Pact foreseen ‘in a few months’

Published June 1, 2002

Mississauga, Ont.

Jack Stagg, the deputy minister leading the federal government’s residential schools negotiating team, says he hopes the two sides can soon reach agreement.

Negotiators hope an agreement can be reached “in a matter of a few months,” Mr. Stagg said in an interview after a presentation, closed to the public, to the Anglican house of bishops. He added that he has learned a lot about church structure.

Four churches (Anglican, United, Presbyterian and various Roman Catholic orders) are being sued by hundreds of Canadian natives over alleged and proven abuse in a national boarding school system. The churches are seeking an agreement with the government that would limit their liability and, in some cases, avoid bankruptcy.

The churches were negotiating as a group until last January, when the Anglican church, facing severe financial pressures at the national and diocesan level, decided to pursue separate talks.

Mr. Stagg, in the interview, acknowledged that an agreement with the churches would also benefit Ottawa. “It would mean we could get on with life, with designing a fair, equitable and cost-effective process (of handling claims),” he said.

However, one of the areas of disagreement is that the government wants the churches to bear half the cost of out-of-court mediation and the churches say they can’t afford it. “We have process costs we are concerned about,” said Mr. Stagg.

Concerning church structure, he said he has learned not to assume his team is dealing with “like corporate entities,” a major issue in the talks. Church negotiators have said the government negotiators assume a denomination is a single entity with a large source of funds. They say federal negotiators have been slow to realize that church entities such as national offices, dioceses, parishes and orders, are incorporated separately and are not legally liable if they had nothing to do with residential schools.

Mr. Stagg said he volunteered to address the Anglican bishops’ regular spring meeting and several bishops said after the presentation that, although there was some pointed questioning, they appreciated the gesture.

“It was really helpful. We had a human face there, someone listening to us and trying to understand our dilemma,” said Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara. “Some of the bishops are very anxious. Time is running out for them. There were some very frank exchanges. We wanted to emphasize what we have done for native people, such as preserving languages.”

Eleven of the 29 dioceses, as well as the Anglican church’s national office, are under financial pressure from the costs of mounting legal defences. One diocese, Cariboo, closed its office in Kamloops, B.C. last fall.

Mr. Stagg’s presentation was “very honest,” said Bishop John Clarke of Athabasca. “I’m a little more hopeful.”

“There is a perception that the government seriously wants an agreement,” said Bishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee, who added that the bishops “sent a strong message that we are not going to negotiate out of fear.” He added that the bishops said the church will be true to its principles and seek healing and reconciliation with natives.

In two additional closed sessions during the five-day meeting, the bishops heard General Secretary Jim Boyles give an update on the residential schools negotiations and heard Archbishop David Crawley, of the diocese of Kootenay, talk about contingency plans if there is no agreement with the government and General Synod shuts down.

Before the meeting was closed, Mr. Boyles told the group that the Anglican Journal has been separately incorporated, to protect its assets, and that the national archives and the Anglican Book Centre could also be incorporated.

Major issues discussed at the rest of the meeting, held at a retreat centre west of Toronto, concerned the right of dioceses to make major decisions such as whether to bless homosexual relationships and the Dignity, Inclusion and Fair Treatment document passed last year by General Synod.

Archbishop Crawley headed a task force to investigate the diocesan “jurisdiction” question and presented a report that takes into account “the reality of how our church works.” The diocese of New Westminster has voted twice to allow the blessing of same-sex relationships, but Bishop Michael Ingham has denied his consent.

General Synod “won’t touch that with a 10-foot pole,” Archbishop Crawley noted.

Therefore, the task force said in its report, “when jurisdiction in a contentious matter is not specified, it will be decided at the highest level that has the will to decide it.” Archbishop Crawley also noted that although the house of bishops does not have legislative power, diocesan bishops do have the power to implement decisions.

In discussing the Dignity, Inclusion and Fair Treatment document, which pledges to treat everyone in the church with fairness and without discrimination, Bishop Ingham said he has had no reaction from his parishes at all. “They already think they’re treating people with dignity anyway,” he said.

But Bishop Ann Tottenham of Toronto said the document is useful for “raising people’s level of consciousness,” adding that she had to tell a parish it couldn’t summarily fire a church secretary who had been diagnosed with epilepsy.

At the opening of the meeting, Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate, told the bishops that he had received more than 100 e-mails in response to his statement in April on the Middle East asking for peace with justice for Palestinians. He also said he’d received two anonymous, threatening voice mails.

The Canadian Jewish Congress withdrew from the Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation in response to the primate’s statement.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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