Magazine article Anglican Journal

Funny Kind of Invitation from Ottawa (Third-Party Suit)

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Funny Kind of Invitation from Ottawa (Third-Party Suit)

Article excerpt

IF YOU WANT to invite someone to dinner, apparently you sue them.

That seems to be the latest in etiquette from the federal government. A government spokesman told the Anglican Journal that the reason Ottawa is suing the churches in residential schools cases is so that anyone and everyone involved is at the table.

It's called a third-party suit: a former student sues Ottawa for proven or alleged abuse at one of the government residential schools that churches operated for the feds. The former student -- the plaintiff -- doesn't sue the church denomination involved. So the federal government's Department of Justice sues the church in order to spread the blame as widely as possible. The ridiculousness of the whole situation would be almost comical were it not for the effect on the churches, not to mention the delay it creates in settling claims.

Setting aside whether issuing a lawsuit is the way to issue a dinner invitation, part of the farce is how many people Ottawa wants at the table. It must be a fancy dinner indeed. Among the guests sought are the Pope and the Vatican state itself. So far, no one has thought to invite Archbishop George Carey, but possibly his invitation is delayed somehow. After all, since a lower court judge has already said the Pope can't be ruled out in a suit related to schools run by the Oblates, why should George and the Church of England's Church Commissioners be ruled out in relation to Anglican-run schools? In fact, since the Queen is temporal head of the Church of England, sue the realm! It's not so far-fetched -- the New England Company, established in London in 1649 (long before the Diocese of Nova Scotia was formed in 1787) funded two of the schools in question and it still provides some monies to the Canadian church.

Trying to spread the blame might be defensible were it not for two key facts. First, the same government that is dragging churches in to lawsuits says it is also interested in proceeding with mediation, as opposed to the courts, as a way to settle some of the claims. The whole point of mediation is that it tries to avoid the expensive, destructive, aggressive, adversarial nature of lawsuits.

Secondly, it was the churches, not Ottawa, that first raised the issue of how inappropriate was the whole concept of residential schools and assimilation, as in the Anglican Church's Hendry report of 1969. …

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