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Reaction to the Pope’s apology for Catholic Church’s role in residential schools

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Pope Francis delivered on Monday an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, saying many Christians supported the colonization of Indigenous people. He made the remarks at the former site of the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton.

Here is some of the reaction to the historic apology:

“Pope Francis’s words today and in Rome this spring represent a journey that has taken more than 180 years — from the time the doors of these so-called schools opened to the challenges First Nations people live today. By apologizing for the abuses of the past, Pope Francis has helped to open the door for survivors and their families to walk together with the church for a present and future of forgiveness and healing. I accept and choose this path.” — Former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine, who attended two Manitoba residential schools

“Every survivor will choose how they feel about the apology. We have witnessed the Pope’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action No. 58 — and heard a message of hope to our people, Canadians, and Catholics worldwide: First Nations cultures, languages, and traditions matter. This message will help to guide us all on the path to reconciliation.” — AFN Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse

“It has been over a year since discovering over a thousand unmarked graves of children on Indian Residential School grounds, and we are still mourning them. An apology does not ease the pain of lost children who never returned home, or the legacy First Nations carry as the Survivors, their children and their grandchildren. However, we encourage the Church to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation by making concrete commitments and true reparations going forward.” — Cornell McLean, acting grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

“The Holy Father’s apology will lift some of the darkness which the Indian residential school experience represents. The missing children will be acknowledged with utmost respect and care following their families’ wishes, as each circumstance requires.” — Elder Harvey Nepinak, residential school survivor, who watched the apology from Dauphin, Man.

“The government policy of residential schools, in which the churches participated, created deep wounds that are not easily or quickly healed. Yet we saw at Maskwacis both the resilience of Indigenous Peoples in preserving their culture, as well as the goodwill of Catholics and other Canadians to both truth and reconciliation.” — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney

“The Catholic Church and the government worked together in harms and crimes, and they must work together to ensure that the harm done to Indigenous peoples is being addressed in meaningful ways. Co-operating with ongoing investigations and making all documents requested by survivors, police and local governments available is the very least that the Church and the federal government can do for Indigenous peoples.” — Federal NDP Crown-Indigenous Relations critic Lori Idlout

“This a significant first step towards reconciliation and acknowledging the intergenerational trauma residential schools have had on Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. After failed attempts and a lack of will, it’s time the Catholic Church make the investments needed to help ensure individuals and communities can heal.” —  Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Elmer St. Pierre

“I believe today was a very good second beginning, because I believe it started long ago when leaders of the day, before I was around, asked for those very same things.” — Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2022.

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Alberta

Alberta commits $20.8 million over the next four years to fight human trafficking

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By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Alberta government is providing $20.8 million over the next four years to implement recommendations from a star-led task force on human trafficking.

Country singer Paul Brandt, chair of the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, personally thanked Premier Jason Kenney during the funding announcement Sunday at Edmonton International Airport for his willingness to prioritize the issue, and for putting faith in Brandt to lead the group.

“Premier Kenney’s longtime personal dedication and commitment to the issue of human trafficking is authentic and is admirable,” Brandt said.

“He’s the only political leader I’ve met in my 17 years of advocating for trafficking victims and survivors who took the time and initiative to personally write a plan to address this horrific crime.”

The money will establish an office to combat trafficking as well as a centre of excellence for research and data collection — recommendations the government accepted when the task force presented its report in March.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the goal is to launch the office by next summer.

Other task force recommendations that will be supported include a new grant for community projects and Indigenous-led and culturally appropriate services. Civilian positions that will focus on supporting victims and survivors throughout human trafficking investigations will also be funded.

“Human trafficking is far more prevalent — way more common — than the stats would suggest because it’s a hidden crime,” Kenney said at the announcement.

“It festers in the dark. There are victims who face fear, shame and self-doubt and some who will never report what they’ve gone through.”

The task force was appointed in May 2020 and engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors of trafficking to provide guidance on how to best implement the government’s action plan to fight human trafficking.

The government has said human trafficking includes sexual exploitation, forced labour trafficking and trafficking in human organs or tissues.

Kenney, who will be replaced as premier when his United Conservative Party selects a new leader on Thursday, noted he started fighting human trafficking over 20 years ago when he was an MP and joined a group of international parliamentarians on a coalition to fight the practice.

Later as Canada’s immigration minister, he said he took steps to make it easier for human trafficking victims who had migrated to Canada to obtain safety and protection.

In winter 2019, he said he committed the UCP to a nine-point action plan to combat human trafficking, which led to the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, which took effect in May 2020.

Brandt said it was exciting to be part of the funding commitment at the airport, where he said he stood in 2019 for a partnership with the facility and other groups in the Edmonton region to fight trafficking, which he called “modern day slavery.”

“It has been our dream that special focus and permanent funding would one day become a reality. Today is that day,” Brandt said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022.

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Alberta announces combined $187 million in addictions and homelessness funding

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By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Alberta government has announced more than $124 million over two years for addiction and mental health services in Edmonton and Calgary, with another $63 million aimed at reducing homelessness in the province over the same period.

The funding for Edmonton and Calgary will go toward increasing treatment spaces while expanding addiction services, with $70 million earmarked for capital spending and $54 million to assist operations.

A 75-bed, co-ed long-term treatment facility is planned to be operational in Edmonton by the end of 2023, while a similar facility is to be built in Calgary by early 2024.

The $63 million is to support steps outlined in the government’s action plan on homelessness.

Premier Jason Kenney stressed his government’s recovery-based approach to the addictions issue when he announced the funding Saturday, calling British Columbia’s recent move to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in January “reckless.”

“In the area of addressing addictions, there are many that believe recovery is a false hope. It’s not possible, and instead what we should do is actually to facilitate dangerous addictions rather than to offer an off-ramp to freedom from addiction,” Kenney said during the announcement at Edmonton’s Herb Jamieson Centre.

“The whole point is to give people a fighting chance to escape from the grips of addiction so they have the opportunity to build a new, safe fulfilling life.

“Recovery works. It’s not a new concept or an untested Utopian theory,” he said.

Under the Alberta plan, the number of winter shelter spaces will be expanded in communities like Edmonton, Wetaskiwin and Lethbridge, and in rural communities where there is an urgent and unmet need.

All provincially funded shelters will also provide round-the-clock access seven days a week, while funding will be equalized between community-based organizations in Edmonton and Calgary.

The funding will include $5 million to create up to 450 additional shelter spots in Edmonton, bringing the number of emergency spaces in the city to over 1,000.

The plan also includes $2.5 million in 2022-2023 to test the so-called service hub model in two pilot programs in Calgary and Edmonton. These six-month long programs will connect people directly with support and services such as addictions recovery, housing and emergency financial support, beginning this fall.

Meanwhile, the addictions funding will be used to increase the ability of direct outreach teams through Edmonton police and Alberta Health Services to provide support and overdose prevention services. The same expansion of services will also be carried out in Calgary.

Edmonton police chief Dale McFee lauded the fact that housing options include support for mental health and addictions as he personally thanked Kenney for the new funding.

“This is the biggest single investment that I’ve ever seen over the course of my career in actually addressing the system versus putting more money into silos that are actually generating a lot of the problem,” McFee said at the announcement.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the funding would tackle the root causes of homelessness, and also praised the fact the province was delivering on a request to provide enhanced plans when prisoners are discharged from corrections facilities.

In July, the city requested a hub where social workers, firefighters and peace officers could work together to reduce crime and address a spike in violence downtown, in nearby Chinatown and and on the transit system.

“These investments show our collaborative approach is working, and together we are making life better for struggling Edmontonians,” Sohi said at the announcement.

But NDP Critic for Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson said in a news release that Kenney’s government has cut funding for housing, noting buildings that could have opened months ago are sitting empty because the government hasn’t provided operational funding.

“The money announced today does not even begin to address the deeper need for permanent supportive housing, social housing and affordable housing in this province,” she said.

According to the province, over 6,400 Albertans were experiencing homelessness— including nearly 4,000 using emergency shelters or on the streets — as of Jan. 31.

Alberta saw more than 1,600 opioid-related deaths in 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.

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