The number of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) hearings concerning former students of the Indian residential school system is increasing and the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office is canvassing bishops about a particularly sticky issue that would involve releasing the church from only part of its potential liability.
“The ADR process has sped up in the past few months. They are holding more hearings and processing more claims. And we are being notified of more hearings and asked to send a representative,” said Ellie Johnson, the church’s acting general secretary, in an interview. (When a hearing involves a residential school that was operated by the Anglican church, the plaintiff has the right to request that a church representative be present.)
As of July 25, 2005, the total number of applications received in the ADR process were 1,992, according to the federal government. As of August 30, said Ms. Johnson, about 60 cases concerning Anglican-run schools have been settled, another 50 have ended the hearing process and are awaiting the adjudicator’s report and 35 more ADR hearings are scheduled. In addition, 200 cases that were originally filed in civil courts have been settled before they came to trial. As of the middle of this year, the church had paid out $5.6 million to successful claimants, both in ADR and out-of-court settlements.
Out of the 1,992 total applications, 268 have been decided and $12.3 million in damages has been awarded, according to the federal office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution. Of the 80 schools that existed from the mid-19th century into the 1970s, the Anglican church operated 26, with the rest run by the Presbyterian and United churches and several Roman Catholic orders.
At the Anglican national office in Toronto, the government is funding a researcher who is developing a database of residential schools information, said Ms. Johnson. “We don’t have student records in our archives, but we have employment records,” she said. Former students who claim to have suffered abuse in the schools need to present evidence such as dates of attendance and proof that an accused abuser worked at the school.
In a separate development, the national office is asking the church’s 30 diocesan bishops whether the Anglican church should continue to demand a full release from all further liability as a condition of a settlement covering sexual or physical abuse. Natives, both Anglican and non-Anglican, have expressed strong concern that the ADR process does not cover the loss of language and culture they suffered in the schools.
Consequently, the government and the Presbyterian and United churches decided to require only a partial release, leaving open the question of future litigation over loss of language and culture. Under the terms of an agreement with the federal government limiting the Anglican church’s liability to $25 million, the dioceses and General Synod require a full release. Responses are coming in from the bishops and some dioceses feel that changing the agreement to require only a partial release could expose them to further litigation, said Ms. Johnson. No court has yet recognized loss of language and culture as compensable.