The compensation package announced Nov. 23 by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan offers “every eligible” former Indian residential school student up to $30,000 each in a Common Experience Payment.
The Anglican Church of Canada will renegotiate the terms of the 2003 residential schools agreement that it signed with the federal government following an announcement today of a new $1.9 billion compensation package that will be offered to tens of thousands of aboriginal Canadians who attended Indian residential schools.
In its renegotiations, the Anglican church will invoke the "most favoured nation" clause in its 2003 agreement that states that if the federal government reaches more favourable terms with another denomination involved in the residential schools, it can ask for the same terms.
Under the terms of the new “agreement in principle” — signed by the government and legal counsels for former students and churches and announced Nov. 23 by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan — the Roman Catholic church agrees to fund healing and reconciliation programs, but “is not required to pay any compensation,” noted Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
“Those terms are more favourable to that church than the terms of our own agreement,” said Archbishop Hutchison.
The compensation package announced by Ms. McLellan offers “every eligible” former Indian residential school student “living on May 30, 2005” up to $30,000 each in a so-called Common Experience Payment. Each former student who applies would receive $10,000 and an additional $3,000 for each year of attendance in excess of the first year.
Former students who are now 65 years of age or older are also eligible to apply for an advance payment of $8,000.
The announcement was celebrated by negotiators from the Anglican Church of Canada.
Ellie Johnson, the church’s acting general secretary, said in an interview, “In our case, we’ve already paid quite a bit to compensation, we don’t begrudge that. We actually did that as part of healing as well. What we’d like to say is ‘okay, going forward, if government is going to pay 100 per cent of compensation for Catholics, they can do that for us, too, and our money could go perhaps to expand our healing work.'”
(The Roman Catholic church, one of four denominations negotiating with the federal government over residential schools litigation, reached a more favourable accord than that of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches.)
Under the 2003 agreement, the Anglican Church of Canada and the federal government agreed to cap the church’s liability in lawsuits concerning Indian residential schools at $25 million. At the time, General Synod, the church’s national office, agreed to contribute $3 million to a fund that pays settlements to proven claims of sexual and/or physical abuse; the church’s 30 dioceses were responsible for $22 million. The Anglican church, has been named in about 2,000 residential schools abuse lawsuits. To date, a total of $6.6 million had been paid to claimants.
Ms. Johnson said that “it’s almost certain” that the $25 million cap will be reduced and this would have positive financial implications for the national church and the dioceses, who have been struggling with their settlement fund obligations.
“I don’t know how far our cap will come down. I can’t say how much because there’s some number-crunching that’s being done,” she said. “If our cap came down to $16 million, that would mean we didn’t have to raise anymore but we would still have to pay out what we’ve got. If our cap came down below $16 million, then we would be talking to the dioceses proportionate to what they’ve paid; they would be eligible for a refund. We would put some options for them too about possibly using some of that for healing work locally or nationally.”
The Anglican church and other parties involved in the new agreement with Ottawa have until Jan. 31, 2006 to work out the details of the accord, after which it will be submitted to the courts for approval. Until the new agreement is approved by the courts, all dioceses and the General Synod continue to be legally bound by the existing settlement agreement. The church is also reviewing whether changes to the settlement fund agreement need to be ratified by the dioceses, as was done with the 2003 settlement.
The new agreement releases the government and churches involved in the residential schools of “all further liability relating to the Indian residential school experience except in cases of sexual abuse and the most serious incidents of physical abuse.” Claims of physical and sexual abuse would be dealt with through a mandatory revised alternative dispute resolution process. Former students are under no obligation to accept the agreement, said Ms. Johnson.
Still, though, some court cases remain unresolved. Ms. Johnson cited the Baxter and Mohawk Institute class action suits in Ontario. “The Ontario courts have to approve the dismissal of those class action suits. The courts will want to determine that this, indeed, is a just settlement for the claimants before it will dismiss the class action suits,” said Ms. Johnson. The agreement would also go to courts in other provinces where there are pending cases.
The new agreement “is good news for the Anglican church and good news for Canada’s indigenous people,” said Archbishop Hutchison in a letter to the church posted on its Web site, www.anglican.ca. “I hope that this will bring a just and lasting solution to this painful part of our history for those who suffered either from abuse while they were (at residential schools), or from the policy of assimilation that the schools were meant to foster.”
Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and himself a former residential school student, called the agreement “a true milestone in the path of healing.” He noted that it was the “largest and most comprehensive” settlement package in Canadian history.
“Canada and the first peoples of this country can be proud of this settlement package. It has set the bar very high. It affirms that all races are equal and none deserve to be assimilated or destroyed; it is an agreement for the ages,” he said at the announcement of the agreement. The settlement will ensure that “such a tragedy will never happen again to any Canadian, regardless of their age, religion or ethnicity.”
He also paid tribute to the government’s chief negotiator, former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci. “I want to acknowledge his resolve, his dedication and his insight into how best to move forward with a settlement that is not just based upon the cold hard dollars of compensation but upon the long-term holistic process of healing and reconciliation,” said Mr. Fontaine. The agreement was hammered out after only six months of negotiations led by Mr. Iacobucci with legal counsel for former students, church lawyers, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations.
The accord includes a “truth and reconciliation process,” which will involve a “national truth-telling project to set the historic record set,” and a local, community-based “truth-telling program” that will be spread over five years to enable former students to tell their stories.
The agreement also sets aside $10 million for commemoration activities and re-mandates and funds the Aboriginal Healing Foundation at $25 million a year for the next five years to continue supporting local healing programs.
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 sued the church and the federal government, which owned the schools, alleging physical and sexual abuse.