Synod defers motion to quit negotiations

Published September 1, 2001

Bishop Jim Cruickshank of Cariboo describes his diocese’s futile negotiations with Ottawa.

Waterloo, Ont.

GENERAL Synod referred to Council of General Synod a motion that would have forced church negotiators to walk out of talks with the federal government if an agreement on liability over residential schools lawsuits is not reached by Sept. 15.

In a series of updates on residential schools, synod also heard that the diocese of Cariboo is moving toward insolvency due to legal costs concerning residential schools cases.

The resolution to abandon talks with Ottawa was moved by Canon Philip Poole of Toronto, a member of General Synod’s financial management and development committee.

He told synod that the committee welcomed the appointment last fall of Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, who was charged by the prime minister with opening talks with the four churches affected by residential schools lawsuits.

Although Mr. Gray recently received a mandate from cabinet to bring the matter to a conclusion and appointed civil servant Jack Stagg to negotiate with the churches, Mr. Poole said the committee feels it does not see much progress.

“In our view, there has been no movement. We see a stonewalling by the federal government. We want action by the federal government,” Mr. Poole told synod.

The resolution would direct the church’s negotiating team to stop talking with the government as of Sept. 15 unless eight concerns are met, including compensation for individuals harmed in residential schools, recognition of contributions to aboriginal programs and indemnity for all current and future claims and payment of legal costs of church organizations.

The idea was not popular, however. Bishop Ron Ferris of Algoma noted that backing out of talks could also affect dioceses that are threatened by litigation. He said, “I don’t think you enter into negotiations by issuing an ultimatum.”

While Rev. James Robinson, of Calgary, urged the church to “play hardball” with the government, Archbishop David Crawley, of British Columbia and Yukon, noted that the Anglican church is negotiating alongside three other churches (Roman Catholic, United and Presbyterian) and pulling out could affect the partners.

Robert Falby, chancellor of the diocese of Toronto and one of the Anglican negotiators, said the motion, while offered as an assistance to the negotiators, “in fact is just the reverse ? neither a specific timeline nor helpful.”

He asked that the resolution be referred to COGS, and that motion was approved. COGS meets next in November.

Mr. Falby, in a report to synod delivered before the voting on the resolution, noted there were meetings with Mr. Stagg scheduled for July and August and they represent “the last opportunity for General Synod to try and arrive at a settlement short of insolvency.” There are “some signs of goodwill, but it is clear this will be a difficult negotiation,” he said.

He said the two sides have agreed on some guidelines, among them that any significant progress toward resolution will need the participation of church organizations legally responsible and support from church organizations not legally responsible, that only those church organizations that were in direct contractual relationships (with the schools) should assume legal liability and that existing contributions to aboriginal ministries must be included in any calculation of financial commitment.

Bishop Jim Cruickshank of the diocese of Cariboo, told synod that attempts by his diocese to negotiate with government officials have been fruitless.

The diocese was the location of the St. George’s residential school in Lytton, B.C. and has been sued by a number of former students, alleging sexual and physical abuse at the school. Last year, the B.C. Supreme Court found the church 60 per cent liable and the government 40 per cent liable for abuse at the school.

Bishop Cruickshank noted that “the market value of all of the assets of the diocese of Cariboo will not equal the probable value of these judgments.”

Last November, diocesan representatives met with Department of Justice officials to propose alternatives to litigation, but there has been no response to the proposal, the bishop said.

Last fall, the diocesan synod decided that Cariboo could survive for a year, until October 15, 2001. Diocesan officers met in early July, 2001, Bishop Cruickshank said, and decided to “put some vigour” into “winding up our affairs by October 15.”

He concluded, “That is what we are doing. It is our intention that on October 15, the diocese will cease to operate as a diocese.”

Questions still to be resolved in court, he said, include whether the diocese holds property outright or in trust for the parishes. If it enters bankruptcy, the diocese’s parishes could come under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon (Archbishop Crawley). The province has no assets, Bishop Cruickshank pointed out.

Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster noted that some have argued that the primate’s 1993 apology to natives for abuse suffered in the schools has led to the litigation and asked whether that was true.

Archbishop Peers noted that the government itself apologized and “if there was the slightest risk the apology would have gotten them into trouble, they wouldn’t have done it.” He said it does not affect the outcome of litigation.

Mr. Falby added that the apology was not the foundation for litigation and “even if that were the case, the apology was the right and proper thing for us to do.” His answer was greeted with loud applause.

In a presentation on the current state of the national church’s finances, treasurer Jim Cullen said General Synod is spending $100,000 per month on legal costs and presented financial statements for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2000. The statements showed revenue of $21.0 million, down from $21.5 million in 1999, and a net loss of $2.3 million in 2000, up from a loss of $2.1 million in 1999. About $2.1 million of the 2000 loss was due to legal costs associated with residential schools. In 1999, the portion was $1.6 million.

Dioceses are maintaining their contributions to General Synod, he said. As of July, he said, General Synod has 45 per cent of total projected diocesan contributions, “a great number at this time of year.”


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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