The federal government’s move toward awarding compensation to all former native residential school students won’t have an immediate financial impact on the Anglican Church of Canada, according to church officials.
However, the church praised the announcement as an important step forward toward justice for those who attended the schools and a positive development in relations with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
“For a long time, our primary goal has been healing and reconciliation – healing for those whose lives have been damaged by their residential schools experience and reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal persons in our church and in society,” said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the general secretary of General Synod, the church’s governing body.
On May 30, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said the government agreed to work with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) “along the lines” of a plan proposed last November by the national native group. Under the proposal, each former student would receive a lump-sum payment of $10,000, with a further $3,000 for each year attended. The government estimates that there are 86,000 former students alive today. Although the announcement did not mention financial amounts, various estimates have put the total cost of such a package at $4-6 billion. The AFN plan also calls for an apology and a “truth and reconciliation process” where victims’ stories could be heard.
Ms. McLellan said that former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci was appointed to conduct negotiations with the AFN. The announcement marked a significant departure from the government’s earlier declaration that it would not pay compensation to former students who could not prove they suffered physical or sexual abuse in the schools.
In a letter to Canadian Anglican bishops, Mr. Boyles said that the 2003 agreement between the church and the federal government, which limited the church’s liability to $25 million, still stands. The church agreed to pay 30 per cent of validated abuse claims with the government paying 70 per cent.
The church has created a residential schools settlement fund into which the national office in Toronto and all 30 dioceses are contributing. (See related story below.)
Mr. Boyles said all dioceses are up to date in meeting their commitments. “We will continue to pay 30 per cent of validated claims for physical and sexual abuse. If a global settlement is reached it may remove many of the claims and possibly affect the total amount we will have to contribute to settlements,” he wrote.
Any money remaining in the settlement fund after all claims have been settled will be returned to dioceses on a proportional basis, he said.
Hundreds of former students have sued Ottawa and the four Christian denominations (Anglican, Roman Catholic, United and Presbyterian) which managed the schools in partnership with the government. The federal government has also set up an alternate dispute resolution process for claimants who do not wish or are unable to go to court.