(July 1, 2021) After the discovery of 215 unmarked graves of children at the former Kamloops Residential School, North Vancouver resident, David Thomson, who has worked in the charity sector for 40 years, said he’d had enough and felt he had to do something. So he registered a petition with change.org, Suspend the Canadian Catholic Church’s Charitable Status over Residential Schools.
“As I listened to the response from Indigenous leaders, I felt angry and upset at the lack of apology from the Catholic church, especially when the other churches who had been involved with the 30% of Indian Residential Schools have apologized years ago and tried to make amends” he said.
“I’ve been involved in the charitable world for a long time, mostly on environmental issues, and I've been responding to what I've been reading, so I thought suspending the charitable status of the Church was something that might convince them to change their ways. I went to change.org and made a petition, Suspend the Canadian Catholic Church’s Charitable Status over Residential Schools.
“I’m not really much of a social media user, but I posted it on my Facebook and it began to get shared,” he said. Thomson called into a radio show BC Today with Angela Sterritt on June 30 to talk about the petition.
It asks, “the Canadian Government to hold the Canadian Catholic Church accountable for Residential School abuses and ongoing lack of cooperation and reparations by immediately suspending, for at least 1 year, the charitable status of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the 308 Roman Catholic charities.”
As of 9 am on July 1, the petition has close to 3,000 signatures, the rate of sign-up having increased in the past 24 hours as awareness grows.
Thomson is not suggesting the suspension be permanent. “This suspension would be lifted when the Catholic Church in Canada and in Rome issue a sincere and full apology, fully cooperate with making all Residential School records available and at a minimum pay reparations that were promised years ago, and ideally more. This is not a criticism of individual Roman Catholic faithful but a demand for accountability from powerful institutions.”
The Charity Report has previously reported that a charity filing its tax return late or files a return inaccurately can face suspension of charity status for a year, giving them time to think about the privilege of being a charity and to made amends.
“This petition is for Catholics too. Everybody is hurting,” says Thomson.
“I’ve been an activist for a long time, but I’m so angry now. This institution must feel the hurt before it changes. Obviously, they cannot do it on their own. But we cannot let them get away with this behaviour. It’s just not allowed.”
It appears these nightmarish developments--long since been known by Indigenous communities--may only be the beginning.
Since the announcement of 215 unmarked graves found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and the announcement of 751 unmarked gravesites on the grounds of Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, there was a new revelation on Wednesday revelation that 182 unmarked gravesites were found on the grounds of former St. Eugene's Mission School in Cranbrook, BC, a building has since been converted into a resort with a casino and adjacent golf course.
Laws may have been broken and crimes covered up. And the Catholic church, who ran three quarters of these schools, are at the centre of what could be an unprecedented investigation.
As a signature to the Indian Residential School Survivor Agreement (IRSSA), the Catholic Church was supposed to contribute $25 million to help survivors, and provide counselling and support for their families. The Church raised less that $4 million of that, but was "let off the hook because the Church insisted the words "best efforts" be added to the IRSSA agreement. The Catholic Church has also refused to released its records as it agreed to in the IRSSA.
Thomson’s petition raises the question of whether the Church’s activities can currently be called charitable. To add your name to the list, go to Suspend the Canadian Catholic Church’s Charitable Status over Residential Schools.