Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
November 5, 2001
A first step to resolving residential school claims
Ottawa offers to pay 70 per cent of out-of-court settlements
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — Churches and Catholic organizations that ran Indian residential schools for the federal government say Ottawa's offer to pay 70 per cent of out-of-court settlements with former students is a step in the right direction.
But they also want the government to consider a more comprehensive solution to dealing with abuse claims from former residential school students.
Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray announced outside the Commons Oct. 29 that the government is moving unilaterally to settle claims of former students.
"Even though we haven't yet reached an agreement with the other group of defendants — certain Church organizations — on apportioning or dividing our joint liability, we're ready to settle directly with native claimants on the basis of 70 per cent of their valid claims," he said.
Archdeacon Jim Boyles, chair of the Ecumenical Group on Indian Residential Schools, which includes the Catholic Organizations' Task Group on Indian Residential Schools, called the government's offer "a reasonable first step."
But the solution needed is not just about money, he said. "It's about bringing justice to individuals harmed and healing to communities affected."
The ecumenical group wants the government to return to the negotiating table "to consider a full and fair solution that will take into account both the ongoing needs of First Nations communities and the need to find alternative ways for some Church organizations to meet their financial obligations," it said in a news release.
"Regrettably the government didn't want to discuss our proposal," it added.
The government's proposal came after more than a year of dialogue between the churches and Ottawa over a formula for paying the claims. Between 8,000 and 9,000 former residential school students have launched more than 4,500 lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and cultural abuse while they attended the schools.
Gray said that to date the talks with the churches on how to share compensation costs have failed. "We should get back to our priority," he said. "And that's helping the victims who can prove they have valid claims of sexual and physical abuse."
Ottawa has reportedly spent $37 million so far on settlements ranging from $15,000 to more than $300,000.
Gray said he couldn't say yet how much the government's offer would cost because it isn't known how many people will respond favourably to it. "The claims so far, without having them validated by the courts, involve several billion dollars."
Discussions between the government and churches were expected to continue.
In a CCN interview in September, Sister Marie Zarowny, chair of the Catholic organizations' task group, said her hope was that an agreement would be reached with Ottawa to "enable us to put the litigation process behind us."
Then, she said, the resources of the member organizations could go toward "the healing that is needed as a result of both what happened in the residential schools as well as what has happened in this process."
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