Archbishop urges fast-track payments for elderly claimants

By on May 1, 2006

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has “strongly” urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider his government’s decision not to give advance payments to elderly former students of native residential schools before a revised agreement is finalized. “The Anglican Church of Canada is deeply disappointed at this failure to meet the needs of the elderly former students of residential schools,” said Archbishop Hutchison in a letter to Mr. Harper hours after Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice made the announcement on April 11. “We expected a more humane response to the needs of former students, some of whom are faithful members of the Anglican church.” The government’s decision reversed a provision in the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement announced in November by the previous Liberal government that former students who are now 65 years of age or older are liable to apply for an advance payment of $8,000. Following the announcement of that agreement, the Anglican Church of Canada had renegotiated the terms of the 2003 residential agreement that it signed with the federal government. “As a church we have long since acknowledged our own part in the sad history of the residential school system in Canada, through the establishment of an Anglican Healing Fund in 1991, and the issuing of a formal apology in 1993,” wrote Archbishop Hutchison in his letter. He added that the church had “willingly participated” in the negotiations that produced the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. “While we were disappointed that the change of government resulted in some delay in implementing the agreement, we did not anticipate that your new government would fail to honour an important component, namely, the advance payments to elderly claimants,” added Archbishop Hutchison. The Assembly of First Nations had urged Ottawa to fast-track payments to elderly claimants since a growing number of them are already ill or dying. But Mr. Prentice said, “We clearly have an obligation to all Canadians. We have an obligation to all taxpayers.” The revised agreement provides a $1.9 billion compensation package that will be offered to tens of thousands of aboriginal Canadians who attended Indian residential schools. It offers “every eligible” former native residential school student “living on May 30, 2005” up to $30,000 each in so-called Common Experience Payment. Each former student who applies would receive $10,000 and an additional $3,000 for each year of attendance in excess of the first year. The Anglican church operated 26 of 80 boarding schools attended by aboriginals from the mid-1800s into the 1970s. In recent years, hundreds of natives sued the church and the federal government, which owned the schools, alleging physical and sexual abuse.

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