A former member of the Anglican Church of Canada’s native residential schools negotiating team, Canon Bud Smith, has sharply criticized the settlement agreement with the federal government, calling it “unwise” and “wrong.” Mr. Smith resigned as chancellor of the diocese of Cariboo on Jan. 18 at the diocesan executive council meeting that approved the agreement.
Mr. Smith, a former British Columbia attorney general and a lay canon, said in a memo sent in December to diocesan chancellors, or church lawyers, that implementation of the agreement could jeopardize church structures. Mr. Smith was travelling and could not be reached for comment.
He also criticized the fact that, in return for assurance that the government will cap the church’s liability on damage claims, the church agrees to fight (along with the government) native court claims that the schools damaged their language and culture.
National church officials countered the criticism, saying the agreement allows the church to move away from litigation toward healing with aboriginal people.
The agreement “is not grounded in a principled approach to our relations with aboriginal people ? It will offend the conscience of many Anglicans,” Mr. Smith wrote in the memo, obtained by the Journal.
All 30 dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada have voted in favour of the agreement, each pledging to contribute a pre-determined share of the $22 million diocesan portion of the settlement. General Synod, the church’s national office, is responsible for $3 million.
Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of the Anglican church, said in an interview that the church is not backing away from issues of language and culture. The church, he said, “has acknowledged through the primate’s (1993) apology that the residential school system was damaging.”
Aboriginal children were taught in English in the boarding school system and in some cases punished for speaking their native languages.
The church believes the most effective way to address cultural issues is by supporting programs that promote native language and culture and offer counselling, said Archdeacon Boyles. The church’s healing fund has donated more than $1 million in 10 years to native culture programs.
The threat to church structures, according to Mr. Smith’s four-page memo, comes from the church’s promise that if the 30 dioceses ratified the agreement, General Synod would not proceed with an appeal of an important court case called the Mowatt decision.
In 1999, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that Cariboo and the General Synod were 60 per cent liable and the federal government was 40 per cent liable for sexual abuse that had been suffered by former student Floyd Mowatt at St. George’s Residential School, which had been located in Lytton, B.C., in the diocese of Cariboo.
That decision lumped the diocese and the national church together as an entity called “the church.” Mr. Smith commented that “our failure now to correct court errors about our structures will be an enduring problem.”
However, said Archdeacon Boyles, several recent court cases have upheld the church’s separate legal entities.
Mr. Smith also said that before the Mowatt case came to trial, the federal government offered to settle by accepting 80 per cent of potential liability, leaving 20 per cent for the church, but the national church’s counsel persuaded the diocese of Cariboo not to accept that arrangement because “Mowatt was supposedly the ideal case to define the ’employee/employer’ arrangement.” Under the terms of the current national settlement agreement, the government will pay 70 per cent of successful damage claims and the church is liable for 30 per cent, up to $25 million.
“This case has been mishandled by several parts of our church from the get go,” wrote Mr. Smith, adding, “I accept my own share of responsibility for this particular fiasco.”
The 60/40 decision, he said, was bad law “and our failure to get on with its appeal in a timely fashion is incomprehensible.”
Archdeacon Boyles said the time needed to prepare the appeal was a result of “the complexity of the case and the number of documents involved.” Also, he said, Anglican leaders took “a careful approach as to whether an appeal should be launched and wanted to consult widely.”
The diocese of Cariboo, located in southern and central B.C., suspended operations as of Dec. 31, 2001, due to the cost of residential schools litigation. Its parishes formed a new entity called the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior.