Anglican Missionary Claims Remain

 

Jim Farrell

The Edmonton Journal

October 25, 2002

EDMONTON - > A justice of the Court of Queen's Bench dismissed Thursday almost all of the claims against the Anglican church by Alberta natives who claim they were victims of residential school sexual and physical abuse.

Because the schools were administered during most of their existence by the Missionary Society of the Anglican Church of Canada and the society is an incorporated body, the society and not the church is liable for any abuse, said Calgary-based Justice T. F. McMahon. The only claims against the Diocese of Calgary are those that involve alleged incidents of abuse before 1919, when the diocese turned operations of three residential schools over to the society, and after 1969, when the society turned them over to the federal government. At that point, the Anglican church signed a contract to provide "chaplaincy services." The only claims that will be considered against the Archdiocese of Athabasca are those that involve incidents before 1923, when the missionary society took control of northern residential schools, and after 1969, when it relinquished control, McMahon said. "The management, operation, supervision and staffing of the schools was, from among the Anglican entities, the responsibility of the Missionary Society of the Anglican Church of Canada." The Anglican Diocese of Edmonton was never named in any claims because it never included any native residential schools. Thursday's judgment leaves few of the 500 original Alberta claimants with suits against the church. Because the church had only a chaplaincy function, any claims of abuse after 1969 have little merit and there are few which predate 1919, said Archdeacon Barry Foster, executive officer of the Calgary Diocese. "Our legal counsel doesn't believe there is any exposure to liability after 1969." Tony Merchant's law office represents 5,200 natives with claims stemming from alleged abuse in residential schools in Canada. Merchant said Thursday's decision clears the way for lawyers to concentrate on the one party that is ultimately responsible - the federal government. The government formulated the residential school policy in the first place. "What has happened is the plaintiffs began suing the churches and came to know over time the government was using the churches as a shield and hiding behind them and avoiding responsibility," Merchant said.

The Calgary lawyer who argued the natives' case before McMahon on behalf of his fellow lawyers has no regrets about losing. Like Merchant, Vaughn Marshall holds the federal government primarily responsible for abuse within residential schools. Thursday's decision also had a practical benefit, Marshall said. The Anglican church has few assets, while the federal government has deep pockets. "There are 500 claimants against Anglican residential schools in Alberta, and if each one won a judgment of $200,000, the bill would be $100 million," Marshall said. "I would be very surprised if the General Synod had assets of greater than $3 million."

The lawsuits have already damaged church operations in Alberta and bankrupted the Kamloops-based Anglican Diocese of Caribou, and it would only get worse if Thursday's judgment had gone against Alberta's churches, said Foster. "We've spent roughly $300,000 to $350,000 in litigation costs in the last three years," he said. "If our application had been unsuccessful, that would have meant three, four or five more years of litigation. Going to trial is expensive and we would have been looking at an increasing amount of our operating budget going to litigation costs."

jfarrell@thejournal.canwest.com

 Copyright 2002 Edmonton Journal