All 30 Canadian Anglican dioceses approve residential schools agreement

The last of 30 dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada have now ratified an agreement with the federal government which caps the church’s liability in residential schools litigation at CAN$25 million.

Completing a process that began last November, the 30 dioceses have unanimously approved the agreement and unanimously agreed to contribute to the settlement fund it creates. Each diocese was required to sign on to the agreement before it could come into effect. At a series of special meetings and synods held since last December all agreed to do so, many without a dissenting vote.

The last dioceses to vote were Fredericton and Calgary this past weekend. Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador had earlier approved the agreement in principle and confirmed the decision this weekend. Because of time zones, Calgary’s officially became the final ratification vote.

The Canadian Anglican Church has also announced the formation of a separate corporation, called the Anglican Church of Canada Resolution Corp., which will administer the settlement fund under the terms of the agreement.

Under the agreement, 30 per cent of compensation will be paid from the settlement fund to former residential schools students who have proven claims of sexual or physical abuse. The remaining 70 per cent will be paid by the federal government.

If compensation for these claims eventually exceeds CAN$25 million, the federal government will pay the rest, and should awards fall short of that amount, the money will be returned to the dioceses.

Canadian dioceses made individual decisions on how they would find the money to contribute their share to the settlement fund. In the diocese of Toronto, for instance, Archbishop Terry Finlay asked each Anglican to contribute CAN$100 in order to raise CAN$5 million. Athabasca in Alberta is selling an archdeacon’s residence to raise CAN$125,000. Other dioceses dipped into reserves or decided to mount capital campaigns to cover both contributions to the settlement fund and other local projects.

Dioceses were asked to contribute to the settlement fund according to a formula similar to the one used to determine their contributions to the national church. In total, Canadian dioceses were called on to contribute CAN$22 million and that goal has been met. General Synod, the national embodiment of the church, will make up the remaining CAN$3 million.

The agreement was intended to move litigation over residential schools out of the courts and into a form of alternate dispute resolution. The large number of lawsuits was taking a long time in the legal system and the process was costing vast amounts of money, to the point where the General Synod of the Anglican Church was facing bankruptcy.

The details of a process to keep claims out of the courts (alternative dispute resolution) have yet to be finalised. Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of General Synod and the chief Anglican negotiator with the federal government, said at the time the agreement was announced, on 20 November 2003, that it would allow the church to use its resources to do what it does best – minister to people who were harmed in the schools and work at healing and reconciliation – rather than use them up in legal fees. After this weekend’s finalisation of the ratification process, Archdeacon Boyles said that he was “very pleased with the way dioceses have responded so quickly and so positively to the agreement. It shows the strength of the Anglican family in Canada.”

With the last of the ratification votes, the formal documents will now be sent to the dioceses for signing, Archdeacon Boyles explained. Once the documents have been signed by the dioceses, representatives of the Anglican Church and the Government of Canada will formally sign the official agreement.

A tentative date of 11 March has been set for the formal signing by Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican Primate, and federal Public Works Minister Ralph Goodale, in charge of residential schools resolution. The signing will likely take place at the Anglican national office in Toronto.

The Anglican Church was involved, with the federal government, in operating 26 of 80 residential schools from the mid-19th century until the 1970s when the church ended its involvement. In 1993, Archbishop Peers formally apologised to native people for the church’s involvement in the schools.

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