The federal government will give the Anglican Church an answer in the “near future” on what it plans to do about the mounting residential school litigation bills, says a top government official.
Asked whether the near future means before the end of this year, Shawn Tupper, director of the residential schools unit in the Department of Indian Affairs replied, “Absolutely.”
Church officials laid out the financial position of General Synod to federal officials on May 2. They want an agreement with the government that would allow the church to continue contributing to so-called healing and reconciliation with Aboriginals while preventing it from having to declare bankruptcy. Claims against the church far exceed its ability to pay.
By mid-August the church still had not received an official response although its general secretary, Archdeacon Jim Boyles was granted a meeting on Aug. 17 with Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray.
The government needs to decide how it will deal with all the churches before responding to the Anglican Church, Mr. Tupper said.
“It is something that would set a precedent in terms of how the government responds to other churches, perhaps even other parts of the Anglican Church,” Mr. Tupper said.
He said there’s still time for the government and churches to work out an agreement. “Let’s not just focus on the worst case scenario, the bankruptcy of the church, let’s also talk about what alternative solutions there might be.”
Mr. Tupper said he’s discussed alternative dispute resolution models and alternatives to compensating individuals that go beyond cash compensation with the ecumenical working group of the four churches. Solutions might involve using the churches’ current infrastructure, he said. “In many situations, churches are more in communities than is the federal government or the Department of Indian Affairs.”
The churches have suggested in-kind solutions that might offer Aboriginals longer-term healing and reconciliation, he said. “And the government’s in absolute agreement with that.”
The federal government and churches don’t necessarily see eye to eye, however, on whether parts of the churches not being sued, including dioceses that never contained residential schools, ought to come to the rescue of the parts nearing bankruptcy. The government believes churches need to look beyond their formal structures to assist their ailing parts, Mr. Tupper said.
Archdeacon Boyles agrees other dioceses and Anglicans in general in Canada and other parts of the world, might well be willing to help. But the church has no intention of asking for that help before an agreement with the government is reached, because it won’t be able to guarantee the money would go to Natives or to help the church rather than into lawyers’ pockets or court costs.
The churches and government have been close to agreement a couple of times, Mr. Tupper said, “and then there’s always a hiccup that’s prevented us from nailing it down. It’s the sort of issue that’s not impossible to resolve. It’s just really a hard issue and we have to keep working at it and struggling along until we find the right answer.”
The government is trying to balance the interests of taxpayers, non-Christians and non-churchgoing people against that of the churches, he said. At the same time, it is aware the churches make a real contribution to society in their charitable work.