The Conservative government will not issue an apology as a part of its settlement to survivors of Indian residential schools, Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice announced yesterday.
His comments contradict a written pledge Ottawa made to the Assembly of First Nations in a deal reached nearly two years ago under the Liberals.
Speaking on behalf of survivors, native chiefs held a press conference yesterday in Moncton, demanding to know why Prime Minister Stephen Harper has apologized for the Chinese head tax and to Maher Arar, but not to residential school survivors.
But Mr. Prentice told reporters on Parliament Hill that the deal, which is nearly complete, will not include an apology.
"The agreement did not call for an apology," he said.
"I don't propose to reopen the provisions of the agreement."
Mr. Prentice played down the significance of a political accord signed nearly two years ago between the AFN and the then-Liberal government that was the precursor to a November, 2005, agreement in principle, and then an April, 2006, final agreement with the Conservatives worth at least $1.9-billion.
In that original letter, Anne McLellan, then deputy prime minister, wrote "there is a need for an apology that will provide a broader recognition of the Indian Residential Schools legacy and its effect upon First Nation communities" once a final settlement is reached.
Mr. Prentice insisted legal concerns are not behind his comments and said the issue is completely different from the cases of Mr. Arar or the Chinese head tax.
"I've said quite clearly that the residential school chapter of our history is one that was a difficult chapter. Many things happened that we need to close the door on as part of Canadian history, but fundamentally, the underlying objective had been to try and provide an education to aboriginal children and I think the circumstances are completely different from Maher Arar or also from the Chinese head tax."
The head tax was a tax imposed by the government to discourage immigration from China after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Mr. Arar is a Canadian citizen who was sent to Syria and tortured. Mr. Harper told the House of Commons that Canada offered Mr. Arar a $10-million out-of-court settlement because that was the estimate of what he would have received had the matter been pursued in civil court.
Starting in 1974, native children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in residential schools, where they were not allowed to speak their own language. Tales of sexual and physical abuse at the schools are widespread among former students. The last residential school closed in 1996.
Liberal MP Anita Neville said it was "clearly understood" that an apology would follow the completion of the residential schools settlement and slammed Mr. Prentice's comments.
"It's part of a pattern of disrespect and betrayal," she said.
Rick Simon, the AFN's regional chief for Atlantic Canada, held a press conference in Moncton yesterday calling for an apology. He said many natives have taken note of Mr. Harper's two major apologies during his first year in office.
"He's apologized to everybody else but he doesn't see us as a big voting bloc," he said.
Starting in 1874, native children in Canada were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in residential schools. Incorrect information about the date was published in yesterday's Globe and Mail.