The ecumenical group that was negotiating with the federal government over native residential schools has re-formed to discuss the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process, which aims to speed up claims of abuse at the schools, General Secretary Jim Boyles told Council of General Synod (CoGS).
The group, with representation from the Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Roman Catholic churches, came together in 2000 to seek limits on the churches’ liability concerning the operation of boarding schools for natives. The group dissolved in 2002 as the Anglican church, facing more severe financial pressure, elected to negotiate alone.
To provide a faster, less adversarial alternative to the court system for former students with claims of sexual or physical abuse, the government last fall set up a nationwide system of adjudicators and invited applications.
The Anglican church’s view “is that we are not involved in the legal sense in ADR but we can be present in a pastoral way and we have just received the first request for participation from a claimant in Saskatchewan,” said Archdeacon Boyles.
Todd Russell, co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), said his council continues to criticize parts of the ADR process, such as the “40-page application, which is intimidating for many of the people we deal with.”
Ellie Johnson, director of the church’s partnerships department (which includes indigenous ministries), said the ADR process has been slow in starting since “the research in getting documents is taking longer than expected.” About 100 applications have been received and “they are hoping to begin scheduling hearings in April,” said Ms. Johnson.
Meanwhile, a CBC radio story in February questioned the amount spent by the federal government on administration of residential school abuse claims compared with actual payouts to claimants. The report said the government has spent more than $200 million in the last three years managing claims through the courts but paid only $38 million in settlements. Ottawa is facing at least 12,000 claims from former students and government officials said each claim of abuse has to be checked thoroughly.
Mr. Russell and Rev. Andrew Wesley, also co-chair of ACIP, presented a report at CoGS that said a working group charged with bringing native concerns before General Synod continues to research models of indigenous governance in the Canadian church and in other churches. It will ask General Synod to allocate further funds in support of its work for the next triennium.
When the group, called the Indigenous Covenant Implemen-tation Commission, was struck last fall, it was thought that it could bring specific proposals for native self-governance before General Synod.
In other news, a poster that expressed the Anglican Church of Canada’s support for ADR has been withdrawn after objections from ACIP.
In February, the church’s communications and information resources department produced a poster that said the church supports the ADR process.
The poster also suggested Anglicans “can be there to listen, when invited into the process,” can show hospitality, provide meals for claimants and pray for all involved. About 4,500 copies were printed at a total cost of approximately $1,800.
However, ACIP “took issue with the statement that the Anglican church supports ADR,” said Vianney Carriere, director of communications and information resources.
One concern expressed by ACIP members, according to Donna Bomberry, indigenous ministries co-ordinator, is the church requirement that claimants who receive a settlement waive their right to sue at a later time for loss of language and culture in the schools. The government withdrew that requirement after protests by natives.
ACIP members also saw the poster’s encouragement to offer hospitality as “a paternalistic attitude,” she said. “(The poster seemed to say) we offer you hospitality for signing away your language and culture,” she said, adding that there was “no consultation with indigenous people” before the poster was produced.
Ms. Johnson confirmed that ACIP had not been consulted in advance. “Probably that was my error,” she said.