Calgary diocese faces three school lawsuits

By on May 1, 1999

Three new lawsuits have been added to the growing number of claims against the Anglican Church by former residential school students.

The latest claims involve former residents of schools on the Blood Reserve and the Siksika Reserves in the Diocese of Calgary. It is the first time the diocese has been named in a lawsuit involving residential schools.More than 50 signatures appear on one of the suits. The two others have each been signed by a separate individual.

Archdeacon Barry Foster, the diocese’s executive officer, told the Journal the diocese is having a hard time making an “intelligent response” to the lawsuits because they are so general, broad and vague.”We are not sure how we will end up responding to them,” he said. “There are almost no details in the suits at all.”

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Archdeacon Foster said the diocese is also concerned about reports of a Saskatchewan law firm “knocking on doors and promising big pay outs if they sign.”At a March meeting of the Council of General Synod, Grace Delaney, with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, decried “ambulance chasing by lawyers” who use “dollar signs” to entice natives into filing lawsuits.

Mrs. Delaney said the Council of Indigenous Peoples has sent letters to law societies protesting such tactics that tend to “revictimize” people.Complaints with law societies have also been filed by the Assembly of First Nations.The Anglican Church is involved in more than 200 lawsuits that include compensation claims for physical and sexual abuse at residential schools. None of the lawsuits has been settled.

A judicial decision in a case involving the former St. George’s Residential School in Lytton, B.C. is pending.Meanwhile, the last of seven meetings to explore possible alternative ways of settling claims than by litigation has been held in Whitehorse. The meetings, held in various locations, involved the federal government, former school residents, native groups and church officials. The Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches have been named in lawsuits.

Following the Whitehorse meeting, Ellie Johnson, the Anglican Church’s director of partnerships, told the Journal some “concrete work” has been done to resolve issues other than through the adversarial court system. She said the federal government is anxious to proceed with 12 authorized pilot projects using alternative models where there is a “willingness and readiness” to work with the models.”Apart from the concrete model building that happened (at the meetings) the possibility of some viable alternative to litigation has been raised in the minds of many more people and particularly people who represent survivors’ groups,” Ms. Johnson said. The possibility may also have been raised in the minds of lawyers representing survivors, she added.

Ms. Johnson said she has heard native people say “over and over again” that there are a lot of survivors who do not want to go to court. They would like to see their issues addressed but many are looking for help in community building and not particularly for cash settlements, she said.

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