The discussions between the federal government and representatives of the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian church organizations attempting to address the thousands of claims for alleged abuses by former students of residential schools has reached an impasse.
Herb Gray, the former Deputy Prime Minister, feels that the victims of physical and sexual abuse with claims have been waiting too long for compensation. That is why the federal government is offering to pay 70 per cent of that compensation. Mr. Gray hopes that the churches will agree to cover the remaining 30 percent.
Sr. Marie Zarowny, SSA, the Chair of the Catholic Organization’s Task Group, would agree with the first part, i.e. that individuals harmed in residential schools should be fairly and quickly compensated and that church organizations found to be liable for damages should pay their fair share. However, the unilateral government proposal is simplistic and unacceptable.
The impasse is not just about money.
It is also about the basic values that should underlie any agreement for dealing with the legacy of Indian residential schools. The unresolved residential school issues are part of a Canadian social problem that is rooted in a failed social policy of assimilation prescribed and funded by the federal government and at least partially carried out in residential institutions that we now know were not always safe enough for children.
In trying to address this legacy the churches’ representatives have been guided by a few guiding principles. Without attempting to be exhaustive, I would like to cite four of them.
Not all the allegations that have been brought forward, especially through suits not based on criminal convictions, are valid. Therefore, a fair validation process for each claim is essential to uphold the right of every Canadian to be considered innocent until proven guilty and to uphold the good name of innocent defendants, both individuals and organizations.
The bankruptcy of any active church organization would not help Aboriginal Canadians and would in fact be counterproductive.
Church organizations that were not responsible for Indian residential schools are not liable, but may be prepared to provide support for healing and reconciliation, out of a pastoral commitment.
A comprehensive approach is needed that goes beyond cash compensation to individuals for specific injuries.
The federal government and the churches should be working together and building on their respective abilities to contribute to healing and reconciliation and to the restoration of right relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. This goal was identified as a primary need by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples but the report continues to collect dust and the government seems content to simply throw money at a problem in the hopes that it will go away.
In my more cynical moments I’m inclined to think that the government’s suggested 70/30 per cent split isn’t as magnanimous as it seems. The government may simply be trying to cut its losses as it isn’t doing very well in recent court decisions despite more than one hundred lawyers working to advance its cause. It suggests another David and Goliath scenario.
Their solution also entails a double payment by members of the various denominations who would be paying once through their taxes and again through their churches. That’s like double jeopardy simply because you chose to worship in a particular church.
Furthermore, the government’s proposed solution would also inevitably mean a reduction of services and valued church-sponsored programs and ministry across Canada over a lengthy period of time and could lead to further alienation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
The proposal made ecumenically to the government by the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian church organizations associated with residential schools balances a number of elements that are critical to an appropriate agreement. The following framework illustrates the vision of that proposal:
Commitment to Settlement: A significant cash contribution to compensation by church organizations of the four denominations found to have legal liability.
Healing and Reconciliation: All the involved church organizations have developed mechanisms to support community-based healing and reconciliation projects. Given a proper framework, this capacity can be expanded and enhanced in a voluntary way by the participation of those organizations that are not legally liable to pay for claims as well as by concerned members of involved communities.
Life and Work: Church organizations are committed to continuing their life and work in Aboriginal communities, building on our existing presence in a way that helps renew right relations.
Alternative Redress: Church organizations are committed to the timely development and implementation of fair and effective non-adversarial processes to validate claims and assess compensation. These processes would reflect principles identified during Exploratory Dialogues (between plaintiffs, the federal government and church organizations) and “Restoring dignity”, the Report of the Law Commission of Canada.
The government regrettably has summarily dismissed the proposal.
Sr. Zarowny would have done a better job than Mr. Gray as the government’s point-person.
☩ Frederick Henry
I recently received a package of letters from a group of grade five and six students who shared their thoughts about peace and about strife in hopes that their comments would be important to me. On one hand, I was more than a little taken aback when confronted by their fears. I would like to share with you two accounts of these fears:
I’m worried about Afghanistan and how the war might reach Alberta or Calgary. I am so sacred about my family. We have been getting a lot of mail, I hope we don’t get anthrax. I hope that in 4 years there will be no wars because my brother will be 16. September 11 was a nightmare, I can’t explain how I felt, and it was horrible, I didn’t want to go to school, but you know parents—they always make you go to school, if you like it or not.
I fear that the world might be at end if this war continues. My family might get tortured if the war came here. The skies would be full of smoke and our clean atmosphere would be ruined. I am scared I will suffer of Anthrax and die. I feel scared and paranoid; I want to hide. It is frightening knowing hundreds of people die every day right now. I am scared, really scared. This is not peace.
I am afraid that many of our children are more traumatized by the events surrounding September 11th and its aftermath than we realize. We need to listen and talk with them.
On the other hand, I really appreciated their straightforward and concrete insights as to what constitutes peace and how to be a peacemaker.
“It is important to listen to others opinions... Peace is a choice.”
“I share peace by sowing kindness.”
“We should talk or vote on what to do; if that doesn’t work, we could work together and find a settlement.”
“Hatred is a really powerful word... Peace is respect, love, self-control, quiet, beauty and hopefulness.”
“Our world would be better place if we all play and get along as one big family.”
“I think that we make a difference if everyone gives a little! ...everyone should be allowed to say their opinions, people should be treated equally even if they have a different religion, different colour of skin.”
“No matter how bad or mean the other side is, we should forgive and apologize.”
“I don’t want people to die by being killed, but by old age or when God wants them. I keep praying that this war will stop.”
“Peace can be as simple as a hug, kiss or smile.”
“I’ve learned that I can create peace just by simply not fighting with my brother or sister. I can also spread peace by letting my light shine and do good things.”
Perhaps, without being aware of it, they echo many of the sentiments of Pope John Paul II in his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace—“No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.”
True peace is the fruit of justice—that moral virtue and legal guarantee which ensures full respect for rights and responsibilities, and the just distribution of benefits and burdens. But because human justice is always fragile and imperfect, subject as it is to the limitations and egoism of individuals and groups, it must include and be completed by forgiveness that heals and rebuilds troubled human relations from their foundations.
This is true in circumstances great and small, at the personal level or on a wider, even international scale. Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice, as if to forgive meant to overlook the need to right the wrong done. It is rather the fullness of justice, leading to that tranquillity of order that is much more than a fragile and temporary cessation of hostilities. It involves the deepest healing of the wounds that fester in human hearts.
Terrorism springs from hatred, and it generates isolation, mistrust and closure. Violence is added to violence in a tragic sequence that exasperates successive generations, each on inheriting the hatred that divided those that went before it. Terrorism is built on contempt for human life.
Terrorism is often the outcome of that fanatical fundamentalism which springs from the conviction that one’s own vision of the truth must be forced upon everyone else. Instead, even when the truth has been reached (and this can happen only in a limited and imperfect way), it can never be imposed. Respect for a person’s conscience means that we can only propose the truth to others, who are then responsible for accepting it. To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offense against human dignity and ultimately an offense against God whose image that person bears.
Consequently, no religious leader (Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) can condone terrorism. It is a profanation of religion to declare oneself a terrorist and do violence to others in God’s name.
To pray for peace is to pray for justice, for a right ordering of relations within and among nations and people. To pray for peace is to open the human heart to the inroads of God’s power to renew all things. To pray for peace is to seek God’s forgiveness, and to ask for the courage to forgive those who have trespassed against us.
☩ Frederick Henry