Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 24, 2003
Residential school talks progressing
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Both the federal government and Catholic institutions that ran almost 75 per cent of Canada's Indian residential schools are softening their positions on cost-sharing arrangements to compensate abuse victims.
Negotiations collapsed two years ago when Ottawa arbitrarily announced a 70-30 formula for validated claims - with the federal government paying the larger share - and then insisted the Catholic Church as a whole is liable for abuses in schools operated by Catholic organizations.
The Catholic Church, supported by court decisions in Alberta and Saskatchewan, argued it is an ecclesiastical, not a legal entity, and that it is not responsible for the abuses.
But in behind-the-scenes discussions by both sides in recent months, both sides backed away from their earlier positions, with most Catholic organizations now paying 30 per cent of validated claims and the government moving away from a pan-denominational solution.
"We are flexible in terms of technique with respect to the Catholic Church," said Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale, minister-in-charge of Indian Residential School Resolutions Canada (IRSC).
"We are prepared to consider different options and arrangements so long as they are fundamentally consistent with the principles that we're applying across the board," he added at a news conference Nov. 6.
Recently, Bishop Jacques Berthelet acknowledged that the residential school question, "which has befuddled us for many years," seem to be progressing. "There appear to be signs the federal government is realizing (that) a so-called pan-denominational solution is out of the question for the Catholic Church, and that discussions must take place directly with the first-tier parties."
Mario Dion, who took over the post of deputy minister for IRSC several months ago, said the main point is that there be an agreement that the Church institutions contribute 30 per cent for each validated case.
"We are engaged, and I am spending a fair amount of my time holding discussions with bishops and provincials of orders within the Catholic Church," he said.
"We're talking of about 55 entities in all that have been involved in some way, shape or form, so this will not be achieved overnight."
More than 1,000 settlements have been reached so far, but only 12 have found their way through the courts. Almost 12,000 former residential school students are seeking compensation from the courts for alleged abuses dating back over a period of 50 years.
However, a new Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) process that changes two contentious waiver requirements could mean that a majority of the claims could be resolved in seven years, said Goodale.
Claimants are no longer required to sign a release form that shielded the government from any future litigation - until after an adjudicator has rendered a decision.
As well, claimants who accept compensation awards or settle litigation "will not be precluded from the possibility of pursuing future litigation for loss of language and culture, if and when the courts create a basis for such suits," said Goodale.
Lawyers say 'No'
But a consortium of 19 law firms across Canada representing about 5,000 former residential school students rejected the new ADR program as "fundamentally flawed and doomed to failure."
At a news conference following Goodale's announcement, Craig Brown, the lead lawyer for a national class action filed on behalf of residential school survivors, said the government has designed the program so that "no more than 15 per cent of all residential school child abuse victims will even qualify for the inadequate compensation being proposed."