The former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says the argument Ottawa made in 2015 that the Catholic Church was unlikely to raise the money it promised to residential school survivors is "blatantly dishonest."
Murray Sinclair, a former senator, also believes the current Liberal government should seek outside legal advice on the final agreement that released Catholic entities of their remaining financial obligations, including raising $25 million for survivors.
"I don't think that Justice Canada has come out very well, not only in regard to this, but with regard to other matters, including the fact that it advocates so strongly against the interests of survivors," he told The Canadian Press in an interview earlier this month.
"I think that relationship needs to be looked at more closely."
Documents released to The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request detail the reasons Ottawa decided not to appeal a 2015 court decision that ruled in favour of Catholic entities that were party to the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The 2006 agreement included a group of Catholic entities who signed on to provide financial compensation to residential school survivors, including by way of a $25-million fundraising campaign.
The matter ended up before a Saskatchewan judge, who in 2015 ruled the Catholic entities were free of their remaining obligations in exchange for a payment of $1.2 million.
By that time, the Catholic groups had raised less than $4 million of the $25 million promised, and the court decision allowed them to walk away without fulfilling the rest of the pledge.
Canada was in the middle of a federal election at the time, but internal briefing documents show that the Conservative government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper chose not to appeal.
The documents also show that one of the considerations officials weighed was the fact they felt the chance of being able to compel the Catholic entities to meet the fundraising promise was "very low."
"It's blatantly dishonest," Sinclair said in reaction.
He said Catholic entities own "considerable properties" across the country, which they could have disposed of to finance their fundraising campaign.
"That's what they should have done."
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national assembly representing Catholic leadership in the country, has acknowledged that the first fundraising campaign was a failure that sowed significant disappointment and anger among residential school survivors.
The conference was not a party in the initial settlement agreement.
Nonetheless, in fall 2021 it committed to undertake a new drive to contribute $30 million to reconciliation-related initiatives over five years.
The conference released a statement on Thursday that says 73 Catholic dioceses have committed to paying into the fund, which has been registered as a charity.
So far, $5.5 million has been raised in that campaign, the statement says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.