Initial Thoughts on Today's Announcement from the Catholic Church

By Bruce McIvor

Here are my initial thoughts on today's announcement from the Catholic Church regarding the Doctrine of Discovery.


  • What took so long! While today's announcement is welcomed, it would have had more moral authority if it had been delivered by the Pope in person to Indigenous people during his visit to Canada last year. 

  • It's more than a little rich for the Vatican to assert now that the papal bulls were “manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers.” The Catholic Church has known for hundreds of years of the effect of the papal bulls and has directly benefitted from them. It undermines today's announcement to point fingers elsewhere. 

  • The Church should have gone further. It should have called on the governments of countries based on the doctrine of discovery (e.g. Canada, United States, Australia, etc.) to repudiate it and take action towards redress. 

  • The Church should have also called on its own dioceses to take concrete action to make amends, e.g. support and take an active part in the land back movement. 

  • The federal government can't hide anymore. It needs to take concrete action (not simply a passing mention in a whereas clause) to denounce the doctrine and forge a new path that includes repudiating Canada's version of the doctrine, i.e. ‘the assertion of Crown sovereignty’. The federal government should introduce legislation specifically repudiating the doctrine and committing to abandoning and opposing all policies and laws based on the doctrine. 

  • Given that the federal UNDRIP implementation plan is silent on the doctrine, I'm not optimistic anything significant will change. 


Here is the announcement and some coverage:



Check out my previous posts on the doctrine of discovery to learn more, including the video below created by Anna Socha with audio from a podcast interview I did with the Globe and Mail. 



Bruce McIvor, lawyer and historian, is partner at First Peoples Law LLP. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law where he teaches the constitutional law of Aboriginal and Treaty rights. A member of the bar in British Columbia and Ontario, Bruce is recognized nationally and internationally as a leading practitioner of Aboriginal law in Canada. Bruce's ancestors took Métis scrip at Red River in Manitoba. He holds a law degree, a Ph.D. in Aboriginal and environmental history, is a Fulbright Scholar and author of Standoff: Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It. He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation.

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