A New Democratic Member of Parliament has raised in the House of Commons the financial situation of Canada’s Christian churches over the residential schools lawsuits.
“Surely it is important to make sure that the churches involved do not go bankrupt or are so severely damaged that much of their social service and social action work will have to be eliminated just to survive,” Winnipeg-Transcona MP Bill Blaikie said in a statement to the House on March 17.
“It is also important that justice be accomplished swiftly for those who have legitimate claims. This cannot be done if this issue drags on for years, claim by claim,” he said.
“The churches must and will take their share of the responsibility, but let us not forget that they participated in this social and cultural tragedy at the behest of and in co-operation with the federal government.”
In an interview later that day, Mr. Blaikie, who is also a United Church minister, said church people have raised the issue with him although few constituents have. “I’m hoping that it will stimulate the government to realize that there are members who are concerned about this, because as far as I know, it’s the first time it’s made the floor of the House of Commons.”
The Anglican Church’s General Secretary, Jim Boyles, welcomed the statement. “The more public discussion there can be on this issue now the better, not just for the sake of the churches, but for the public to take a concern for aboriginal people whose lives have been damaged and who continue to live in difficult circumstances,” he said.
The church has been lobbying politicians recently, supplying all MPs with its recent issue of Ministry Matters focusing on residential schools. It is hiring an Ottawa-based lobby firm to push its case.
Archdeacon Boyles said negotiations between the four churches – Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United – and the federal departments of Indian Affairs and Justice, have produced agreement that the continuing viability of church organizations is a goal.
The churches have also welcomed a report from the Law Commission of Canada calling on the government to help develop redress programs for victims of abuse in institutions, including residential schools. The government commissioned the report, Restoring Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions, and has promised to respond by the end of the year.
“The redress programs that we are contemplating are those that would be negotiated between the various parties represented, individual survivors, government, communities and others if necessary,” said the commission’s executive director, Bruno Bonneville.
Programs should address the needs of survivors, including an apology, compensation, recognition and therapy. “There is no one recipe,” Mr. Bonneville said. “I think it has to be different from one community to the other, from one institution to the other. Looking for a blanket solution to these problems is unrealistic.”
Some church leaders were quoted in a national newspaper in the aftermath of the report’s release saying that it supported their view that more responsibility rests with the government.
The report “doesn’t say whether the churches are right or the government is right,” Mr. Bonneville said. “This is really up to those two parties to resolve. I don’t think you’ll find the answer in our report.”
In other residential school news:
- Trials began at the end of March in the case of eight plaintiffs who attended St. George’s Residential School in Lytton, B.C. The trials may not wrap up until the fall. The church and the Diocese of Cariboo are each represented by their own lawyers this time, unlike in an earlier trial in which the church and diocese were found jointly liable for 60 per cent of the damages, with Ottawa being responsible for the remaining 40 per cent.
- A planned celebration by the congregation of St. John’s, Wabasca, Alta., around their residential school experience has been cancelled, Bishop John Clarke of Athabasca announced in his March column in the diocesan newspaper, the Anglican Messenger. They took that decision after a number of abuse cases were filed against the Roman Catholic-run school in the same community, fearing the planned celebration would be “misinterpreted,” Bishop Clarke wrote. He also wrote of the pain of people “who worked faithfully at the schools across this country and who were not guilty of abuse …the spectre of class action lawsuits has effectively made lepers of them all.”
- In fact, a new project is being developed in the Diocese of Keewatin to have former school staff tell their stories and share their concerns. This may involve a series of regional workshops or even a national gathering. Interested former workers are asked to contact the general secretary at Church House, 600 Jarvis St., Toronto, M4Y 2J6.
- Archdeacon Boyles said the church has now received a few lawsuits where former students have claimed sexual abuse by other students. “That raises new issues of responsibility,” he said.
|Athabasca||St. John?s, Wabasca, Alta.||1||1|
|Brandon||Mackay, The Pas, Man.||5||62|
|British Columbia||St. Michael?s, Alert Bay, B.C.||21||(1 class action) 21|
|Calgary||Old Sun, Gleichen, Alta.||13||13|
|St. Cyprian, Brocket, Alta.||3||3|
|St. Paul?s, Cardston, Alta.||6||6|
|Cariboo||St. George?s, Lytton, B.C.||8||15|
|Huron||Mohawk Institute, Brantford, Ont.||2||(1 class action) 1,000|
|Saskatchewan||All Saints, St. Albans,|
|Prince Albert, Sask.,|
|St. Barnabas, Onion Lake, Sask.||66||66|
|various schools in dioceses of Qu?Appelle and Saskatchewan||1||(class action) 54|
|Yukon1||Chooutla, Carcross, Yukon||4||15|