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Erin O’Toole takes back comments about residential schools

The Conservative party leader said that the system only meant to “provide education” for Indigenous children.

Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole has taken back comments he made about residential schools in Canada. He claimed that one of the architects of the system (Egerton Ryerson) only meant to “provide education” for Indigenous children.

O’Toole made the comments in a Zoom meeting with Conservative supporters at Ryerson University, in the context of defending Ryerson’s legacy against those who would deface or want to remove his statue at the downtown Toronto campus (or rename the university entirely). Part of the video was posted on Facebook by the Conservative club, and picked up this week by Press Progress. In the video, he also instructed Conservatives about how to win a debate with Liberals about residential schools, with a little partisan history: He noted that Pierre Elliot Trudeau opened more residential schools than Ryerson did (Ryerson didn’t technically open any, as he was part of the conception and not implementation of the system), and that previous Conservative prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper ended and apologized for the system, respectively.

In a statement released yesterday, O’Toole said that the “existence of residential schools is a terrible stain on Canada’s history that has had sweeping impacts on generations of Indigenous Canadians.

“I speak about the harm caused by residential schools regularly,” he continued. “In my comments to Ryerson students, I said that the residential school system was intended to try and ‘provide education.’ It was not. The system was intended to remove children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures.”

This statement came following much criticism, include a comment by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who said, “It is disappointing that Conservative leader Erin O’Toole sought to use the residential school tragedy, which has devastated generations of First Nations families, to score meaningless political points.”

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