Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
September 17, 2001
Group calls poll gov't mischief
Gov't preying on ignorance of residential schools, says sister
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — The release of a poll showing that most Canadians believe the federal government and churches should share equal responsibility for abuses in Indian residential schools threatens ongoing talks with Ottawa, says a Catholic leader in the talks.
"This poll strikes me as a nasty bit of bureaucratic mischief, based on cooked questions designed to take advantage of the public's lack of understanding of the complexities of this issue," said Sister Marie Zarowny.
Zarowny is the chair of the Catholic Organizations' Task Group on Indian Residential Schools.
The poll, commissioned by the federal government and conducted by Earnscliffe Research and Pollara seven months ago, was released Sept. 8.
It showed that most Canadians believe the federal government and the churches are both legally and morally responsible for abuses in the schools and should share the cost of compensation equally.
Support groups and counselling were seen by most respondents to be the most effective response to help abuse victims, while paying compensation was considered the least important.
The poll also revealed that divesting assets was seen as the most widely acceptable option for how the churches could cope with financial demands. Bankruptcy was found to be unacceptable to the majority.
It showed, too, that almost all Canadians think there is some validity to many claims but that they should be proven.
"Most people want the government to be vigilant about false claims," the polling firms said.
The Catholic Church has long argued that it can't be sued for Indian residential school abuses because it is not a legal entity but almost two-thirds of those polled believe national churches should pay compensation anyway if one of its parts cannot.
Of the four denominational churches that ran the residential schools, only the Catholic Church is not considered a legal entity, a finding supported by the Alberta Court of Appeal on Aug. 28.
The three-member panel ruled in a test case that the Catholic Church in Alberta is "no more than an ecclesiastical entity incapable of being sued."
Zarowny said the poll "ignores the clarity that has been achieved in our direct discussions as well as in several important court decisions in recent months."
In July, Chief Justice Donald Brenner of the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that the federal government must pay 75 per cent of the $410,000 he awarded to six former residential students and that the Church, in this case, the United Church of Canada, was found liable for 25 per cent.
Zarowny said the chief justice concluded that neither the government nor the Church knew of the sexual assaults, nor could they have had constructive knowledge.
"He noted that it is improper to assume negligence, fault, blame or guilt," said Zarowny.
Government officials should be "communicating these findings to the Canadian public rather than exploiting the public's lack of knowledge," she said.
The four churches that ran the residential schools for the federal government have been holding talks with Ottawa for the past year to reach a cost-sharing agreement for compensation claims arising out of residential school abuse claims.
The churches fear those claims could total more than $2 billion.
Zarowny said the release of the seven-month old poll, which she termed of "dubious quality," is a "serious bad-faith manoeuvre by government officials that threatens to reverse the progress that has been made in dialogue and negotiation over the past 12 months."
She added it is directly contrary to Gray's request, agreed to by the churches, that the parties not negotiate in public.
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