The residential schools accord has been ratified by more than half of the dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada amid a comprehensive information campaign by church leaders seeking the average parishioner’s support of the $25 million settlement fund. As of Jan. 20, 18 of 30 dioceses had ratified the agreement with the federal government, which caps Anglican liability at $25 million for any proven abuses suffered by natives in a national boarding school system.
The remaining dioceses have scheduled special synods or meetings of diocesan executive committees or finance committees to consider the voluntary contributions. General Synod, the church’s national office, is committed to a contribution of $3 million.
Among the dioceses that have ratified, Huron, Niagara, Cariboo and New Westminster all voted Jan. 18 in favour of the accord at meetings of synods or executive councils or committees; Montreal and Saskatoon held special synods on Jan. 11, Quebec and British Columbia’s diocesan councils met and in Moosonee and the Yukon (where meetings are prohibitively expensive due to the high cost of travel), approval was voted on via telephone conference call or poll.
In the diocese of Central Newfoundland, approval came more quickly than expected, according to Bishop Donald Young. The diocesan executive committee met in December and Bishop Young, anticipating a ratification meeting in January, sent a letter to all clergy and committee members, outlining the issues involved and the amount – $345,000 – expected from the diocese. “We got enough answers that said, ‘Bishop, let’s do it,'” that ratification was reached efficiently, he said. “I am very proud to be the bishop of this diocese.”
National church leaders planned to travel to several dioceses to explain the agreement and answer questions. Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate, asked for support in his New Year’s Day sermon at Ottawa’s Christ Church Cathedral and was to attend Toronto’s synod on Jan. 25.
Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the general secretary, planned to travel to the dioceses of Western Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Niagara and Ottawa in January and early February to speak to executive committee meetings or special synods.
Peter Whitmore, one of a team of lawyers that advised Anglican negotiators, attended the diocese of Saskatoon’s special synod. Rev. Murray Still, an aboriginal priest, also addressed the Saskatoon synod about healing and reconciliation, which he said many native people are seeking.
Several bishops issued pastoral letters, urging support for the agreement. Bishop John Clarke, of Athabasca, went one step further in his letter, noting that there is “the need for reconciliation for the workers of residential schools.” One worker told him “she is ‘feeling dirty and abandoned’ by her church, the same church that many years ago challenged her sense of ministry and dedication to ‘go north and serve.'” Bishop Clarke wrote that he hopes the national church will “be given due notice of our concern regarding the healing process involving former residential school staff.”
In an address to the church that was posted on the General Synod Web site and videotaped for use at diocesan and parish meetings, Archbishop Peers noted that “in the stories of aboriginal Canadians, we hear that our actions were not noble and that our impact was not life-giving.” The agreement recognizes that all dioceses, not just the 11 named in residential schools lawsuits, share a “common ‘moral liability’ and a common vocation to ministry and mission in our society,” he said. The schools, he said, unintentionally fostered a climate in which predators could assault the vulnerable and contributed to a rift between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
There are some 12,000 lawsuits facing the federal government that allege various forms of abuse were suffered by Indian children in the residential school system, which operated from the mid-19th century through to the 1970s. The Anglican church operated 26 schools and has been named by more than 2,200 plaintiffs. The Roman Catholic, United and Presbyterian churches operated other schools and are also facing litigation.
Also available for Anglican parish distribution in printed form or downloadable form from the Web site are two brochures about the agreement. Towards a New Beginning explains the history of the residential schools, outlines the agreement and provides questions and answers. A Primer on the Residential Schools Agreement is a short insert designed for parish bulletins, said director of information resources Vianney (Sam) Carriere.
General Synod’s faith, worship and ministry department has produced prayer and hymn suggestions for those seeking to reflect and pray upon the issue.
(All print and prayer resources are available through the church’s residential schools Web site, www.anglican.ca/ministry/rs. A video version of the primate’s message is available through General Synod communications at 416-924-9199, ext. 306.)
In related news, the federal government in January filed notice it intends to appeal an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision that eliminated General Synod and the dioceses of Calgary and Athabasca from residential schools litigation. Ottawa is protecting its interests in case the Anglican dioceses do not ratify the agreement, said Archdeacon Boyles. He said he expects the government to drop its appeal once the accord is approved throughout the church.