Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 18, 2002
Church objects to plan for school lawsuits
Ottawa may sabotage its own initiative, says CCCB spokesman
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
A plan to speed up the settlement of thousands of Indian residential school lawsuits may go before the federal cabinet soon but the question of whether the churches will be involved is up in the air.
Quoting unnamed sources, The Canadian Press reported Nov. 10 that the plan, which would move the lawsuits out of the courts and into the hands of adjudicators, is set to go before cabinet by the end of November. Ottawa would pay 70 per cent of the validated claims based on an established grid of offences, it said.
Abuse victims would have to turn to the Church and religious organizations that ran the schools on contract to the federal government for the remaining 30 per cent.
But Gerry Kelly, aboriginal affairs advisor for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, says that by tying the 70 per cent figure to its resolution framework Ottawa "may sabotage its own initiative."
If the news report is accurate, "What the government is doing is placing a condition on Church participation in such framework," Kelly said in a CCN interview Nov. 12. "And it is unacceptable."
The figure of 70 per cent means that "the government is going to offload to the plaintiff 30 per cent of the compensation award regardless of whether or not there's a Church organization that has the capacity or the obligation to assume the remaining 30 per cent," said Kelly.
"It imposes an arbitrary figure in terms of apportionment and the government already knows that the 30 per cent number is unsustainable by the churches."
If the government insists on agreements based on the 70 per cent formula, "It is not going to get the participation of Church organizations, even to the process of validation," said Kelly. "It may be a decent process but to tag onto that such an arbitrary element that has been the subject of negotiations and disagreement for the last three years" is unacceptable, he said.
Talks between the churches and the federal government broke down a year ago after Ottawa unilaterally agreed to pay 70 per cent of the cost of abuse claims reached out of court. The churches wanted a more comprehensive deal taking into account their ability to pay and a long-term healing process.
The Canadian Press report said that a team of adjudicators would reach settlements with 75 per cent of the more than 12,000 plaintiffs within seven years.
Catholic Church organizations are named in 73 per cent of the lawsuits and Anglican organizations in 18 per cent.