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Religious Tolerance logo

Abuse at Native residential schools in Canada

Developments from 1998 to 2002

Recent developments: 1998 to the present:

bullet1998-JAN-06: Ministry of Indian Affairs apology: See our essay "Federal government apologies: 1998 & 2008" for details.
bullet1998-OCT-27: United Church moderator issues apology: The Right Reverend Bill Phipps, Moderator of The United Church of Canada read an apology directed to former students of United Church Indian Residential Schools, their families and communities. It said, in part:

"As Moderator of The United Church of Canada, I wish to speak the words that many people have wanted to hear for a very long time. On behalf of The United Church of Canada, I apologize for the pain and suffering that our church's involvement in the Indian Residential School system has caused. We are aware of some of the damage that this cruel and ill-conceived system of assimilation has perpetrated on Canada's First Nations peoples. For this we are truly and most humbly sorry." 1

bullet1999-JUL-10: Some lawyers viewed as exploiting victims: According to an article in the Globe and Mail, Toronto, ON, Native leaders are concerned about the excessive gouging by lawyers who swoop into native communities and recruit clients. They allegedly charge fees as high as 40%. The Law Society of Saskatchewan has passed new rulings in an attempt to control the situation.
bullet2000-JAN-26: Anglican Synod may face financial bankruptcy: According to the Toronto Star: The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has been named in more than 300 lawsuits by more than 1,000 claimants. According to Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the church's general secretary, the claims total hundreds of millions of dollars and far exceed the church's assets. Many of the claims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and cultural assimilation are alleged to have occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, before the church had insurance coverage to covered these forms of abuse. Boyles said: "Our main goal as a church is healing and reconciliations for the damage done by residential school experiences."  
bullet2000-FEB-11: Allegations of abuse in British Columbia: Hundreds of former students of two former residential schools on Vancouver Island have started a class-action lawsuit against the Anglican Church, the United Church and the Federal Government. Some plaintiffs allege that they were sexually abused in St. Michael's Residential School which the Anglican Church ran in Alert Bay from 1921 to 1969. The rest allege that they were abused at Alberni Indian Residential School which was run by the United Church (or the churches that merged to form the United Church) from 1891 to 1973. 
bullet2000-APR-26: Natives ridiculed for taking residential school settlements: According to the National Post: The money that some native individuals have received in residential school sex abuse lawsuits was considered "dirty" by other natives. Several hundred men who attended Gordon's School in Saskatchewan received out-of-court settlements from the federal government. This residential school was run by the government without church involvement.
bullet2000-MAY: Public opinion poll: The Angus Reid Group polled 1,500 Canadians for their attitudes towards residential school cases. Results were:
bullet 80% believe that the churches should be saved from going into bankruptcy.
bullet18% agreed that they should go into bankruptcy if necessary to pay the judgments.
bullet58% said that the government should pay most of the legal damages.
bullet2000-MAY-4: Anglican Church council meeting: According to the Anglican News Service:

"The Anglican Church's national executive council began four days of meetings...[in Fredricton, NB] attempting to balance hope for the church's future with the stark possibility of looming bankruptcy for the national structure.  An internal study indicates that legal costs from residential schools lawsuits will exhaust the resources of the General Synod, the church's national body, during 2001. Those costs have already totaled about $1.5 million in 1999 and legal fees to March 31, 2000 reached $112,000."

Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the church's General Secretary, reported:
bullet"Claims continue to arise. There are about 1,600 plaintiffs now involving the Anglican Church, out of the 7,000 involving the Government of Canada."
bullet"About 100 of the Anglican-related cases involve an abuser who has been convicted in criminal court..."

Archdeacon Boyles said the churches have been meeting with government figures to address an agreed goal of continuing the viability of the church organizations. A paper on the assets and structure of General Synod...has been approved by the church's finance committee and presented to government officials. 2

bullet2000-MAY-22: Anglican church may declare bankruptcy: According to ReligionToday: The Anglican Church of Canada is Canada's second largest Protestant denomination, after the United Church of Canada. It has about 800,000 members and about 7 million dollars in assets. But about 1,600 Native Canadians have pressed claims totaling about 1 billion dollars against the denomination as compensation for physical and sexual abuse at the church's residential schools. Anglican Archbishop Michael Peers said: "If bankruptcy becomes inevitable, we really are called to be the body of Christ. Dead. Absolutely dead. And just as absolutely destined to rise."
bullet2000-MAY-28: Archbishop Michael Peers issues pastoral letter:

"...resulting from abuse in the residential schools, there are over 1,600 claims of varying kinds brought against the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. About one hundred cases involve the proven abuse of children, and the perpetrators are in prison. The costs of litigation and settlements for these alone is sufficient to exhaust all the assets of the General Synod and of some dioceses involved." 2

bullet2000-JUN-20: Class Action Information Form: Thompson Rogers, a law firm in Toronto, ON, filed a statement of claim re: abuse in residential schools. They have made a Class Action Information Form available on their web site at: This is an Acrobat PDF file. You can obtain a free software to read these files from Adobe Acrobat.
bullet2000-JUN-20: Native man completes 2,400 km trek: Robert Desjarlais left his home in Edmonton, AL, on MAY-1 and walked to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, ON. He walked barefoot for the last 100 miles - one mile for each year from 1900 to 2000 that aboriginal people have been denied justice. He sought education programs to restore lost aboriginal languages and restore some of the cultural damage caused by residential schools. He also wants more recognition for aboriginal war veterans. He alleges that he was the victim of sexual and physical abuse by a priest at the Muskowekwan Residential School in Lestock, SK. between the ages of about seven to nine.
bullet2000-JUL-12: Oblate Order offers to turn over assets to government: The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate offered to give their assets to the federal government, if Ottawa would assume their total liability. They face about 2,000 lawsuits and estimate their potential liability to be $90 million (CDN; about $60 million in U.S. funds) At the present rate, they speculate that the lawyers will get all of their assets, leaving nothing for the victims. 
bullet2000-AUG-13: Canada: Major churches hit with lawsuit: According to the Toronto Star: Thomson Rogers, a law firm from Toronto has launched a $10 billion dollar class action lawsuit (about 6.5 billion in U.S. funds) on behalf of Canadian aboriginal peoples for their pain and suffering experienced at church-run residential schools. Defendants in the lawsuit are the Government of Canada, and the four Christian denominations who operated the schools. All are accused of physical, emotional and sexual abuse of their students. 3
bullet2000-DEC-5: Christian Brothers allegedly hid assets: The Star Phoenix newspaper [Saskatoon (SK)], reported that senior leaders of the Christian brothers in Rome transferred ownership of some of the teaching order's assets out of Canada in order to prevent millions of dollars from being liquidated. The Christian Brothers ran the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland. They were found guilty of incredible numbers of instances of sexual and physical abuse of students during the 1970's. Most were non-Aboriginal. The court ordered their assets sold in order to compensate their victims. There are also allegations that Roman Catholic officials in Vancouver tried to help the Christian Brothers shield additional assets in the form of two Vancouver schools.
bullet2001-MAR-30: Residential Schools Update #9 by the Anglican Church: The report states:

"...the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples endorsed a Plan of Anglican Work in Support of A New Partnership Between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Anglicans: 'A New Agape.'...As of mid-March, the General Synod had been named directly in cases involving 605 plaintiffs (the government has also be named in every one of these cases). The General Synod has been named by third party action by the government involving an additional 386 plaintiffs. There are also three potential class actions where 364 plaintiffs are identified, and there is potential for many more if the class actions are certified....the General Synod will run out of funds for litigation sometime this year if there is no agreement with the government that will stop this outflow."

bullet2002: Federal office created: The federal government has created the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution of Canada to deal with the claims. It has an annual budget of $56-million. "Federal-government officials have said they expect to spend more than $1-billion in legal fees and settlements." 4
bullet2002-SEP: Lawsuit totals: The federal Justice Department has stated that 70 to 100 residential-school lawsuits arrive each month. Complaints against schools in Alberta are the most common at 4,000 cases to date; Saskatchewan is second at over 3,000. 26
bullet2002-OCT: National class-action lawsuit: This has been launched, seeking 12.5 billion dollars in Canadian funds as compensation for abuse. This would pay out on the order of $137,000 per claimant. This is equivalent to about 8.2 billion dollars total and $90,000 per claimant in US funds. 4
bullet2002-OCT-24: Judge limits lawsuits: Mr. Justice Terrence McMahon in Court of Queen's Bench ruled that the Anglican Church of Canada did not have any direct involvement in the schools. Thus the national church cannot be sued by persons alleging abuse at residential schools in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. They could only sue the church's Missionary Society -- a group that has little money and few assets. This means that essentially all claims will have to be paid by the federal government. However, the judge ruled that students who went to schools before 1923 and after 1969 which were run by the Anglican dioceses of Calgary and Athabasca can initiate lawsuits against those dioceses. 4
bullet2002-OCT-25: Anglican Church offer: Ralph Goodale, is the Federal minister responsible for the residential-schools issue. He will explain to the federal cabinet an offer from the Anglican Church of Canada. It is intended to settle the church's liability over abuse in  its aboriginal residential schools. Details of the offer have not been released to the public. However, speculation is that it includes cash settlements and a healing program which would involve the church, government and former students. 5
bulletSubsequent developments: See essays on Government apology & compensation and Federal government apologies: 1998 & 2008

References used for the above essay:

  1. The Right Reverend Bill Phipps, "[Apology] To former students of United Church Indian Residential Schools, and to their families and communities" at: 
  2. "Bankruptcy like Good Friday, Primate tells council, as mounting lawsuits threaten financial viability," Anglican News Service, 2000-MAY-4
  3. D.J. MacKinnon, "Church warned of rough road," Toronto Star, Toronto, ON, Canada. 2000-AUG-13, Page A4
  4. "Judge throws out lawsuits against Anglican Church seeking redress for abuse," The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada, 2002-OCT-25, Page A15.
  5. Michael Valpy, "Anglican Church offers plan to settle abuse cases," The Globe and Mail, Toronto, ON, 2002-OCT-26, Page A5.

Copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUN-03
Latest update: 2014-MAR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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