I write with respect to the tragic issues of abuse at the Indian residential schools (IRS) which operated for much of the last century as “joint ventures” between the Government of Canada and four religious denominations (Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian).
By way of background – from among the some 90,000 former IRS students who are alive today, it is estimated that about 18,000 claims for compensation will ultimately be filed and about 14,000 of them will likely be valid in whole or in part. Some 15 per cent will likely involve Anglican-run schools. The vast majority of claims relate to sexual and physical abuse. Most also include allegations about losses of language and culture.
Major progress toward the settlement of claims has been stymied for years by a dispute between the churches and the government about their respective shares of liability. The four denominations, working together, spent most of 2001 trying to reach some common understanding with the government on this issue, but without success.
The Anglican church – to its lasting credit – was determined not to fail. Following its own bilateral negotiations with the government and then nation-wide diocesan consultations, a Canada/Anglican IRS agreement was signed last March. It deals with the specific issue of who pays what share of compensation for validated claims of sexual and physical abuse at Anglican-run schools, assigning 70 per cent of the responsibility to the Government of Canada and 30 per cent to the Anglican church (as a whole church family) up to a maximum of $25 million.
For clarity, it is also important to note what the Canada/Anglican IRS agreement does not do. It does not purport to resolve claims for loss of language or culture. This is because no court has, to date, found such claims to be compensable. But, at the same time, the government recognizes the language and culture needs of Aboriginal people. As a practical way to move forward, the government is expanding its direct, community-based programming to support Aboriginal languages and culture – from about $30 million per year to include another $172 million over the coming decade.
As well, while the IRS Agreement determines how liability will be shared once an abuse claim has been settled, it does not prescribe any one means by which settlements must be achieved. Specifically, it neither creates nor necessitates an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process, although it does contemplate the future existence of one.
Currently, the primary means of reaching settlements is through formal litigation (including out-of-court, pre-trial negotiations). If we are restricted to this means only, it would likely take more than 50 years to handle the full expected caseload. In other words, many claimants will not survive to see their cases resolved.
So the Government of Canada is aiming to have an ADR option generally available by the end of this year. We hope to create more choice for claimants. ADR will provide an additional avenue by which they may pursue settlements. But it will be voluntary. It will not be forced upon anyone.
Our objective is an ADR option that is: fast and simple; readily accessible through a straightforward application form; humane and safe for claimants; less costly to administer; but fully equivalent to litigation in the value of the settlements it generates. ADR proceedings will be non-adversarial before skilled adjudicators, acting independently and at arm’s length from the government.
With this understanding about what the Canada/Anglican IRS agreement does and does not contain, I hope we can make the most of the opportunity it provides to shift all our energies toward the achievement of healing and reconciliation and full and fair settlements, with the certainty that no small or vulnerable parts of the national church family will face bankruptcy.
Minister responsible for Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada