Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray
Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray said the federal cabinet has told him to intensify negotiations with four churches over the residential schools crisis and bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
Mr. Gray brought this news to a May meeting in Ottawa with a high-level Anglican delegation that included Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate. It was the most encouraging news for the churches since Mr. Gray became involved last fall. It is also the first time Archbishop Peers had become directly involved in talks with Mr. Gray.
Mr. Gray told the group that two days earlier, cabinet gave him a mandate to move from dialogue to formal discussions about the residential schools litigation, leading to an agreement. “I like to think we have moved quite a ways, but there is quite a way to go yet,” Mr. Gray said in an interview with the Journal. He added that while he would like to see the matter move as quickly as possible, “it will not be resolved in a few days or a few weeks.”
Mr. Gray said a briefing would take place within a few weeks, with representatives of the four churches involved in litigation. “We’ll be talking about a number of things – division of liability and responsibility,” Mr. Gray said. Archbishop Peers noted that the Anglican church doesn’t have a long time to wait. “From our point of view, everything depends on time. We really pressed the issue of time,” said Archbishop Peers.
He said the group told Mr. Gray that the diocese of Cariboo is facing insolvency by October and that General Synod’s financial condition continues to decline.
The Anglican church’s national office has said that legal and settlement costs are rapidly draining its assets and that it could be insolvent this year if an agreement with the government is not reached.
The Ottawa meeting followed a request by Canadian bishops that Prime Minister Jean Chretien intervene personally in discussions between the church and the government. Mr. Chretien has not responded to that request.
Hundreds of native Canadians are suing churches and the federal government for alleged abuse suffered in a national system of residential schools that operated from the mid-nineteenth century into the 1970s.
The Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyter-ian churches operated the schools under contract with the government.
The Anglican church says it is being countersued by Ottawa, not natives, in about 40 per cent of the cases.
In a letter to the Anglican Journal published this month (page 4), Mr. Gray says that the church has been added as a third party in 30 per cent of the cases and named directly in 70 per cent. Mr. Gray met with Archbishop Peers, Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of General Synod, Anglican indigenous healing fund coordinator Esther Wesley, Archbishop Terence Finlay of Toronto and Bishop Don Phillips of Rupert’s Land.
The bishops’ letter to the prime minister, sent in early May, noted that “the meetings with (Mr.) Gray, which began with promise last September, seem stalled. ? Those who were abused still wait for justice and the litigation is rapidly draining the resources of several of our dioceses and of our national body, the General Synod.”
Archbishop Peers sent an accompanying letter that pointed to “a steadily mounting sense of frustration, born of the lack of any tangible progress toward a just resolution of the residential schools legacy.”
A statement from the bishops to Anglicans said, in part: “In spite of statements by several cabinet ministers that it is not the intention of the government to force the churches into bankruptcy, it seems that, by inaction, it is doing exactly that.”
For the full text of documents and letters mentioned in this article, see www.anglican.ca