NDP’s fighting words for Lametti

By Palak Mangat July 9, 2021

A pair of NDP MPs renewed pressure on Ottawa yesterday, telling Justice Minister David Lametti to not “dare” tell them he is unable to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate decades-long abuses faced by Indigenous children.

Speaking to media Thursday, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and her party colleague Charlie Angus delivered a stern message to the minister, who so far has said he is looking at all options within his portfolio “to advance truth and reconciliation in relation to this national tragedy.”

“The Canadian government has done an extremely, phenomenally, excellent job at hiding that history, until now. Enough is enough,” said a frustrated Qaqqaq, an Inuk who was elected in 2019. (She recently announced her intention to not run again.) “Canadians need to know that Indigenous people can’t do this alone anymore. The lack of basic human rights is disgusting in this country, and for the First Peoples of it.”

Angus and Qaqqaq recounted the story of Oblate priest Father Johannes Rivoire, who has been accused of abusing children in the territory dating back to the 1960s and is reportedly living in France.

“Instead of facing justice for his crimes, Rivoire is living a luxurious retirement in a home for priests in Strasbourg, France,” said Qaqqaq, who brought a photograph of the priest, adding “the federal institution is doing nothing about it.”

According to the CBC, an arrest warrant for Rivoire was stayed after the Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s 2017 analysis of the case found there was “no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction” and moving forward on the file was not “in the public interest.”

The RCMP issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998, about five years after he went back to France, which does not extradite its citizens. It remains unclear if the government considered or pursued extradition, which survivors say has only added to their trauma.

“We need a full and independent investigation that has the power to shine a light on every facet of this national crime, and that has power to bring perpetrators to justice,” said Qaqqaq, before referencing the recent grim discoveries of mass gravesites at former residential schools.

Angus said while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission “was about trying to lay out what happened, [it] did not have a mandate to pursue justice,” which demonstrates the need for a special prosecutor.

The prosecutor would have access to documents, including those captured under settlement privilege, to lay out where the perpetrators are, if they are still alive and pursue litigation through separate cases, he added.

Pressure has been mounting in recent months for politicians and the public to reckon with the country and Catholic Church’s past treatment of Indigenous people. Spurred by the growing searches and discoveries of gravesites, the feds last month promised some $27 million to help communities identify burial sites.

Chantalle Aubertin, a spokesperson for Lametti, said in a statement to Parliament Today there is “anger and heartbreak for those stolen children, their families, communities, and Indigenous Peoples.” But the statement fell short of firm commitments, only citing discussions with Indigenous leaders “about the next steps” Ottawa needs to take.

“We are listening and will ensure that all responsive measures are Indigenous-led, survivor-centric and culturally sensitive,” she said.