Federal government sues Catholic entities involved in residential schools

  • January 28, 2014

OTTAWA - The federal government is suing Catholic entities involved in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement over $1.5 million in contested funds.

“We had requested mediation” and binding arbitration, said Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, who chairs the board of the Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement), representing more than 50 Catholic entities, either dioceses or religious orders that ran Indian residential schools.

The archbishop also expressed “frustration” with the results of a fundraising campaign that was part of the $79-million settlement.

“We were to take up a Canada-wide campaign to try to raise $25 million,” Pettipas said. “It is evident to us now we are not going to meet that goal.”

The fundraising portion of the agreement is not a part of the lawsuit, and contrary to news reports, is not owed the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the archbishop explained.

“It’s a ‘best efforts’ campaign. We’re supposed to exercise our best efforts. We could contend we have exercised our best efforts. Short of a miracle, I don’t think we’re going to be able to make it.”

The Catholic entities was set up because there is no central Catholic Church in Canada the way there is an Anglican Church of Canada, he said. Each diocese and religious organization is its own corporation.

The $79-million agreement involved three phases. The first was a $29-million cash donation on the part of the entities to be provided for healing and reconciliation programs for those impacted by residential schools. Some of this settlement was to be mitigated by payouts in lawsuits settled before the settlement was signed. Pettipas said about $8.5 million had been paid out in previous court settlements, leaving the Catholic entities responsible for $20.5 million. Of that money, the entities understood it was to pay 80 per cent to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and 20 per cent to programs of its own choosing, he said. The entities chose to fund the Returning to Spirit program, a Catholic program focused on reconciliation and spiritual healing for aboriginal persons affected by the residential schools.

Meanwhile, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s mandate with the federal government ran out and it lost its government subsidy. The Catholic entities owed about $16.5 million at that time.

Also under the settlement, the entities were allowed to apply to the federal government for a mitigation of the $20.5 million they owed “if those expenses came out greater than the interest we would make on our money,” Pettipas explained. Expenses did come out to be more than the interest, he said, and the entitites requested the amount be lowered. The government conceded some expenses, but “there is a remaining amount of $1.5 million that is in dispute,” he said. “We sought mediation; we sought binding arbitration but the federal government said, no, we are going to court and let the court settle this.”

The second element of the $79 million settlement involved the provision of $25 million in “in kind” services toward healing and reconciliation.

“We have exceeded that,” Pettipas said. “We stopped counting at $30 million” because it made no sense to keep running the committee necessary to verify the expenditures.

All the elements of the settlement are supposed to conclude in September 2014, though the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been extended another year to 2015, Pettipas said.

Pettipas expressed disappointment with the results of the $25 million "best efforts" fundraising campaign.

“The advice we got (from our consultants) was that the public sector, businesses and industry would be better positioned to help us reach this goal than the Catholic sitting in the pew,” he said,” Pettipas said. “We got practically nothing from the business sector.”

Another strategy was to take up a collection in Canadian dioceses. Some dioceses made a contribution without holding a collection. There was a collection in a number of dioceses in early December to coincide with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe that raised about $1 million.

“Out of $25 million, that’s not, shall we say, enough,” he said. “It’s been a struggle.”

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