Legal bills mount as lawsuit numbers climb

Lawyers’ and counselling fees related to residential schools problems have already cost the church over $129,000 this year and the church’s treasurer expects it will cost at least that again next year. The church had budgeted $20,000 for 1998.

The figures were revealed when director of financial management Jim Cullen presented a 1998 financial statement and 1999 budget to the Council of General Synod which met Nov. 16-18 outside Toronto.

The church will also raise its contribution to a healing fund for abuse victims to $113,000 in 1999 from $38,000 in 1998.No money has been set aside to pay for any damages that might be awarded. Damages are not covered by insurance, either.Some legal fees are covered by liability insurance, Mr. Cullen said, but “it was never designed to cover this type of thing.”The question is complicated by the fact that the more than 100 outstanding claims cover a variety of issues. Some relate to specific incidences of physical and sexual abuse. Others are more general and talk about loss of culture, language and the like.

Insurance also depends on what the church carried when an incident happened and may provide as little as $10,000 over three years. Legal fees can eat that amount up quickly, Mr. Cullen noted. And three class actions received to date cover periods of as long as a century and a half, further complicating the situation.”It is costing us more than we ever budgeted,” said Mr. Cullen.Here are excerpts from a selection of claims that have been launched against the church:

  • Former students and relatives of students who attended the Mohawk Institute Residential School have filed a class-action claim against the government, the Diocese of Huron and the Anglican Church, asking for more than $2-billion in total damages.

The school operated in Brantford, Ont., from 1834 to 1969. The claim alleges children were physically abused for speaking their Native languages, were forced to participate in religious Christian education, were given inadequate amounts of food, which was sometimes contaminated, were given only two sets of clothing and were regularly humiliated. For example, it is alleged children who wet their beds were strapped or required to wear the urine-stained sheets over their heads or to go to breakfast with their genitals exposed, carrying a tin can. Females were given rags for use during menstruation.

The claim alleges some students were sexually molested by staff.

  • The Keeseekoose First Nation has filed a class-action claim on behalf of all its members, past, present and future against the government, the Oblates of Manitoba which ran several Roman Catholic residential schools, the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church for running the Gordon Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.

The churches are accused of allowing the cultural genocide of the children under their care. The claim says the schooling eroded their way of life and led to a loss of the Saulteaux language and identity along with community dysfunction and alienation.

  • The Key First Nation is suing the federal government, the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Oblates of Manitoba. The Anglican claim relates again to the Gordon School and the Prince Albert Residential School in Saskatchewan.

It says the band and individuals have suffered permanent injuries including alienation of culture, nervous shock, anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, personality change, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, incest in the aboriginal community, diminished health and loss of language.

  • More than 100 individual claims have been filed against the church and its dioceses as well, most of which relate to the Gordon school. One 46-year-old woman complains that during her years at the school, she was beaten and sexually assaulted numerous times by a child-care worker. She said she became pregnant and later miscarried as a result of an assault.
  • A 76-year-old man says he was physically assaulted and battered by Gordon’s staff, sexually abused by a minister at the school and by other boys.

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