The Lethbridge Herald

Wednesday, March 12, 2003, p. a5

Pact between feds, Anglican Church could benefit Southern Alta. natives


TORONTO - The federal government and the Anglican Church of Canada signed an agreement Tuesday to establish a settlement fund to compensate victims of abuse in native residential schools, paving the way for about 300 southern Alberta people who have claims against two Anglican residential schools.

"St. Paul's School on the Blood Reserve and St. Cyprian's School in Brocket were run by the Anglican Church, and there are about 300 claimaints who attended there and have filed statements of claim," said Vaughn Marshall, a Calgary lawyer representing aboriginal claimants against residential schools.

"What (this agreement) means is that those claimants who have a claim that can be validated involving physical or sexual abuse will receive a settlement, and 30 per cent of it will be contributed by the Anglican Church." Marshall, of Calgary, and Lethbridge lawyer Rhonda Ruston represent nearly 600 of 3,700 Alberta claimants. Marshall said while the agreement - which was signed in principle last November and ratified by all parties Tuesday - may prompt some clients to jump at the chance to settle and end a long and difficult process, it could mean they will never receive compensation for other claims, including cultural abuse, loss of education and loss of language.

The agreement calls for the national church to contribute $25 million towards compensating claimants in lawsuits filed since the federal government officially apologized in 1998 for widespread abuse.

It is estimated that more than 90,000 aboriginal children aged six and older attended the live-in schools - often against their will - from 1930 until the last one closed outside Regina in 1996.

The schools, funded by Ottawa but run by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches until the 1970s, also are blamed for stripping generations of former students of their native languages and culture.

"In a way, what happened (Tuesday) is a repeat of what happened 100 years ago," Marshall said. "By signing this agreement, the Anglicans are doing the government's bidding once more."

Marshall said he finds it interesting the Anglican Church was the first to stand up and admit there had to be compensation for cultural and language abuse, but through this agreement has been at least temporarily absolved of it.

"That's still all under appeal, though," he said. "These claims will go to trial, and they will be settled."

More than 4,500 lawsuits representing at least 12,000 claimants have been filed since the late 1990s. To date, a handful of lawsuits have made it through the courts, with conflicting judgments on how church and government should split costs. Anglicans are involved in about 20 per cent of the lawsuits.

About one lawsuit per day is being resolved out of court with average payouts of less than $100,000. Ottawa has paid more than $37 million to settle about 550 out-of-court settlements since 1996.

The agreement signed Tuesday comes into effect Saturday. It was signed by Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican primate, and federal Public Works Minister Ralph Goodale , whose portfolio includes responsibility for residential schools resolution.