Calgary judge greenlights class-action lawsuit against Catholic priest over comments on residential schools

Rev. Marcin Mironiuk described the alleged discovery of unmarked graves as 'lies' and 'manipulation,' and said that Indigenous children in residential schools died of natural causes.

Calgary judge greenlights class-action lawsuit against Catholic priest over comments on residential schools
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A Calgary judge struck down a motion to dismiss a case against a priest and entities associated with the Catholic Church, related to comments made about residential schools and their survivors.

The plaintiff in the proposed lawsuit is Sphenia Jones, 79, who attended the Edmonton Indian Residential School in the 1950s.

Jones is an elder of the Haida Nation in British Columbia. The lawsuit names Rev. Marcin Mironiuk as the defendant and accuses him of making defamatory statements about residential school survivors, The Globe and Mail reports.

She also accuses Mironiuk of causing harm to survivors' reputations by denying reports of unmarked graves.

The lawsuit also names the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton as defendants.

Rev. Mironiuk has been placed on administrative leave by the archdiocese after deeming his comments "thoroughly unacceptable."

On Monday, the defendants put forth their arguments to strike down the claim, a procedural option employed when a party deems the case lacking merit.

Justice James Farrington, in a same-day ruling, affirmed his belief that the claim holds a "reasonable chance of success and completes the basics."

A statement of claim filed last year details how Mironiuk commented in Polish about residential schools and the discovery of grave sites. Mironiuk described the discoveries as "lies" and "manipulation," and said that Indigenous children in residential schools died of natural causes.

Mironiuk's comments came following the alleged discovery of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

During the spring of 2021, ground-penetrating radar surveys conducted near former Indian Residential Schools claimed to show anomalies resembling children's graves. This discovery triggered nationwide protests, leading to the destruction or vandalism of more than 100 Canadian churches and the toppling of statues in nearly every major city. It's been two-and-a-half years since the purported discovery, and no evidence exists to prove the Kamloops unmarked graves claim. 

The aftermath of these events led to significant developments, including the establishment of a new holiday called Truth and Reconciliation Day.

On May 27, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc issued a press release announcing the results of a radar survey conducted near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, claiming there were the remains of 215 children.

While the 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified more than 50 children who had died at the school based on church and government records, the discovery of the 215 remains highlighted the existence of "undocumented deaths," according to T’kemlups Chief Rosanne Casimir.

The defendant's legal counsel, Paul Morrison, argued that no reasonable person would consider Mironiuk's comments in relation to the plaintiff. He also said that the proposed class of "residential-school survivors who have spoken out about deaths" was not well defined, and questioned if the comments constituted group defamation.

Justice Farrington admitted that he was unsure how "spoken out" would be interpreted, but noted the issue would be for the class-action certification hearing to work out.

A lawyer for Jones, Max Faille, argued that it is "cruelly naive" to believe that those who listened to Mironiuk's statements wouldn't be "potentially inclined to believe them."

Faille said that the lawsuit was launched by Jones on behalf of all residential school survivors who "have had the courage to speak about their experiences and their knowledge of what happened at residential schools, including a horrific number of deaths of children."

Jones said that there are a handful of residential school attendees who survived abuse, and said that she herself had her fingernails ripped out and that she witnessed the death of schoolmates.

"She saw where they were buried, along the fence in an area now overgrown with trees," the claim states.

"My grandfather's telling me to stand up and be proud, so that's what I'm doing," she said on the doorstep of the Calgary court. "This is my way of saving our children."


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Kamloops: The Buried Truth

A new Rebel News documentary exposing the truth about the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops, British Columbia in 2021.

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