The Anglican Church of Canada in September submitted a report to the federal government showing how much compensation it has paid out to former students of native boarding schools under an old residential schools settlement agreement.
A revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which came into effect Sept. 19, reduces the church’s financial commitments by almost 40 per cent. In 2003, the federal government and the Anglican church reached an agreement that committed the church to a cap of $25 million compensation. Under the new agreement, renegotiated in 2006, the church’s maximum contribution would be $15.7 million.
General Synod, the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada, sent a spreadsheet showing how much it has paid out and for which cases, said Ellie Johnson, director of the national church’s partnerships department, who represented the church in negotiations over the new deal. The government and church are to agree within 60 days how much reimbursement the church is entitled to; the money will then be paid to the church within the next 60 days thereafter, she added.
The House of Bishops, at its October meeting, was expected to discuss the reimbursements, said Ms. Johnson. “We will talk to the bishops about how to decide what to do with the money,” she said prior to the bishops’ meeting. Some dioceses had taken their contributions to the settlement fund out of their reserves, while others raised money for it.
Ms. Johnson said that the bulk of the money that will be returned to General Synod, the church’s national office, will be channeled to the Healing Fund that finances programs for healing and reconciliation with former residential schools students. Some would be returned to the church’s national reserves, she said.
Meanwhile, diocesan bishops have asked their clergy, particularly those serving in aboriginal communities, to be available in case former students of native boarding schools need their assistance after the revised settlement agreement came into effect Sept. 19.
Former students may need information on how to claim the Common Experience Payment (CEP); they may also face challenges triggered by the sudden influx of money, particularly in poor communities.
Ms. Johnson said that despite a recent statement by Assembly of First Nations chief Phil Fontaine that CEP recipients are adults who are capable of making their own financial decisions, there is nonetheless concern for the elderly “who, as in any given situation, can be abused.”
Frontline workers in native reserves have expressed concern that while the money could help alleviate the plight of poor aboriginal communities, it could also give rise to alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and exploitation.
The CEP provides former students a compensation of $10,000 for the first year of attendance in residential schools and $3,000 for each additional year. The average stay of students in residential schools has been estimated at five to six years, which means claimants will receive anywhere between $24,000 and $25,000. Acceptance of the CEP releases the government and churches from any further court action but allows students who have suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse to pursue an individual claim through a new Independent Assessment Process.
That process, which replaces the current alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process, allows former students to file for abuse claims and receive compensation of up to $275,000.
Ms. Johnson said the church will be involved in the assessment process as it was with the ADR except it will no longer be required to pay 30 per cent of any settlement; the government will now pay 100 per cent. She added that the church would continue to send letters of apology to former students as soon as their cases are closed, and will continue to send representatives to hearings, if requested by claimants.
“We’re happy that we’ve finally reached this point (finalization of agreement),” said Ms. Johnson. “It’s not perfect nor is it the final solution, but it is an acknowledgment that the residential schools was a damaging and bad system.”
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 had sued the church and the federal government, which owned the schools, alleging physical and sexual abuse.