Anglicans to face government alone as negotiating group disbands

By Leanne Larmondin and Solange De Santis

The ecumenical group which has been negotiating with the federal government over financial settlements from residential school lawsuits has disbanded following the decision by the Anglican Church of Canada to negotiate on its own.

The Anglican church, one of four churches involved in the negotiations, announced recently that it had begun bilateral talks both ecumenically and alone with the government. Its first meeting alone with government negotiators was in December. A second was held last month and a third two-day round of negotiations began in Vancouver, Feb. 4.

A Feb. 4 press release issued by the Anglican, Roman Catholic, United and Presbyterian churches said they had concluded that after negotiating together with the government for a year and a half “there is no longer a basis for ecumenical negotiations with the federal government to resolve the legacy of Indian residential schools.”

The churches added that they would have preferred to negotiate as a group, but they believe “these negotiations would now be inconsistent with a simultaneous bilateral negotiation in process.”

Representatives from the ecumenical group said there were mixed emotions about the dissolution of the group.

“We realize the Anglican General Synod is in a different place from the rest of us, although some of the Catholic orders are just as vulnerable,” said Rev. Ian Morrison of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Officers of the Anglican church say it has enough funds to operate through 2002, but its future is uncertain beyond that if there is no agreement with the government to cap the church’s contribution to settlement costs. In a prepared question and answer position statement on the residential schools negotiations, Anglican representatives say they would rather spend resources on healing and reconciliation than on legal fees.

“The Anglicans hope that the bilateral negotiations will progress rapidly to resolution that will allow them to get on with their primary goal, namely healing and reconciliation initiatives,” says the Anglican statement.

Sister Marie Zarowny, of the (Roman) Catholic Organizations’ Task Group on Indian Residential Schools, said there was “a lot of sadness” that the Anglican church could not wait for an anticipated first meeting with newly appointed deputy prime minister John Manley, who last month took over the residential schools portfolio from Herb Gray.

The churches have requested a meeting with Mr. Manley but none has yet been scheduled.

“It was hoped General Synod could have hung on,” said Sister Marie.

Last September, the ecumenical group proposed to the government that the churches make “significant contributions, in cash and in kind, participate in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes, and work with claimants and government to find ways of resolving the claims expeditiously.” The churches also asked for a mediator to broker discussions.

There was no reply from Ottawa and no further meetings have been held, although the federal government announced in October that it would pay 70 per cent of out-of-court settlements in proven cases of abuse.


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