The Anglican church, under serious financial pressure, has opened separate negotiations with the federal government on liability over native residential schools. This has resulted in the break-up of a group representing four churches affected by the schools issue that had been negotiating as a unit since the fall of 2000. In early February, Anglican representatives held their third separate meeting with deputy minister Jack Stagg and his legal team. Previous meetings were held in January and December. The Anglican General Synod, whose assets are rapidly being depleted, wants a cap on its legal liability, a move the government has, so far, refused. Government representatives have also said they want the church to contribute to the cost of alternate dispute resolution (an out-of-court process with a mediator). The church says it cannot afford this. Both sides expressed optimism at the progress of the talks, although no agreement has been reached. But a source familiar with the talks said government lawyers are still balking at the idea of a liability cap. “We are really pleased with the dialogue. There were some very substantial issues that were discussed and things are going along in a very positive fashion,” said Cindy Clegg, speaking for Mr. Stagg. “We are pleased with the progress we are making, but I can’t comment further,” said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, chair of the Anglican negotiating team. A fourth meeting has been scheduled for early March. The ecumenical group disbanded in late January in the aftermath of the Anglican move. In a statement, the group said, “there is no longer a basis for ecumenical negotiations with the federal government to resolve the legacy of Indian residential schools.” Archdeacon Boyles, formerly chair of the ecumenical group, said financial pressures forced the church’s hand. “Time is running out for the General Synod,” he said in an interview. Financial officials with the Anglican church have said that General Synod, the national governing body, is spending almost $100,000 per month to defend itself against cases involving about 800 plaintiffs that allege abuse in boarding schools that were run by Anglicans under contract with the government. Bankruptcy is a possibility, they have said. Last October, Archdeacon Boyles told Anglican bishops that the potential total liability of all cases facing government and churches is estimated at $1 billion. Under the government’s formula, churches would be responsible for 30 per cent of that amount, or $300 million. It’s estimated that the Anglican church would theoretically be responsible for about 25 per cent of that amount, or about $75 million. In October, the government announced it would pay 70 per cent of out-of-court settlements in proven cases of abuse. The churches said at the time they were concerned since the decision was reached without consulting them and that even 30 per cent was a potentially ruinous amount of liability. In a report to national staff, Archdeacon Boyles wrote that if the church reaches an agreement with the government, “we will, of necessity, be engaged in a major fundraising effort and much of our ongoing work will be marshalled in support of such efforts.” If an agreement with the government is impossible, he added, “we will be facing an orderly winding-down of General Synod ? Such a step ? would have major legal, financial and moral implications.” Officers of the Anglican church say it has enough funds to operate through 2002, but its future is uncertain beyond that. In a prepared question and answer position statement on the residential schools negotiations, Anglican representatives say they would rather spend resources on healing and reconciliation with aboriginal Canadians than on legal fees. “The Anglicans hope that the bilateral negotiations will progress rapidly to resolution that will allow them to get on with their primary goal, namely healing and reconciliation initiatives,” says the Anglican statement. The negotiating environment underwent another change in mid-January, when a federal cabinet shuffle saw Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, the senior Cabinet member in charge of the residential schools issue, replaced by Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley. “Someone new coming into this will take more time to grasp the complexity of the issue and move it ahead,” Archdeacon Boyles commented. The four-church group requested a meeting with Mr. Manley, but none had yet been scheduled. The meeting request still stands, Archdeacon Boyles said.