Ottawa’s view of ADR dampens enthusiasm

Published November 1, 2000

The Anglican Church continues to work at getting two alternative dispute resolution projects off the ground. But Ellie Johnson, director of Partnerships, admits that she has lost much of her enthusiasm for ADR as a way of resolving residential schools grievances.

Or at least she has lost faith in the federal government’s implementation of ADR.

Ms.. Johnson was involved in initial talks about ADR between churches, Natives and the government and continues to play a key role for the church.

“I was very enthusiastic in the beginning,” she said.

Initially, in addition to individual financial settlements, participants talked of memorializing the survivors of residential schools, retelling the history of the country to include what really happened to the nation’s original inhabitants and teaching that history to immigrants.

“We did a lot of visioning,” Ms. Johnson said. “It all seems to have gone by the boards.”

She continued, “I don’t think this whole ADR approach is going to live up to its original vision. When we first gathered we had the vision of bringing closure and resolution in broad terms, that would be helpful both to individuals and communities.”

The government has been driving the process, however, and it has become narrowly focused. Lawyers’ involvement has meant the process has become quite legalistic, Ms. Johnson said.

ADR pilot projects as now conceived, are to involve no more than 50 people. They will deal only with people who have been physically or sexually abused, and will result in individual financial settlements. That means the Natives’ claim that the schools resulted in a loss of their culture won’t be addressed, Ms. Johnson observed. This is a narrow, piecemeal approach that will leave most people who attended residential schools out.

Ms. Johnson is also unhappy that news is not being shared about any of the projects already under way.

The two projects the Anglican Church will be a part of both relate to the former Gordon’s residential school in southern Saskatchewan. One involves the Kawacatoose band, the other an extended family who approached the federal government and asked to participate. The United and Roman Catholic churches are also part of these two projects.

The federal government has been insisting that churches cover half the process and settlement costs for each ADR project. Ms. Johnson said she continues to negotiate that issue while they move ahead. If the government and churches reach an overall agreement on litigation costs, that agreement will also apply to ADR, she said.

As many people grow disillusioned with the potential for ADR, there are increasing numbers of calls – from Natives, churches and outside observers – for an independent tribunal to deal with the broad issues on a national basis. Ms. Johnson said she strongly supports that idea.


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