Ottawa Makes Unilateral Offer (to Settle Native Residential School Lawsuits)

Article excerpt

The federal government will pay 70 per cent of proven out-of-court damage settlements related to native residential schools and will not limit churches' liability in lawsuits where they are named as plaintiffs.

Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray announced in Ottawa on Oct. 29 that the government had decided to move unilaterally because of lack of progress in negotiations with the churches.

The announcement means that Ottawa has rejected the churches' demand for a cap on their liability. It also means that plaintiffs who can prove claims of sexual or physical abuse in residential schools may have a quicker route to a settlement.

Anglican church representatives said the announcement does not solve the financial problems of General Synod, the diocese of Cariboo or other dioceses.

"I personally felt it was time to move in this way, in the interests of former Indian residential school students found to have valid claims for compensation and who are ready to settle without court trials," Mr. Gray said in a news release.

Representatives of the four churches, who have been negotiating with Mr. Gray and his representative, Jack Stagg, for 15 months, were surprised by the announcement.

"I welcome the decision as a first step. It will expedite these cases and bring justice to many of the claimants. But I am concerned it was done unilaterally (without the involvement of the churches)," said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, general secretary of the Anglican General Synod and chair of the ecumenical group negotiating with the government.

Mr. Gray said the government made its move because talks with the churches were not producing agreement. "We have been seeking a balance between the responsibility of church organizations and their capacity to pay, in order the end the difference over financial matters.... There remains some distance between us in resolving this important matter," he said.

Negotiations will continue.

The churches are concerned that the federal government is ignoring natives' claim that cultural abuse occurred in the schools, said Mr. Boyles. Many aboriginal people say their language and culture were suppressed - in some cases, cruelly -- in favor of mainstream European, Christian, culture. However, cultural abuse claims have not made headway within the courts so far and a "programmatic approach" is probably appropriate to address cultural issues, said Mr. Boyles.

The federal government has set up a $350 million healing fund and the Anglican church has spent about $750,000 over the past 10 years on various therapy and counseling projects. …