Protestors issued a stern warning to top officials of the United Church of Canada today: repatriate the remains of children who died in their Indian Residential Schools immediately, or face church occupations, loss of revenue and even commercial liens on their income and property.
In a new tactic designed to heighten pressure on the church, the protestors, members of The Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared (FRD), entered the national headquarters of the United Church in Toronto and delivered a "Public Notice of Intent" letter to church officers that gave them seven days to begin returning the remains of children who died under their church's care for a proper burial.
"If you fail to begin a repatriation process by Monday, February 15 at 12 noon, our network will commence an indefinite public campaign to hold your church officers personally liable for the deaths of all children who died ... and to systematically disrupt and impede the normal operations of your Organization" stated the letter, which was signed by FRD convenor Chief Jeremiah Jourdain of the Metis-Cree Nation.
The letter specified that the campaign will include placing commercial liens on the property and assets of United Church officers, disrupting church funding and worship services, and seeking the repeal of the charitable tax exempt status enjoyed by the United Church under Canadian law.
The FRD's Notice of Intent follows on a legal Letter of Demand issued to the United Church by the FRD two years ago, which asked that the church identify the burial sites of residential school children who died under their care, and return them for a proper burial. That letter went unanswered.
"We're forced into issuing this ultimatum because the church has deaf ears and a dead heart" said residential school survivor Gary Wassaykeesic of the Anishinabe Nation, who participated in today's protest.
"We've picketed churches, we've written letters, and nothing's changed for our people. So now we've got to threaten them where they feel it: in their wallets."
The National executive of the FRD announced today that it will be issuing similar Notices of Intent to the Catholic and Anglican churches, which also ran Indian residential schools.
Last Sunday, FRD members in Toronto held demonstrations outside downtown United and Catholic churches as part of an escalating campaign to force disclosure of the fate of more than 50,000 children who died in church-run Indian residential schools across Canada.
Since January 2008, the FRD has held high profile church occupations in Vancouver and Toronto that helped force acknowledgement of the huge death rate in Indian residential schools from the Canadian government, which nevertheless has refused to press criminal charges against the Catholic, Anglican and United Church of Canada, which ran the schools.
The FRD branch in Vancouver announced last week that it will conduct church occupations and other actions aimed at the three churches during the upcoming winter Olympics in B.C.
Issued by the FRD National Executive
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