Bishops endorse revised residential schools deal

Published February 13, 2006

All 30 dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada, through their diocesan bishops and/or chancellors, have recommended that their diocesan councils or executive committees approve the revised Indian residential schools settlement agreement presented by the federal government last November.

“We are very pleased and grateful for their cooperation despite the short period (of consultations), said Ellie Johnson, former acting general secretary of General Synod, who is also director of the national church’s partnerships department. Ms. Johnson said the letters, along with a letter of endorsement from General Synod signed by the primate, were submitted to the government’s chief negotiator, former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci.

The dioceses’ committees were expected to look at the agreement in its entirety and give the final decision by the end of February. Council of General Synod (CoGS), the church’s governing bodies in between general synods, were expected to vote on the agreement Feb. 15.

Once approved, the agreement would be sent to the federal cabinet by the end of March. “There might be the possibility of delay because of the change in government,” said Ms. Johnson. The revised agreement had been hammered out under Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal government, which was unseated in the Jan. 23 election by the Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper.

“So we’re now in the middle of the process and we’re trusting that the new government will honor it (the agreement) and not delay it too much for the sake of the claimants,” said Ms. Johnson in an interview.

Under the revised agreement, the Anglican Church of Canada’s $25 million cap on liability in residential schools litigation would likely be reduced to “under $16 million,” church officials have said. In 2003, the federal government and the Anglican church negotiated an agreement that contained the $25 million cap but a clause in that agreement allowed the church to reopen its negotiations since a deal reached recently by the Roman Catholic church is more favorable. Last November, the government announced it would compensate all students who were part of the national boarding school system aimed at educating native children. Also announced was an agreement that would release Roman Catholic entities that ran schools from legal liability, but would commit them to funding $54 million in healing programs for aboriginals.

Ms. Johnson expressed confidence that the dioceses’ committees would also endorse the agreement. “They’ll have questions, that’s for sure, but I’m very hopeful. There’s no reason to be anxious; their bishops and chancellors have read the agreement very carefully.” Earlier, Ms. Johnson said dioceses “are aware that the amendments are beneficial to them” since “our overall cap will be reduced” and there will be more money for the church’s “healing fund,” which supports counseling and other projects.

Ms. Johnson said that the accord would also include, as an appendix, the composition, mandate and plans of a truth and reconciliation committee. The agreement in principle released last November had stated that a “truth and reconciliation process” would involve a “national truth-telling project to set the historic record straight” and would provide opportunities for a local, community-based “truth-telling program” that will be spread over five years to enable former students to tell their stories.

Details, including church involvement in the process, were still being finalized as of Anglican Journal press time. “The church’s role is evolving. We want to be involved because healing and reconciliation has always been our primary goal and this is just one piece of it,” said Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Johnson said the truth and reconciliation process would have several goals: to publicly acknowledge the residential schools experience as part of Canadian history “so that we would have a full understanding of who we are as Canadians,” and to prepare a full report. It would also accompany public education programs.

“The intention is not to turn it into a finger-pointing thing. This is not a public inquiry with subpoena powers,” she said.

Among the proposals put forward has been the establishment of a research center that would house documents relating to the residential schools, she added. Ms. Johnson said the Anglican Church of Canada is willing to send copies of records in its archives to this proposed center.


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