Church faces ADR dilemma

By on December 1, 2003

Rev. Ian Morrison, of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (l) and Canon Roger Steinke of the Anglican Church of Canada, listen as a new dispute resolution process is announced at a news conference in Ottawa.

Caught in a classic catch-22 situation, the Anglican Church of Canada is weighing its response to last month’s announcement from the federal government about an alternative dispute resolution process (ADR) which will compensate aboriginals for abuse suffered in church-run residential schools.

On the one hand, if the church joins the government in amending a controversial release form allowing native people the option to sue for loss of language and culture, it opens itself up to further litigation. On the other hand, if the church maintains the status quo and agrees to compensate for only physical and sexual abuse, it risks the appearance of contradicting the Archbishop Michael Peers’ 1993 apology to native people for the church’s role in residential schools.

The dilemma was detailed in briefing paper for members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) at their November meeting. CoGS referred the matter to the officers of General Synod, asking them to consult with the Aboriginal Council of Indigenous Peoples before making a decision.

While the church expressed its appreciation for the process at both an Ottawa press conference and at CoGS meeting, many are ambivalent about changes made to a problematic release form that is part of the ADR process.

“The Anglican church is extremely pleased that the government’s moved in this direction, and happy that they’ve listened to our aboriginal people and proceeded in the direction that we heard the minister unveil today,” Canon Roger Steinke of Ottawa told the Anglican Journal.

Mr. Steinke represented the general secretary, Archdeacon Jim Boyles, at a news conference Nov. 6 where Ralph Goodale, the minister in charge of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada , announced a new dispute resolution process aimed at fast-tracking nearly 12,000 abuse claims by individuals.

Under the plan, claimants will not have to sign a release form that would shield the government from any future litigation – until after an adjudicator has rendered a decision. As well, it allows claimants who accept compensation or settle in the courts to pursue future litigation for loss of language and culture. The church has not decided whether it too will offer a limited release form, allowing for future litigation for loss of language and culture. To date, no court has admitted a lawsuit for loss of language and culture in the schools.

A full release form troubles some aboriginal Anglicans.

Rev. Andrew Wesley, a priest in the diocese of Toronto and the co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, told the fall meeting of CoGS that it would be difficult for an aboriginal priest to sign the release form as it stands today. Not to accept the agreement – reached between the national church and the federal government last spring – would be to disobey one’s bishop, he said. But, he added, if the church were to continue to oppose litigation for language and culture, some native people would view this as a requirement to “sign away their language and culture.”

The church has maintained that loss of language and culture are best addressed through programs rather than litigation. Its Indigenous Healing Fund has distributed more than $1 million to healing, language and cultural programs since the early ’80s.

Application forms for the new ADR option – which Mr. Goodale said could resolve the majority of claims in seven years – are now available. “It is purely voluntary, simply an option added to our suite of initiatives,” he said.

Last spring the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples criticized the government’s grid system – a scale on which compensation payments would be based – saying it is dehumanizing.

But Mr. Goodale said it is a way to “gauge the appropriate level of compensation depending on the severity of the conduct that is being adjudicated upon and it is drawn from experience across Canada .” The government has tried to make it “as humane and accurate as possible,” he said, and has held extensive consultations with the stakeholders, including the churches. “We need some basis to calculate the damage.”

Private hearings will be available for victims whose claims have been validated. The 32 adjudicators conducting them will report to former judge Ted Hughes of British Columbia, who was also at the news conference.

Of the estimated $1.7 billion cost of the program, settlements would total about $1 billion, said Mr. Goodale; the administrative cost of the adjudicators and the support system would be about $335 million. Ongoing litigation is expected to add another $285 million in costs and an additional $75 million is being provided for health and safety support systems, said Mr. Goodale.

With files from Art Babych in Ottawa

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