Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 16, 2004
Government appeal disappoints churches
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Catholic and Anglican church officials are disappointed that the federal government is appealing a court ruling that the government is 100 per cent liable for residential school abuses.
The government's appeal of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision last December that Ottawa is wholly liable "puts a chill" on the efforts of Church organizations to focus on healing and reconciliation, said Gerry Kelly, director of the aboriginal affairs secretariat of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The government announced Feb. 9 that it is seeking leave to appeal the ruling. It acknowledged that "litigation is very difficult for Indian residential school claimants," but added, "at times it is unavoidable."
The government said its priority is to work with former students to address their claims through alternative methods of resolution.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said, "The B.C. Court of Appeal decision is at variance with the principles as enunciated by the Supreme Court of Canada in these matters.
"Accordingly, the principle of vicarious liability of non-profit organizations for the abuse of children in their care needs to be underscored, and the fundamental principle of child protection afforded."
But Kelly said in a Feb. 10 interview that the government's action could cause
Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) efforts to move more slowly "because of the level of uncertainty that this maintains." He said it could be two years before the Supreme Court rules on the appeal.
Kelly also said he is doubly disappointed because the government has indicated it intends to continue with an ADR process in which it offers to pay only 70 per cent of compensation to plaintiffs, leaving plaintiffs to collect the other 30 per cent from Church organizations.
"What it's basically doing is handing off to the plaintiff the responsibility of enforcing something that it has not been able to enforce in the courts," he said.
Archdeacon Jim Boyles, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada's General Synod, said the government's decision will "prolong the uncertainty for those seeking compensation."
He said many of those seeking compensation for abuse at residential schools are now elderly. As well, "others are unwell and the humane approach to dealing with their claims would be to expedite them rather than seek further legal delays."