The Anglican Church of Canada is renegotiating the terms of the 2003 residential schools agreement that it signed with the federal government following an announcement Nov. 23 of a new $1.9 billion compensation package that will be offered to tens of thousands of aboriginal Canadians who attended Indian residential schools.
In its renegotiations, the Anglican church has invoked the “most favoured nation” clause in its agreement that states that if the federal government reaches more favourable terms with another denomination involved in the residential schools, Anglicans can ask for the same terms.
Under the terms of the new agreement in principle, signed by the government and legal counsel for former students and churches and announced by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, the Roman Catholic church agrees to fund healing and reconciliation programs, but “is not required to pay any compensation,” noted Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
“Those terms are more favourable to that church than the terms of our own agreement,” said Archbishop Hutchison.
The compensation package announced by Ms. McLellan offers “every eligible” former Indian residential school student “living on May 30, 2005” up to $30,000 each in a 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.
Former students who are now 65 years of age or older are also eligible to apply for an advance payment of $8,000.
The announcement was celebrated by negotiators from the Anglican Church of Canada.
Ellie Johnson, the church’s acting general secretary, said in an interview, “In our case, we’ve already paid quite a bit to compensation; we don’t begrudge that. We actually did that as part of healing as well. What we’d like to say is ‘okay, going forward, if government is going to pay 100 per cent of compensation for Catholics, they can do that for us, too, and our money could go perhaps to expand our healing work.'”
Under the agreement, a coalition of 41 Catholic religious orders and dioceses would give a “cash and in-kind contribution” of $54 million to set up programs for healing and reconciliation.
Two other churches – the United and Presbyterian churches were also involved in the residential schools negotiations.
Under the 2003 agreement, the Anglican Church of Canada and the federal government agreed to cap the church’s liability in lawsuits concerning Indian residential schools at $25 million. At the time, General Synod, the church’s national office, agreed to contribute $3 million to a fund that pays settlements to proven claims of sexual and/or physical abuse; the church’s 30 dioceses were responsible for $22 million. The Anglican church, has been named in about 2,000 residential schools abuse lawsuits. To date, a total of $6.6 million has been paid to claimants.
Ms. Johnson said that “it’s almost certain” that the $25 million cap will be reduced and this would have positive financial implications for the national church and the dioceses, who have been struggling with their settlement fund obligations.
The Anglican church and other parties involved in the new agreement with Ottawa have until Jan. 31 to work out the details of the accord, after which it will be submitted to the courts for approval. Until the new agreement is approved by the courts, all dioceses and the General Synod continue to be legally bound by the existing settlement agreement. The church is also reviewing whether changes to the settlement fund agreement need to be ratified by the dioceses, as was done with the 2003 settlement.
The accord includes a “truth and reconciliation process,” which will involve a “national truth-telling project to set the historic record set,” and a local, community-based “truth-telling program” that will be spread over five years to enable former students to tell their stories.
The agreement also sets aside $10 million for commemoration activities and re-mandates and funds the Aboriginal Healing Foundation at $25 million a year for the next five years to continue supporting local healing programs.
The Anglican church operated 26 of 80 boarding schools attended by aboriginals from the mid-19th century 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.