Statement of the Vancouver Senate Tributes Committee Regarding Kamloops Indian Residential School and the Honorary Doctor of Laws Granted to the Late John Fergus O’Grady
The Vancouver Senate Tributes Committee expresses its deep sympathies to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and other Indigenous Peoples of Canada. The tragedies of the Canadian Indian residential school system — including the death and disappearance of Indigenous children — have been known for many years; the discovery of specific places with the remains of 215 children at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School has drawn this system to the forethoughts of many in this province, country and around the world. We hope that such thoughts encourage all Canadians to work harder towards acknowledgment of the past and present in this country, and to affirm their support of and respect for the equal human rights of all, including Indigenous peoples.
Last week, many people reminded the university that in 1986 we granted an honorary Doctor of Laws to John Fergus O’Grady, who at the time was the Catholic Bishop of Prince George. Prior to his being appointed a bishop, the then Father O’Grady was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In that capacity he was a principal at various Indian Residential Schools, including Kamloops Indian Residential School in the 1940s. Bishop O’Grady died in 1998. There have been many calls from both within the university and from the broader community for the honour granted to Bishop O’Grady to be revoked. There have also been calls for any honours granted to anyone associated with the residential school system to be reconsidered.
The Tributes Committee is gathering what information it can on Bishop O’Grady from both institutional and other sources. We join with many others in calling on the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to release, as soon as possible, whatever information is in its archives on the residential school system in general and Kamloops Indian Residential School in particular. We do not intend to delay our consideration of this matter should that information not be forthcoming.
The Tributes Committee thanks those who have sent comments over the past week. We would also express our sincere appreciation to Chancellor Steven Point who, as a member of the Tributes Committee, has provided wise counsel. We know that to properly adjudicate this matter we will require the knowledge and advice of others, both within the university and beyond. The Tributes Committee is committed to reviewing this matter and making a recommendation to the Vancouver Senate as quickly as possible.
The Tributes Committee understands the Senate must have transparent processes and criteria for reconsidering honorary degrees so that those who were honoured by the university in the past are accorded fairness. The Tributes Committee is committed to working to support the Vancouver Senate in these decisions, collaborating with the Okanagan Senate should it wish to take similar action, and consulting with the university and wider communities — especially First Nations communities — on this important work.
John H.V. Gilbert, C.M., Ph.D., LLD., FCAHS
Chair, Vancouver Senate Tributes Committee