The Anglican Church is talking about residential schools more and more these days. Most recently it produced a 40-page Ministry Matters Winter 2000 edition talking about the church’s past and present involvement in residential schools.
The church operated 24 residential schools for Canada until 1969 – a past that has come back to haunt it as the church is a co-defendant in court cases by about 1,500 survivors. In total an estimated 6,000 survivors of residential schools are suing the Canadian government.
The church is wondering about the potential liability of these cases.
In some cases it may have to sell off church buildings to pay for damages. Archdeacon Jim Boyles said the unprotected assets of the church are $10 million.
The Anglican Church has paid the victim in the first residential schools judgment against the church an undisclosed amount. The General Synod (the church’s national body) has paid both its and the Diocese of Caribou’s share of damages to the plaintiff in the case involving a sexual-abuse victim who attended St. George’s Indian Residential School in Lytton, B.C.
But both are still considering appealing the decision that found the church responsible for 60 per cent of damages owed. The church says a successful appeal wouldn’t see the money being recovered from the victim but rather the federal government. The church has said it expected the owner – the federal government – would be more responsible than the church, since it had funded the school and appointed the principal and staff.
At the moment the Diocese of Caribou has no more assets to meet its costs and there are seven more plaintiffs suing it. “They are facing bankruptcy,” said Boyle.
The church is hoping to use other options than the courts and is attempting an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) way of doing things. However, in tentative talks, former students at Walpole Island, Ont., and the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ont., said they’re not interested in ADR. Former students at St. Paul’s in Cardston, Alta., and Gordon’s Residential School in Saskatchewan have signaled interest.
The federal government has proposed 12 ADR pilot projects this year. Three of them involve the Catholic Church, but Boyle said the Anglicans are moving ahead slowly on one involving a western First Nations band that had children attending Labrett and Gordon’s residential schools.
ADR would involve people who were sexually or physically abused and are seeking compensation. Participants would work with the church and the government to develop a process that allows claims to be validated and damages properly assessed in a compassionate way.
The Council of General Synod has authorized participation in two such projects.
The Anglican Church wanted to inform the members of the church public on the background of the residential schools. “We are pleased with the results and it serves that purpose,” said Boyle.
The Ministry Matters magazine was sent out to all churches so you can read a copy at your local Anglican Church. It includes the church’s apology to all First Nations peoples.