Pope Francis' visit cost the federal government $55 million

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 The visit of Pope Francis cost the federal government 55 million

Lars Hagberg Agence France-Presse Pope Francis, on his arrival at the Basilica of St. Anne-de-Beaupré, July 28

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

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

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under freedom of information laws show that the federal government spent at least $55,972,683 to have the church leader Roman Catholic visits Canada for six days last July.

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

Indigenous Services Canada has invested 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) committed $5.1 million to the stay of the pope. The majority of that money, $3.9 million, went to broadcasting the 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 by through freedom of information requests.

“I think all the costs should be public knowledge,” Lori Campbell, associate vice president of Indigenous engagement at the University of Regina, said 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 facilities.

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, explains 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 an apology is important to many people, but it cannot come at the expense of funding of 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 her flight back 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 raising $25 million as part of a compensation program for former boarders. After raising 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 reported. The Canadian bishops organized the papal visit and previously said it cost the organization approximately $18.6 million.

Michelle Robinson understands that the pope's visit had to come at a cost and that to 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 says she would have to foot the bill.

In her opinion, 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. »