Church leaders urge government apology for residential schools

Published May 1, 2007

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has expressed “strong disappointment and sadness” over the federal government’s refusal to offer an apology to former students of native residential schools and their families.

In a letter, Archbishop Hutchison strongly urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider his government’s decision not to issue an apology saying that for many former students it was “at least as important” as the compensation provided in the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The primate was backed by Archbishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee, who wrote on behalf of “bishops, clergy and people of the Ecclesiastical (church) Province of Ontario,” Bishop Colin Johnson of Toronto and the Anglican Council for Indigenous Peoples (ACIP). Bishop Johnson said the federal government’s decision not to apologize to former students was wrong, and he encouraged Anglicans in the diocese to write to their members of Parliament and the Prime Minister to reverse that decision.

Archbishop Lawrence, meanwhile, wrote, “Part of the settlement agreement involved the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reconciliation involves regret and forgiveness. Before there can be forgiveness there must be an expression of contrition. In secular terms that means an apology.”

(All nine provincial and territorial courts approved a settlement agreement March 8, which may be implemented by fall.)

In his letter, the primate noted that in the church’s work in the Alternative Dispute Resolution process, “We have heard that for many survivors, the apology is at least as important as the financial compensation.”

The primate underscored the fact that the Anglican Church of Canada, through his predecessor, Archbishop Michael Peers, had already acknowledged that it had been “complicit” in the Canadian government’s past policy of assimilation and had offered an apology on behalf of the church “for the harm done by the residential school system.”

The Anglican church, functioning as an agent of the Government of Canada, operated 26 Indian residential schools. “We are ashamed of this part of our history,” said Archbishop Hutchison.

Archbishop Hutchison also emphasized that the Anglican church was not alone in requesting a government apology. He noted that British Columbia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner had, in his ruling on the settlement agreement, urged the Prime Minister to issue “a full and unequivocal apology” on behalf of all Canadians in the House of Commons.

Opposition members of parliament have likewise joined calls to offer an apology.

Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice told the House of Commons in March that the $1.9 billion settlement agreement does not include the issuance of an apology.

Under a settlement agreement reached in March, former residential school students will receive a Common Experience Payment (CEP) of $10,000 for the first year of attendance in residential schools and $3,000 for each additional year.


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