GS2001: General Synod averts showdown with federal government

Leadership of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), meeting here for the 36th session of General Synod, voted by a narrow majority today to defer decision on a resolution directing General Synod to break off talks with the federal government to express “dissatisfaction and disappointment” over the slow pace of negotiations with the federal government in resolving the ongoing litigation over residential schools.

The vote, passed by a slender margin among the 300 Synod delegates from Anglican dioceses across Canada, averted a showdown which would have required General Synod senior management to “cease negotiations” with the federal government. Under the proposed resolution, the team was instructed to break off talks with the government by a deadline of 15 September 2001 unless concrete progress was made on a number of specific areas of negotiation.

The outcome of today’s vote was to refer the resolution for further deliberation by the Council of General Synod (CoGS), a smaller body charged with all executive decisions on behalf of the ACC while the triennial meeting of General Synod is not in session.

If and until there is a direction from CoGS, the ACC negotiating team will continue to meet with federal negotiators throughout the summer in pursuit of a settlement that is fair and equitable to all parties. According to Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of General Synod and chief negotiator for the Anglican Church, the ACC is currently in a “constructive phase” of negotiations with the three other churches and federal Deputy Minister Jack Stagg, recently appointed to head the government negotiating team on behalf of Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray.

Based on most recent statistics, General Synod is currently facing 809 lawsuits brought directly against the Church by aboriginal plaintiffs and a further 386 claims filed by the federal government naming General Synod as 3rd Party, bringing the total claims against General Synod to 1,195. It is the 3rd Party suits — numbering 32.3% of the total — which are under negotiation between General Synod and the federal government as part of the overall review of the residential schools issue. In an earlier report to General Synod, it was reported that the ACC — including General Synod and the dioceses — has spent nearly $5 million on legal costs on the residential schools issue during the past two years.

With feelings running high on the Synod floor, a number of speakers during today’s debate expressed the view that it was “time to play hardball” and “time to send a blunt message” demonstrating that the Anglican Church is “running out of patience” and “losing trust” in its negotiations with government.

The prevailing view, as expressed by Rt. Rev. Donald Phillips, Bishop of Rupert’s Land (Winnipeg), was that it would be unwise to “tie the hands of our negotiators with rigid conditions at a time when the negotiations remain fluid and flexible.”

In addition, said Archbishop David Crawley, Metropolitan of the Province of British Columbia and the Yukon, “We have an obligation to continue to negotiate to achieve our first priority, which is healing and justice for aboriginal people.”

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