The officers of General Synod – the national church’s top managers – in late December deferred a decision on a thorny problem concerning an alternate dispute resolution process available to native people who allege they suffered physical and sexual abuse in church-operated boarding schools.
“We decided to take no decision at this time,” said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, in an interview.
When the federal government in November announced it would set up a process offering an alternative to the court system, it also said it would not ask natives who accepted a damage settlement to waive their right to sue later for alleged loss of culture and language in the schools.
While the Anglican church hailed this decision as showing sensitivity to native concerns, it also acknowledged it put the church in a quandary. According to the agreement signed with the federal government last March, limiting church liability to 30 per cent of damage claims up to a total of $25 million, natives have to waive the possibility of any further litigation against the church.
With the government offering a so-called “partial release,” the church’s requirement for a “full release” seemed to contradict its commitment to healing and reconciliation with native people. However, reopening the settlement agreement would mean returning to the 30 Canadian Anglican dioceses for approval.
At its regular fall meeting, the Council of General Synod ? the church’s governing body between triennial General Synods ? referred the matter to the officers.
Meeting via conference call, the officers took no decision because “the context (of the issue) has changed” due to a recent court decision in British Columbia, noted Archdeacon Boyles. In December, the province’s Court of Appeal ruled that the federal government is fully liable for abuse suffered by students at Indian residential schools; it absolved the United Church of Canada of any financial responsibility.
The officers want to see whether the government will appeal that decision, said Archdeacon Boyles. He also said that he and Mario Dion, deputy minister for the office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada, a federal department, would meet at the end of January to discuss the release situation.
The officers of General Synod are the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers; the prolocutor, Dorothy Davies-Flindall; the deputy prolocutor, Dean Peter Elliott; the chancellor, Ronald Stevenson; the vice chancellor, Clyne Harradence; the general secretary and two officers at large, Rev. Iain Luke and James Sweeny.