The government of Canada ‘s alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process for former students of Indian residential schools is well underway and the Anglican Church of Canada has been asked to attend three hearings, said the church’s general secretary, Archdeacon Jim Boyles.
“We’ve been asked to have a church representative present at two ADRs in Saskatchewan and one in Hazelton (B.C.). They involve students who attended Anglican schools. Usually, someone from the local diocese would attend in a supportive role, to listen, to express the church’s concern for the person and for the search for justice and fairness,” he said in an interview. The church representative does not participate in validating claims, Mr. Boyles added.
Archdeacon Michael Averyt, of the diocese of Saskatchewan, represented the church at one ADR in Prince Albert, Sask., and one in Saskatoon, both involving claims of abuse at the All Saints school.
“It’s not comfortable” for a church person, he said, speaking in general terms about the closed proceedings. “Your heart hurts horribly to hear it. You feel compassion for the person and sadness and shame where people (in the church) missed their chance to be instruments of healing. The issues are very complex.”
In one proceeding, he was not asked to speak, but at the other, he was. “I reiterated what the primate said in the apology, that I was sorry the church was a part of a system where such things could happen and that I hoped for reconciliation and healing,” he said. (In 1993, then-primate Archbishop Michael Peers offered the church’s apology for its involvement in the residential school system.)
As of September 2004, more than 12,400 individuals had filed damage claims against the federal government alleging physical or sexual abuse experienced in a nationwide boarding school system for aboriginal children that existed from the 19th century through the 1960s. The schools were operated by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches.
The ADR process, which began in November, 2003, was meant to provide a less confrontational setting than open court for former students to make their claims. The sessions take place in hotel meeting rooms and other locations across the country, led by 38 adjudicators who report to the Chief Adjudicator, Ted Hughes. Claimants must fill out an application form with as much documentation as possible concerning their time at a school, any alleged abuse and the effects of the abuse in later life. Validated claims receive compensation equivalent to those paid out in court cases.
More than 700 application forms have been received since November, said Nicole Dauz, senior communications officer at the federal office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada in Ottawa, which administers the ADR process. No settlements have yet been reached since the first session took place in May. However, “settlement offers have gone out,” said Ms. Dauz.
As of early September, the government had paid out $73.5 million in settlements, the majority in pre-trial settlements. Nineteen judgments involving 29 plaintiffs have been reached following court cases that went to completion. About 1,260 settlements have been reached in pre-trial negotiations, including 186 settlements in the pilot ADR process.
In related news, Rev. Iain Luke, a former officer of General Synod, continues to research, with the church’s lawyers, the thorny question of whether the national church can accept a partial legal release from native claimants who accept a settlement for physical or sexual abuse. Such a release would allow claimants to sue the church later for loss of language and culture. No court has approved such claims. Currently, the church requires a full legal release from further claims in exchange for a settlement. The federal government, in response to native concerns, only requires a partial release.
The officers of General Synod are currently of the opinion that a partial release “would require the dioceses to approve it,” since it would be a reopening of the 2003 agreement with the federal government that capped church liability at $25 million, said Mr. Boyles. However, he said, “there may be a way that the dioceses could be given a full release and General Synod accept a partial release.”