Healing ministry ‘in jeopardy’

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Canada’s Anglican bishops have appealed to the Prime Minister to intervene in stalled negotiations aimed at compensating people who were harmed in Indian Residential Schools.

More than 7,000 people have brought legal actions against the federal government and several church organizations seeking damages for a range of abuse claims in the schools, which were operated by Ottawa with the help of the churches.

To date the government has ignored recommendations from aboriginal, church and legal groups that it should provide a means of settling these claims outside the courts. The Department of Justice is aggressively pursuing litigation in the claims.

In a letter to Prime Minister Chrétien delivered Wednesday, the bishops note their ‘dismay’ at the lack of progress. “Those who were abused still wait for justice and the litigation is rapidly draining [our] resources,” the letter states. “We assure you of our ongoing commitment to our ministry of healing among the indigenous peoples of Canada. We will continue this work as long as we are able, but it is now in jeopardy.”

The Anglican Church includes more than 200 congregations made up primarily of Indigenous persons, and it has funded extensive community-based healing efforts since 1991. These operations are funded through the church’s national body, the General Synod, which is projected to run out of funds before the end of this year.

In a covering letter, Archbishop Michael Peers said the bishops wrote out of frustration that talks with the government have shown no tangible progress.

He said the bishops were shocked to learn that “more than 99 percent of our spending to date has been on litigation — most of it generated by actions of the Department of Justice — and less than one percent on settlements.”

In more than 40 percent of the cases involving the General Synod, it is being sued directly by the Department of Justice. Those are the cases that have predominated in the courts so far and generated the majority of legal fees.

In 1997 the Minister of Justice asked the Law Commission of Canada “to assess processes for redressing the harm of physical and sexual abuse inflicted on children who lived in institutions that were run or funded by government.” The Commission’s report, Restoring Dignity, was released in March last year. It recommended establishing a ‘redress mechanism’, rather than simply relying on the courts, to meet a wide range of needs commonly cited by abuse survivors.

At the time, justice minister Anne McLellan promised a response by the end of the year. To date, however, the minister has made no response and her department continues to pursue litigation almost exclusively in response to the abuse claims.

“Justice is not now being served, and we cannot see how continuing this pattern will ever serve the purposes of justice,” Archbishop Peers said.

In a related statement to members of the church, the bishops gave their assurance that “regardless of what happens to the institutional structures of the church, the spirit and life of the church will continue and flourish.

“We urge Anglicans to continue to pray for all those involved in this work, and particularly for those who attended the schools and are seeking to rebuild their lives.

“Finally, we commit ourselves, whatever the outcome, to nurture and lead the Anglican family through these difficult times, always seeking the will of Christ and the well-being of Christ’s Church.”

In the meantime, Archbishop Peers has requested Anglicans to contact their Members of Parliament to express their concern.

The complete text of the letters and the statement is available on this web site, accessible via the following links:

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