'A step in the right direction': Windsor petition demanding Vatican apology moves forward

Children’s shoes on the steps of Assumption Church in Windsor, in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops B.C. last week. (Chris Campbell)

A petition calling for accountability over Canada’s residential school system has been submitted after getting a larger than expected response.

Close to 25,000 signatures were gathered following a summer where thousands of unmarked graves were discovered at former residential schools across the country.

“I think it really touched the hearts of many Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” says petition organizer and community activist Edy Haddad.

He says he’s overwhelmed with the response, hoping it leads to action.

“We need a little more than sorrow and sadness, thoughts and prayers as they like to say in the United States,” Haddad explains. “The fact is, there needs to be action. There needs to be an apology. There needs to be financial consequences to the church.”

The petition calls for a greater acknowledgement of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church’s involvement in the residential school system, along with an apology from the pope. It also calls on the Government of Canada to mandate Indigenous history as a prerequisite for all formal education.

The petition was submitted this past Thursday, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, with over 24,400 signatures.

“I thought that submitting it on that historic day will help in bringing this movement to the forefront,” Haddad says.

Michelle Nahdee was among the first to sign.

Nahdee tells CTV News a lot of healing still needs to take place.

“I don’t necessarily feel like an apology is action oriented.”

Nahdee says an apology would be a step in the right direction, but adds further pain and heartache is to be expected when more former residential school grounds are investigated.

Nahdee notes the Windsor region had no residential schools, explaining member of the Indigenous community were taken to places far away like Sault Ste. Marie.

“That will be really heavy because a lot of people from this area have family members who attended,” Nahdee says.

“The number of allies coming out and addressing this makes me hopeful.”

Meantime, Assumption Parish has formed a Truth and Reconciliation committee to study what the local church can do to appropriately convey its sorrow.

Parishioner and fundraiser, Paul Mullins says one idea under consideration is to rename the church’s Rosary Chapel to be the Assumption Truth and Reconciliation chapel.

“The ability to respond to the Indigenous residential school issue is on everyone’s mind,” Mullins says. “Many of the stories of the residential school issue, of the history of Assumption parish itself would all be incorporated into that mandate.”

Mullins adds the committee looks forward to real, on-going input in partnership with the Indigenous community.