Defrocked United Church Reverend Kevin Annett is challenging Canada’s churches to acknowledge and surrender the remains of an estimated 50,000 children who never returned home from residential schools.
Reverend Annett, along with Ojibwa Chief Louis Daniels and Elder Jeremiah Jourdain presented a letter to Rector Glenn Dion of downtown Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral January 13, demanding the Church answer the allegations within 30 days.
Letters were also sent to the Queen through Governor General Michaëlle Jean and the same letter was presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper February 4 on Parliament Hill.
The letter, from Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared (FRD), reads in part:
We, as friends and relatives of tens of thousands of children who died or were murdered in Indian residential Schools in Canada established and run by your Church of England and the British Crown from 1867 to 1996, do hereby demand that you, Elizabeth Windsor, in your capacity as Queen of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, and Head of the Church of England, publicly disclose the cause of death, and whereabouts of the buried remains of all children who died in Indian Residential Schools operated by the Church of England in Canada, a.k.a. the Anglican Church.
If you, Elizabeth Windsor, fail to comply with these requirements within 30 days of your receiving this notice through the medium of the Governor-General of Canada, it will be assumed that you do not dispute the claims contained herein, and legal action may be commenced against you.
The $60 million Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against Canada by residential school survivors, is conducting its own investigation into this dark part of Canada’s history.
“We’re hoping they’ll agree to an international inquiry because the government can’t do this in any effective way,” said Annett. “One of the problems is that the commissioners selected to be on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been appointed by a selection body that includes the former moderator of the United Church. That’s a complete conflict of interest.”
As well, Annett pointed out, the Prime Minister’s Office will approve all three commissioners, which threatens its independence.
If a response is not forthcoming within 30 days from the Queen, Reverend Annett has been consulting lawyers to weigh the options for legal action.
“After a month has elapsed, we are going to possibly take legal action through the International Criminal Court in Geneva or the International Court of Justice in The Hague,” said Annett. “It’s possible to lay charges against these people. The attempt to conceal crimes against humanities is as serious as doing them.”
They are also looking at civil disobedience at churches and government offices.
Supporters in BC are ready to disinter graves of some of the students who died at the schools to get an analysis on how they died and to bring them back for proper burial. The alleged graves are said to be behind some of the residential schools.
TRC Chief Bob Watts told the Globe and Mail January 1 that criminal acts could have occurred and that the TRC would look into it. He said that there was a high rate of death at the schools and that although it could have been to sickness and disease, it also could “well be things that are more criminal in nature.”
The commission will take testimony in the coming months during its five-year mandate into abuse and misdoings at the schools.
“They (Canada) will have to respond in some way because the TRC said they would take testimony on it,” said Reverend Annett. “How much they respond and in what way is something else.”