Religious leaders responsible for running Canada's Indian residential schools should face court action, Canada's minister of northern affairs said Sunday.
"Of course they need to be charged,' said Dan Vandal. "This is the sort of thing you read about in another country, you don't read about this in Canada, but if people are still alive, then we need to do all things necessary to achieve justice, of course, we need to bring charges forward."
Vandal made the remarks on the CTV television program 'Question Period' that aired Sunday.
There were 139 residential schools operating across Canada beginning in the 1890s. They were run by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Churches, as well as by the federal government. About 150,000 children attended the schools and the last one closed in 1996.
The head of the Native Women's Association of Canada agreed with Vandal.
"If they have committed a crime, then they need to be held criminally responsible for those actions," said Lynne Groulx. "No one is above the law. Everyone is equal under the law. Even our governments."
Canadians reacted with horror when almost 1,000 unmarked graves were discovered in June at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. The goal of the schools was to stamp out the native culture and instill a white culture in the children. They were often physically, emotionally and sexually abused and about 4,000 died and were buried, sometimes without markers, and their families were not told what happened to them.
"This was a crime against humanity," said Bobby Cameron, chief of the Sovereign Indigenous Nations and Saskatchewan Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
The government announced it would distribute C$27 million for aid in the search of graves at other residential school sites. First Nations leaders said the funds were not sufficient and the government left the door open to committing more money.
"We need to work with the chiefs and I think if more money is needed, then we need to find those resources," Vandal said. "So again, this is something that is a very, very sad period in Canada's history, and we need to support Indigenous nations."