For a family member of residential school survivors in Canada, the $55 million minimum cost to pay for Pope Francis’ visit to Canada last summer feels like another slap in the face for Indigenous people.

“Think of all the money that could have gone to survivors, all the money that could have gone to healing, all the money that was rightfully supposed to be given to people who survived the genocide,” says Michelle Robinson of Calgary.

Documents obtained by La Presse Canadienne under freedom of information laws show that the federal government spent at least $55,972,683 for the head of the Roman Catholic Church to visit Canada for six days, in last July.

Pope Francis has apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools during stops in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut.

Indigenous Services Canada has allocated approximately $30 million. This money was to be used for travel, local programs and healing initiatives.

For its part, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) devoted $5.1 million to the Pope’s stay. The majority of that money, $3.9 million, went to broadcasting papal tour stops, as well as translation services in native languages ​​and French.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) meanwhile said that as of February 24, 2023, it had spent more than $18 million, which included overtime pay, travel costs and accommodation costs. Global Affairs Canada spent approximately $2 million on travel, meetings and accommodation, plus an additional $35,728 for communications and media relations.

Public Safety Canada has redacted all costs for documents obtained through access to information requests.

“I think all the costs should be public knowledge,” said Lori Campbell, associate vice president of Indigenous engagement at the University of Regina, in an email. According to Ms. Campbell, it is difficult to put a dollar figure on the damage residential schools caused to those who resided there and the intergenerational effect felt to the present day.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools for a century, and the Catholic Church ran about 60% of the schools.

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said in a statement that the apology was necessary to address historical wrongs. “There is always a cost associated with hosting any foreign head of state, including Pope Francis, and this is generally considered part of the cost of maintaining diplomatic relations.”

And Mr. Chartrand added: “Either way, the logistical costs of an apology will never exceed the price paid by our survivors and their families. »

Heather Bear, vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations of Saskatchewan, agreed that the apology is important to many people, but it cannot come at the expense of funding for Indigenous peoples. “We have paid enough. We have paid enough with our lives,” she said.

Survivors had called on the pope to apologize for decades before the visit, including during a trip to the Vatican by indigenous leaders in 2009 and last April. The call intensified after thousands of probable unmarked graves were located at the sites of many former boarding schools.

Lori Campbell recalls that the visit was to be the result of calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the legacy of residential schools. “While it was important to some that the pope follow through on the call to action, I personally don’t know any Indigenous people, old or young, who think this was money well spent,” she said. .

Some survivors and Indigenous people said the Pope’s apology on Canadian soil was important to their healing and the reconciliation process. Others said it was insufficient.

Francis asked for forgiveness for abuses committed by some members of the Catholic Church as well as cultural destruction and forced assimilation, but said residential schools were genocide only when questioned about it by reporters on his return flight to Rome.

Michelle Robinson’s grandmother, aunt and uncle attended residential schools. She said the church has already failed to meet its commitments under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

In 2006, 49 Catholic entities agreed to devote their best efforts to raise 25 million as part of a compensation program for former boarders. After collecting less than 4 million, a court released the Catholic companies from their financial obligations.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was not a party to the original deal, pledged in 2021 to raise $30 million over the next five years after shortcomings in the previous campaign were flagged. The Canadian bishops organized the papal visit and previously said it cost the organization around $18.6 million.

Michelle Robinson understands that the Pope’s visit had to come at a cost and that for some people the apology was important. However, she believes security has increased costs due to anti-Indigenous concerns about protests or violence.

She adds that the Catholic Church has failed to meet its financial obligations and has now cost Canada millions more because of the Pope’s visit – so she should, she adds, foot the bill.

In his view, Canada’s money would be much better spent on language and culture revitalization, anti-racism training, education and support for Indigenous peoples. “That money absolutely could have been spent better and it was not. »