Magazine article Anglican Journal

Natives, Churches, Feds Seek Way out of Lawsuits

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Natives, Churches, Feds Seek Way out of Lawsuits

Article excerpt



Natives, national churches and the federal government are meeting to explore alternatives to battling in court over the legacy of residential schools.

"All the indicators are that a momentum is building and good things are happening," says Shawn Tupper of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

The Anglican, Roman Catholic and United churches are all facing scores of lawsuits from Natives who describe years of abuse and loss of culture. More than 100 claims are pending against the Anglican Church.

Plaintiffs, lawyers, the government and the churches have all been invited to a series of seven meetings being held across Canada "to explore common ground," Mr. Tupper said, and to "identify ways and means we can resolve the legacy of abuse without going through the trial system."

Mr. Tupper believes the first meeting in Kamloops, B.C., helped lead to a settlement reached in late October between 11 plaintiffs, the Roman Catholic Church and the government over B.C. residential school, St. Joseph's.

It's the first out-of-court settlement reached in which both the Crown and church were defendants, Mr. Tupper said. The Kamloops meeting allowed participants to see they were not that far apart, he said.

The settlement involves an undisclosed amount of cash, and a commitment by both the government and the church to apologize and participate in a healing circle and to meet the ongoing counselling and support needs of plaintiffs and their families.

Archbishop David Crawley of Kootenay was at the Kamloops meeting that took place over three days in late September and early October. He too is enthusiastic about the potential to find a way around litigating what could potentially amount to thousands of claims from former residential school students.

"It was the first time the churches, the First Nations and the government met face to face to talk about it all," he said. "There was an enormous amount of pressure to move to alternative dispute resolution."

The pressure came from all three parties, he said. For the churches and the government, there are the growing number of lawsuits, legal fees and potential settlements to pay, along with the concern with trying to help people who were injured.

"The confrontation (litigation) creates is antithetical to how we feel we should be treating people," Archbishop Crawley said. …

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