHF had ceased operations by that point).”

“In this case, the Saskatchewan supervising court determined that the Catholic Entities had met their financial obligations under the agreement.”

Gérard Pettipas, the current archbishop of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan in Alberta did not dispute that the entities had come up short. He was president of the group of 50 Catholic Entities up to the point where the court declared the entities had met their financial obligations.

“I know all too well the shortfall of the best effort campaign to raise $25 million. I don’t where he gets this other amount,” Pettipas said.

He was not able to respond in detail to Kidd’s questions or allegations.

“With the termination of the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] as a commission and with the satisfaction of our obligations, I’ve not been on top of this other than that we made provisions to stay involved because the IAP is still ongoing. So we have a lawyer to stay on top of that,” he said during an interview. “It would take a bit of research for me. It wouldn’t be in my own files.”

He explained that the entities originally approached the $25 million fundraising campaign in the same way hospitals or universities fundraise for major projects like new buildings. They hired a company that specializes in those kinds of projects, in this case Toronto-based Ketchum Canada, Inc. (KCI), to run the Moving Forward Together campaign.

When the donations did not meet expectations, the cost of paying KCI was consuming most of the money.

“We realized as we went through that process that we were not seeing the return. The money we were taking in, little that it was, we ended up spending that on the firm,” the arch-bishop said.

Pettipas was asked about the perception amongst many First Nation observers that the Catholic Church was the most reluctant of all the churches when it came to making good on residential schools abuses.

“I know,” he said sadly.

Asked if he disputed that observation, he qualified his response by saying it was a “personal perception” and that he was not speaking for the church.

“No, a lot of what is said about the residential schools, I would say we recognize it was an idea that had gone awry. I believe that when it was entered into it was perceived to be a good idea. This was going educate Indigenous children,” he said.

He revealed the long and complex relationship between the church and the federal government with his next remarks and provided a glimpse into some of the reasoning behind the church’s stand in court on residential schools.

“I think the Catholic Church and the other churches were into education before treaty. We were already in missions. We had set up schools. Because this is what Christian churches do. We’re into education and healthcare. So you look at education across Canada and really around the world, a lot of it is initiated by Christian churches, he said. “In signing treaty, the federal government was taking on the responsibility to educate the children. And I think the government saw this as a very convenient way to satisfy that agreement – this treaty commitment. And for the churches I think they saw it as a way of being funded to do what they were already doing anyway. I think we got into it thinking this would always be a good thing.”

But government gradually took on a bigger role, he said. How big a role has been an area of disagreement in court about liability since the days before the settlement agreement was signed.

He acknowledged that past attitudes towards Indigenous peoples were not as enlightened as they could be.

“I’m not sure we were as sensitive in generations past about culture as we are now. I think the TRC reports and recommendations have raised it as never before for Canada – even after the Royal Commission on Aboriginal peoples – I don’t think there was the same concern and interest and commitment on the part of people that we have now.”

He responded to the allegation that other churches have been more willing to step up and take responsibility by talking about the corporate structure of his own church.

“Some of the struggles in the Catholic circles is due to our structure which is very different from the Protestant churches. We didn’t have one entity. There’s no such thing as the Catholic Church in Canada. Even some of our own people find that hard to understand but it’s true,” he said. “The Catholic Church is not a monolith. It’s made up of many dioceses. And so in terms of coming together and putting forth a common voice, a common reaction, it’s not easy to do that because we’re all different. Even when I was president of the Catholic Entities, I was very aware that not every diocese, not every religious order did I represent. There were 50 Catholic entities that were part of my organization but that’s not near the number of Catholic Entities in Canada.”

“There were 50 Catholic entities that were part of my organization but that’s not near the number of Catholic Entities in Canada.”

Asked if the low donation rate to the best efforts campaign revealed anything about the attitudes of Catholics towards Indigenous people, Pettipas acknowledged there is still work to do.

“The entities that I represented, we were onside. We tried to do what we could to make this happen. I do regret that the campaign brought in so little,” he said. “When finally this story hit the Globe and Mail, I got some interesting letters from people. There were people who were truly embarrassed by our poor showing. This one priest sent me $1,000 out of his own pocket saying ‘I am just so ashamed that we did so poorly on this.’”

He said others made local donations rather than to the campaign, which affected the final numbers, but admitted there was resentment in many quarters.

“I have heard people say, ‘Well they’re getting all this money from this settlement agreement, why should I give to this?’ One of the things I had to point out to people time and time again is that the monies that we give – the monies that the church was committed to – was not compensation. The government handled compensation. None of our money went to former students. Our money was all for programs for healing and reconciliation,” he said. “Originally, that $29 million was mostly destined for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The in kind services was for services to Indigenous communities. The [local] chief had to sign off on each one of those, that he and his council felt this service was beneficial to our community.”

But there was one other reason which admitted with regret.

“There is still in Canadian society a certain suspicion when it comes to our Indigenous people and money, that somehow this is going to go to them and it will be wasted . . . blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it.”

Kidd said he will not give up and will pursue the matter. He criticized the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations, who he says did not respond to his requests for help in getting answers.

[email protected]

Contribute Button  

5 thoughts on “Ottawa let Catholic Church off the hook for millions in residential school compensation

  1. The Catholic Churches were supposed to provide $54 million ($29 million from cash obligations and $25 million). The Hon. Dr. Carolyn Bennett told the House of Commons (paraphrased) that the cash was never meant to be paid directly to survivors in the form of compensation. The Agreement provides that it was payable to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (the “Foundation”).” The Foundation and its successor organization actually received $16,124,340, according to their audited financial statements which are available for anyone to read on the internet. Therefore the victims were shortchanged $37,875,660. You do not have to be an accountant or auditor to understand such simple material.

    I am surprised that the Church does not understand how I get my numbers. Twice the government asked me to contact the Church’s lawyer to find out how much it had actually paid, even though the Government is responsible for enforcing the Agreement. The Church’s lawyer could have easily put its spokesman in contact with me.

    The Government continues to be evasive and deceptive when it attributes part of the missing $38 million to payments to the the Returning to Spirit charitable organization. That organization’s website shows that in its most recent financial year it ran one workshop that was attended by 202 people. That workshop was funded by four organizations. How much of the missing money do payments to Returning to Spirit charitable organization represent?

    This article is the first public disclosure of the $8.4 million reduction that the Government secretly gave the Church. The Government lost another $21,298,600 in a court case. That means the Government and the Church have still not disclosed another $8,177,060.

    I am the only source of public disclosure of all these shortcomings. So much for the government heeding Justice Warren Winkler warning that the government was in a unique position of administering an out-of-court settlement in which it had been a defendant and needed to take extreme steps to be open and transparent.

  2. How committed to healing can the Catholic church be that upon a government lawyer’s error, the Catholic church takes advantage and relieves itself of it’s debt and obligation to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation? How can that be the ‘right thing’? The Protestant church could have walked away too but chose not to.
    I am not surprised the priest was ashamed that the ‘best efforts’ fundraising proved dismal, nor am I surprised that “there was resentment in many quarters” about supporting the ‘best efforts’ fundraising campaign. While the Protestant, Anglican and United churches are making an effort, the Catholic church is still failing Indigenous people and it’s own congregations by not shedding light on the truth and reality of it’s history of abuse. Thus, abuse continues and litigation increases.

  3. I do not understand the manner by which the release was given to the Catholic Church entities, and under whose authority, to supposedly allow all that funding to survivors, for cultural and mental health support, to be waived under a Settlement Agreement. One lawyer in Department of Justice can sign a release that re-writes the settlement agreement obligations? Defendants can release each other without all parties to the IRSSA agreeing to that amendment? There is no legal authority for that, unless the Government lawyers agreed that the Government defendant would instead pay the survivors. St. Anne’s Survivors could certainly use all or part of that missing $23.5 million to help heal from the horrific abuse they suffered as children at that Catholic IRS, which continues to impact them as adults and their families. The Courts agreed when passing the IRSSA into law, to enforce the IRSSA, but unfortunately, the Courts now treat this like private litigation that class members must enforce on their own. Nothing has really changed. Those parties with the greatest resources and influence, continue to control this justice system.

  4. Omar Khadr received millions of dollars in compensation from the Federal Government for having his rights being violated.Further,each individual who faced abuse and had his civil rights violated in the Residential Schools system should be entitled to similar compensation.Pay up!

Comments are closed.