Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 6, 2000
St. Paul diocese part of $195M suit
Former native students allege brutal treatment at residential school
By JAY CHARLAND
WCR Staff Writer
Government and Church organizations, including the St. Paul Diocese, are facing up to $195 million in damages in lawsuits filed on behalf of 230 former native students of the Blue Quills Residential School.
The suit also names the Oblates, the Grey Nuns, the attorney general of Canada and the Roman Catholic Church as defendants. It alleges that the native people suffered abuse and, "brutal, inhumane and cruel treatment" while they were students at the school in St. Paul.
While many of the allegations contained in the court documents are of a general nature, more than 20 individuals, both lay and religious, are named in connection with specific allegations.
The suit was originally filed last September with the Court of Queen's Bench and an updated statement of claim was served Feb. 24 on Father Walter Laliberty, the administrator of the diocese.
Fran Huck, the lawyer representing the native people, said the papers were served to "preserve our rights" while there is an appeal of a decision by Justice Rosemary Nation of Calgary.
Huck noted that the diocese had already been served and that this service was in addition "to include the Roman Catholic Church."
In January, Nation dismissed an application by the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan to have the "Roman Catholic Church" excluded from the suit.
Frans Slatter, who represents both the Archdiocese of Edmonton and the Diocese of St. Paul, said the decision is being appealed because Nation did not answer the question of "whether there is such a thing as the Roman Catholic Church consisting of all the millions of Catholics and is it a suable entity recognized by the civil law."
"She basically said," he added, "that she didn't want to decide it now, she wanted to put it off - we're of the view that it should be decided now because we need to know the answer."
According to Slatter, it has been the position of the dioceses that the Roman Catholic Church "is an ecclesial body, not a legal entity."
The Blue Quills Indian Residential School, which was run by the Oblates, was founded in 1862 at Lac La Biche. In 1898, the school was moved to Saddle River where it continued to operate for 33 years before being moved in 1931 to a site about 10 km west of St. Paul. It is now a native-run institution.
Laliberty said the fact that the school was run by the Oblates and not the Diocese of St. Paul has created a problem for the diocese in terms of having information.
"In some ways," he noted, "we are out of the loop, when perhaps we shouldn't be. In the 11 months that I've been administrator I have never been invited to a meeting on this."
"One of the problems I'm having," Laliberty said, "is that I came to the diocese in 1973, after the school was closed, so I have no memory of the school or of the priests involved."
"In fact," he added, "I don't remember ever having a parishioner even mention one of these priests."
Admitting that the diocese should be more involved, Laliberty noted, "We really need to allow things to be sorted out and find out where was the real harm done and those (cases) should really be addressed."
"It is only right that those who have been hurt should be cared for," he added. "We need to be promoting an honest dialogue."
According to Slatter, " there are currently between 1,400 and 1,500 claims in relation to the 13 residential schools run by the Catholic Church in Alberta.
"Including the Anglicans and the United Church, there would be well over 2,000," he said.