Four of five Canadians polled say they do not want churches forced into bankruptcy in order to settle residential school lawsuits. But more respondents chose the churches over the federal government when asked who ought to be forced to pay for the abuse that took place in some schools.
Those results are from a January poll by the Angus Reid Group for the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches.
General Secretary Jim Boyles said the church deliberately withheld the results earlier until May’s Council of General Synod meeting.
Four of five people polled said they were aware of the residential schools issue. Two thirds said the abusers themselves should be required to pay victims compensation, 45 per cent said churches should pay, 32 per cent said the federal government ought to pay and 22 per cent named the provincial government.
The poll noted the cost to the Anglican Church of settling the lawsuits has been estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars and respondents were asked whether they think the church can pay. Forty-five per cent said the church probably or definitely could whereas slightly more said they probably couldn’t.
Respondents were asked if they believed the churches’ claims that they might be forced into bankruptcy by paying all claims. Fifty-nine per cent found that very or somewhat believable; 39 per cent did not.
People were also asked to choose one of three options: have the churches pay the most they can without going bankrupt and the government pay the rest; force churches to sell some of their assets including buildings and property to pay claims; or force the churches to declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy was the least popular, winning overall support of just 18 per cent. About equal numbers (58 and 53 per cent) supported or strongly supported the first two options.
Asked about the churches being named ahead of Ottawa in terms of liability, Archdeacon Boyles said, “It challenges us to explain more fully the relationship between the church and the government in running the schools.”