Church seeks members’ help

Published October 1, 2000

For the first time, the Anglican Church is directly calling on its 700,000 members to exert pressure on their elected representatives in order to force the government to move on the residential schools crisis facing the church.

A package of material has been sent to all clergy in the country containing sample letters parishioners are urged to use to contact their representatives, whether they are members of the government or opposition MPs. The package also contains a letter parishioners can send directly to the Prime Minister.

The appeal to church members to use their influence follows a summer of inactivity by the federal government, said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of General Synod, in an interview.

“We had expected some movement by the government over the summer months,” he said. “Since nothing has happened, we felt the time had come to engage members of the Anglican Church.”

He added that if legal expenses continue at the present rate, General Synod will be “out of money” some time next year.

More than 6,000 indigenous people are suing Canada because of their experiences in residential schools. The Anglican Church, which together with the government, ran 26 out of more than 80 residential schools until the late 1960s, is named in about 350 lawsuits involving 1,600 people.

In a covering letter sent with the sample letters and background information on residential schools, Archdeacon Boyles writes that these court cases are draining the church of resources it would much prefer to use to work towards healing and reconciliation with indigenous people.

What is happening, he says, is that in cases where the church is not named in a lawsuit against the government, Ottawa takes action to ensure that the church too ends up in courts.

“We are being forced to spend scarce resources on legal fees only because the justice department has dragged us into the action as a third party,” he writes in his letter. “The justice department is literally driving our church towards bankruptcy.

“If the financial ruin of the church were being brought about to provide just compensation and healing for victims, there would be some consolation,” he continues. “But that’s not the case. Government lawsuits are bleeding us dry, and costing enormous amounts of our tax dollars, to the benefit of no one.”

Archdeacon Boyles notes that despite ongoing talks with government officials and Cabinet ministers, the approach by the department of justice has not changed.

“We need your help now,” he says in his letter to parishioners. “Our political representatives need to hear from you, that you care about this situation and you want to see a change in the justice department’s policy. If we act together now, there is still time to make a difference.”

The letter that people are urged to send government and opposition MPs describes the role of the Department of Justice in involving the church in lawsuits as “reprehensible.”

“If you force the church into bankruptcy, your government will still have to pay all the costs of any legal settlements and the church won’t be there to provide money and human resources for healing and reconciliation,” the letter to government MPs says. “How does that help anyone?”

The letter to both groups of MPs concludes: “We want the government to accept its proper responsibility for legal costs and settlements and more importantly to provide alternatives to litigation. We want our church to concentrate its resources on efforts to support healing. Surely this is the logical, compassionate and sensible approach.”


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