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Visit by Pope Francis to Quebec City stirs mix of emotions among faithful


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By Sidhartha Banerjee in Québec

Pope Francis is spending less than 48 hours in Quebec City, and his mission is a sombre one of penance, but those lining up hours to catch a brief glimpse of the pontiff say they are balancing that with the thrill of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It’s the first time a pope has visited the provincial capital since John Paul II came in 1984, becoming the first pope to visit Canada when he landed in Quebec City and went on a 12-day cross-country trek.

But this visit has been different for faithful who have balanced their solidarity for Indigenous Peoples with a milestone moment for their faith.

“It’s important for us, firstly, to participate with Indigenous communities and show solidarity with them on their road to reconciliation with the church,” said Daoud Darazi, a Montrealer who arrived with his family, intent on seeing the Pope in person Wednesday and having his three-month old son blessed by the pontiff — which he did, minus the papal kiss.

“It is important for us because the Pope for us is like the presence of God and blessing our baby, it’s a great blessing,” Darazi said.

Desneiges Petiquay, an Atikamekw woman from Manawan, Que., is a survivor of the Pointe-Bleue residential school on Quebec’s North Shore. She was excited to catch a glimpse of the Pope, although she also said would have been disappointed if he had not repeated his apology Wednesday for the church’s role in residential school abuses.

“I’m not vengeful, I forgive him,” Petiquay said in a brief interview. “I have a lot of faith as well, and it’s been a long time that I’ve wanted to see him.”

While Francis’s arrival drew curious onlookers along the streets of Old Quebec, events in Quebec City Wednesday and Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré Thursday were not at capacity.

The Plains of Abraham can host 100,000 people easily but much of the main area on Wednesday was empty as people clamoured near the security fencing to see the popemobile.

At the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, where 10,000 were expected to attend outdoors, the crowd numbers were smaller, with officials unable to provide an exact outdoor attendance. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said organizers were happy with the turnout, particularly the Indigenous participation.

“I would never have thought to see him like this,” said Bernard Poulin of St-Jacques-de-Leeds, Que., as he watched with his wife. “I think he’s been well received in Quebec. People that have come out have been happy to see him.”

Ahead of the visit, Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador told The Canadian Press what he wanted the faithful to keep in mind during the Pope’s visit.

“It’s a time for healing, it’s a time for reconciliation for our peoples but it’s also a time for understanding and really understanding the extent of this very dark chapter in Canadian history,” Picard said. “The least we could ask is (people) to be open-minded about the intent behind this visit.”

Corrine Fraund, a Southern California resident, was determined to come to Quebec City for the papal visit.

“This is a historical event for the Catholic Church, Indigenous communities, for Canadians and Americans as well, because it wasn’t just Canadians who had children disappear,” said Fraund, who waited all day Wednesday on the Plains for the Pope and planned to return to watch Thursday’s mass on the big screens.

A devout Catholic, Fraund said she’s glad the church isn’t “sweeping it under the rug,” referring to residential schools.

“I think it’s an amazing thing, I think he’s an amazing pope to tell you the truth, but I am fully aware (of the reason for his visit) and it broke my heart when I found out we could do something like that,” she said.

The rest of the Quebec visit is expected to be without as much fanfare with two private meetings before flying to his final Canadian stop, Iqaluit, around midday Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2022.

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Regional chief warns of ‘tight’ turnaround as Ottawa eyes First Nations policing law

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By Stephanie Taylor and Jim Bronskill in Ottawa

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he hopes to introduce legislation declaring First Nations policing an essential service early in the new year, with one regional chief calling that timeline “tight.”

In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Mendicino said the prospective law is under development with input from Indigenous stakeholders and communities, who he said deserve “the same quality of policing” as non-Indigenous communities.

He described the work as the next step in advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people.

“We need to anchor our work in a relationship that is based on trust, on respect and on a recognition of the inherent right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determine when it comes to public faith,” Mendicino said.

“It is precisely those values that is channelling the work that we are doing on the ground.”

In September, Mendicino told reporters he would “work around the clock” to have the law ready to be introduced this fall, but that did not happen.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to create legislation declaring First Nations policing an essential service in 2020.

However, Ghislain Picard, a regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations representing Quebec and Labrador, says they have been discussing it with the federal government since the early days of Trudeau’s first mandate in 2015.

“Timelines have been pushed back and pushed back,” he said Wednesday.

He said the hope now is to have legislation presented in spring 2023, but “a lot of work has to happen between now and then.”

Picard said that discussions about what the legislation should look like involve not only stakeholders such as the AFN, a national advocacy organization for more than 600 First Nations communities, but also provinces, experts and police chiefs.

“Timelines are going to be tight,” he said.

The Conservative critic for Indigenous services, Gary Vidal, said that his party will review the legislation when it is introduced.

“However, it is already delayed, and that is not a good start if the government wants us to believe it is a priority for them,” he said in a statement.

Trudeau’s government has also faced pressure, including from Indigenous leaders, to reform the RCMP. The national force often acts as the main service for those living on-reserve because of contract policing agreements that it has in place with all provinces except Quebec and Ontario, which have their own provincial forces.

Crimes such as the stabbing rampage on James Smith Cree Nation in September, which left 11 dead and 18 others injured, have amplified the calls for reform.

Federal NDP Indigenous services critic Lori Idlout said that the tragedy reinforced a critical need for First Nations policing.

“The Liberal government keeps failing them through continuous delays in introducing the legislation,” the Nunavut MP said in a statement.

“Indigenous peoples have the solutions; they just need a federal partner willing to provide long-term, sufficient and equitable funding.”

Funding is indeed viewed as one of the major barriers. Since 1991, Ottawa has provided funding for police services on First Nations and in Inuit communities, but an internal evaluation this year found the program suffered from a lack of resources and the underfunding of service agreements.

Passing legislation that declares policing on First Nations to be an essential service is the easy part, Picard said.

“How do we fund it is the harder part,” he said. “This is really what’s at stake here.”

Picard added that many elements will need to be taken into account, such as salaries, benefits, training and infrastructure — not to mention how needs will differ depending on factors such as a community’s remoteness.

“It is complex,” he said.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also flagged concerns around the inadequate funding with the existing program, and its 2019 report included a call to action to “dramatically transform Indigenous policing.”

It said Indigenous police services must be funded to the same level as non-Indigenous ones, and undergo audits by civilian oversight bodies.

There are currently 35 First Nations police services in the country, according to Public Safety Canada, the majority of which operate in Ontario and Quebec.

iation has said it’s received dozens of calls from other communities looking to go the same route, which it says can be a lengthy, complicad process.

Despite not yet coming out with a new law, Mendicino said his government has made progress on the issue by reaching an agreement with the Alberta government and province’s Siksika Nation that would allow the community to transition away from relying on the RCMP and instead create a self-administered police service.

Mendicino pointed out that Ottawa also signed an agreement with the Saskatchewan government and the Prince Albert Grand Council, which includes James Smith Cree Nation, to explore new ways to deliver public safety.

“That’s what moving forward with reconciliation looks like,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2022.

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Advocate asks AFN chiefs to ensure $40B settlement deal leaves no child behind

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By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa

A First Nations child welfare advocate on Wednesday implored chiefs to ensure “no child is left behind” in a landmark $40-billion settlement agreement with the federal government.

Cindy Blackstock delivered the message to an Assembly of First Nations gathering in Ottawa, after being invited to take the stage by Cindy Woodhouse, regional chief in Manitoba who helped negotiate the agreement, which had been thrown into question since being rejected by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

The AFN, representing more than 600 First Nations across the country, had asked the tribunal to approve the settlement deal, which would see the government spend $20 billion to compensate families and children for systemic discrimination in the Indigenous child welfare system. It would also spend another $20 billion on making long-term reforms.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Caring Society who first lodged the complaint at the heart of the issue, raised concerns that the agreement wouldn’t provide $40,000 in compensation to all eligible claimants, which is the amount the tribunal ruled they should get.

“We can make sure that in our First Nations canoe of justice, no child has to see their money go away and no child is left behind in justice,” she said Wednesday.

“We are capable of that.”

Following the tribunal’s decision in October, the federal government filed for a judicial review of some parts of its decision.

Endorsing the settlement agreement loomed as one of the biggest items on the assembly’s agenda, with chiefs being asked to vote on what the organization should do next.

The chiefs had been preparing to vote on conflicting resolutions, with one asking them to support the final settlement agreement, while another sought to see the organization not appeal the tribunal decision and renegotiate the deal.

But on Wednesday, further talks between both sides took place, assisted by former senator and judge Murray Sinclair, who helped the AFN, federal government and lawyers for two related class-action lawsuits reach the $40-billion agreement in the first place, which was formally announced in January.

Chiefs ultimately voted late Wednesday against re-entering negotiations but to instead support compensation for victims outlined in the agreement and “those already legally entitled to the $40,000 plus interest under the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal compensation orders.”

It also included a provision that AFN leaders must regularly return to chiefs to provide it with progress updates and “seek direction” from chiefs on implementing the final agreement.

Many chiefs thanked Blackstock, who was greeted with applause after further agreement was met and said she was honoured to see people come together for children harmed by Ottawa’s discrimination.

“We have had too many apologies, we’ve had too many compensation deals, we’ve had too many kids hurt. And this has got to be it,” she said.

She added more discussion on the long-term reform part of the deal would be presented to chiefs on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the assembly heard from sisters Melissa Walterson and Karen Osachoff, plaintiffs on the case, about the impact the foster care system had on their lives.

Osachoff said she had been in the child welfare system since she was born and didn’t have a chance to grow up with her sister.

“Had it not been for the ’60s Scoop and the child welfare (system), her and I would have grown up together.”

She said she understands why the tribunal characterizes those like her as “victims,” but told chiefs to instead think of them as survivors.

“I am not a victim and our claimants are not victims.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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