Legal Cost Cut Proposed
Government Claims Litigation Cost Could Be Reduced If Religious Groups Sign Settlement

By Art Babych
Canadian Catholic News [Ottawa]
April 12, 2004

Catholic religious orders who operated Indian residential schools could cut their legal costs from abuse claims by signing a financial agreement with the federal government, says the deputy minister of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada (IRSRC).

"Those that have signed such an agreement are usually able to decrease significantly their legal expenditures, "Mario Dion said in a March 31 interview.

That is a prospect some Catholic leaders find "somewhat appealing," he added.

"If you sign a financial agreement you are essentially in a position to leave it to the federal government lawyers to ensure an adequate defence of the crown's interests and in so doing at the same time making sure that only valid claims will be paid."

Consider it, says Dion

To the heads of religious orders worried about the cost of legal fees - believed to be in the millions of dollars to date, Dion suggested "maybe they ought to examine seriously the possibility of entering into a financial agreement with the federal government."

But several congregations of Catholic women religious want no part of it. Representatives agreed April 1 to write a joint letter to Denis Coderre, the minister in charge of IRSRC, asking the government to drop its appeal of a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that the government is 100 per cent liable for residential school abuses.

As well, the congregations want the government to halt its practice of naming them as third-party defendants in lawsuits where abuse victims did not seek compensation from religious orders.

Almost 12,000 former residential school students have filed claims against the government with 78 per cent of the students directly naming Church organizations involved in running the schools on contract to the government. To date, more than 1,000 former students have reached settlements.

Despite criticism from the Anglican Church and Catholic entities that the government's appeal of the B.C. court's ruling will only prolong the uncertainty for abuse victims, Ottawa is not planning a retreat.

"A motion for leave to appeal was filed back in February and the government has taken the necessary steps to get permission from the Supreme Court and that hasn't changed," said Dion. "The minister of justice is going with that. "

Phil Fontaine disagrees

Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was among those critical of the government's decision to appeal.

"An appeal is not in the interests of equality, fairness, justice or a timely resolution for residential schools survivors," he said.

"The government is leaving the survivors hanging, while pursuing legal arguments that are irrelevant to them."

Some women religious have questioned why they are being "third-partied" in the lawsuits when they never signed contracts with the government.

Dion said the government believes that religious orders bear some liability for proven physical or sexual abuses that occurred in the institutions.


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