While the provincial and federal governments made exceptional efforts to ensure the Pope was comfortable as his procession shut down the entirety of the QEII highway, many people expressed confusion as to how these upgrades to infrastructure were possible given the supposed budgetary constraints which have kept many First Nations communities living without safe drinking water for decades.
Although an $8 billion settlement reached in 2021 will allocate funds both to compensating Indigenous people impacted by boil-water advisories from 1995-2021, and has earmarked the remaining funds to go toward building safe water infrastructure, there are still 29 First Nations communities across Canada under boil-water advisories. As indicated, the monies awarded were a result of a class-action lawsuit, and arguably should have been acknowledged by provincial and federal governments as a critical issue, a long time ago.
Here’s the thing, part of the reason Canada has such a fantastic international reputation is that our governments have become extremely adept at performing respectability. There is a careful crafting of the national identity and the motif of the welcoming and equitable Canadian. But perhaps more powerful than what they choose to include in the official historical narrative, is that which is omitted.
When an international or high visibility event is held in Canada, the powers that be clean house. Tent cities are destroyed, unhoused people are shipped out of sight, roads are paved, windows are fixed, and the marketing machine goes into overdrive to curate a friendlier-than-our-southern-neighbours brand by employing reductive platitudes in an attempt to lessen the centuries of government-sanctioned and systemic violence against many of its own people.
We see this swift action to upgrade infrastructure in time for the Papal visit shows the government’s inaction on the issue of drinking water in Canada, to be negligent at best, and calculated at worst.
During the Pope’s historic apology, he did not explicitly mention sexual abuse in his formal apology in Maskwacis, an omission which has been criticized by members of the press and community members alike. While the language employed by the Pope was carefully curated, the omissions are as powerful as the topics included in the apology. The refusal to name the rampant sexual abuse which occurred in residential schools, minimizes the experiences of those who continue to be impacted by the implications of brute colonialism.
In addition to this, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said Canada’s reliance on the Doctrine of Discovery in property law should cease and instead Canada should establish and employ treaties in ways which would be more congruent with Indigenous traditions and laws.
Legal precedent shows The Supreme Court of Canada supports a declaration of the doctrine as illegitimate as law. The Pope’s refusal to acknowledge the lack of legal standing of the Doctrine of Discovery and the church’s role in legitimizing and pushing it in the first place proves to be a crucial omission, indeed.
Note: It is important to include, for transparency, the positionally of the editorial team responsible for this piece. We cannot claim to speak for survivors or others affected by the atrocities of the residential school system in Canada. We do not position ourselves as experts on the complex and multi-faceted experiences of survivors and FNMI community members with respect to this issue, and encourage readers to learn about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s list of Calls to Action.