Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for North Island—Powell River.
I have only been in the House for a short while. I am on my first term. However, every now and then there are moments in the House that make us fully aware of the privilege we bear in this place, the freedom of speech that we have in this honoured chamber, and the voices we represent in our communities. Often those voices are marginalized and put off to the side.
Today's motion is an opportunity for not only me as a member of Parliament but for every one of us to speak up and address a fundamental wrong of our history and to try and get the country on a course of action to make things right by asking the Catholic Church to outline its responsibility and issue that apology from the Pope.
My riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford is home to the Coast Salish people. I live on territory that is unceded Coast Salish territory. Before I go on, I want to raise my hands and say Hych’ka Siam to each and every one of the elders and survivors in the first nations of my communities. They have gone through so much, but they stand with such strength for their communities today. It is simply amazing to know them, their strength, their courage, and for what they do for their communities after suffering so much. If I can make this day about one thing, it really is about them, and I feel that right to the inner core of my being.
I want to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for bringing forward this motion and also my colleague for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for seconding it. This is an important time where, as the House of Commons, we come together in trying to get a course of action.
What are we are trying to do today?
The motion before us is inviting Pope Francis. I like the word “inviting”, because there was a lot of consternation among the Catholic community and even some members of Parliament that we could not force the Catholic Church to do this, and they are right. That is why we are inviting the Pope to participate in this journey, to respond to call to action 58 of the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC.
If we look at the long, sorry history of residential schools in the country, it was a genocide, and there is a fundamental reason why it went after the children. The children of any community are its future. When we try to extinguish the children and remove them from their culture and language, in a sense we are trying to eliminate those people, and in many cases we succeeded. We are finding our way through that.
I am a father and I cannot imagine the trauma it would cause people to see their children taken away at such a young age and come back as broken beings, and the intergenerational trauma that represents.
The legacy of residential schools in our country has been very well documented, which is important documentation. However, with all of the steps we have made coming toward reconciliation, there is still an important part we have to come to. We have to acknowledge that the residential school system was created by religious organizations and the government together. They worked hand in hand. Through this motion, as Parliament, we have to call upon a fellow partner in the residential school system, the Catholic Church, to apologize formally, just as the Government of Canada did in 2008.
For my constituents back home, so they have a better understanding of the debate today and what we are going through, I want to formally read into the record what TRC call to action 58 states. It reads:
We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.
It has been unfortunate in recent weeks that certain Catholic bishops in Canada have been muddying the waters in trying to explain why it would not be possible for the Pope to issue an apology. There have been various reasons, such as that different orders and dioceses were responsible for the schools and the fact that many of them have apologized. However, they are missing a fundamental point in this whole argument, which is that to any Catholic or any non-Catholic, when we look at the entity that is the Catholic Church, we uniformly recognize that the spiritual head of that church is the Pope. The Pope is the church, the Bishop of Rome. Yes, we have had apologies from various orders within the Catholic Church, but I do not think we can understate what a papal apology, delivered here in Canada, would mean to us as a country going forward, especially when so many first nation people still hold onto the Catholic faith, despite having gone through all those horrible abuses. One of my colleagues claims that she is a first nations woman and a Catholic, and I was so honoured to be present in the chamber earlier today to hear her speech.
The government apologized in 2008, and various churches, except the Catholic Church, have apologized, but we need to have that papal apology. When Pope Francis began his term as Pope in 2013 and assumed the papacy, he was really motivated to right historical wrongs and to be a Pope who addresses issues of social justice. Given what he has done and said in various parts of the world, if he is not listening to the specifics of the debate, I hope he hears the motion that this House, I hope, will eventually pass on Tuesday, preferably unanimously. I hope he hears that it would be the right thing to do, and I hope he will find it in his heart to step forward and make that important apology. I hope that Catholics across this country take the message to heart that we are not here trying to put a spotlight on them to pressure them. We want them to come forward with us and look into each and every one of their hearts to know that this is the right thing to do. Maybe they can speak to other members of their community and speak to the bishops to get that message to the Vatican that this is really what we need to see.
This is one of those debate topics we could go on for hours talking about, but I want to end on this. The government apologized in 2008, but in some ways, the voice of Parliament speaking out on this issue is even more powerful. The government is the leading party in the House of Commons. It is currently the Liberals, and they represent a slice of the electorate. However, if this House of Commons were to unify around this motion and pass it unanimously, the message to Canadians and to the rest of the world would be that all 338 ridings, and the members of Parliament who represent them, are speaking with a unified voice. Canadians are speaking with a unified voice. That very fact would amplify the message and makes it hit home.
I want to conclude by recognizing the trauma that is ongoing from this issue. We want to continue to stand by survivors and with successive generations to bring first nation, Inuit, and Métis people in as full, equal partners in this country, as is their rightful place. Only when we achieve that will this country assume the greatness we are so capable of reaching. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go to see the end of this dark chapter in our history. I hope members will find it in themselves on Tuesday next week to vote unanimously for this motion to send a clear and strong message to the Catholic Church that we hope the Pope will deliver an apology.