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Sunday, 18 June, 2000, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Sued Canada churches seek bail-out

By Lee Carter in Toronto

Several leading Canadian churches, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, are demanding that the Canadian Government help them financially as they face thousands of legal claims being made against them.

The claims stem from allegations of sexual and physical abuse being made by former students of native Indian schools operated by Canadian churches between the 1930s and 1970s.

The churches say they face bankruptcy. But critics say that any government cash bail-out for the churches would be tantamount to forgiving them for their past wrongs.

Canada's Justice Minister, Anne McLellan, acknowledges: "It is quite clear that some very terrible things happened."

It sends a message that the government is going to bail out the churches and that's not what this is about

NDP spokesman Peter Mancini
She says there is no doubt that many native Indian children were abused over decades as they were forced into so-called residential schools in an attempt to assimilate them into Anglo-Saxon Christian values.

They related accounts of beatings, electrocutions, rape and harsh routine punishments for any expressions of native Indian culture.

The Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Churches have acknowledged the abuse but now thousands of lawsuits are draining the churches of funds.

Over the past week the churches have argued that the schools were part of the Canadian Government's overall policy at the time, so they say it should pay some of the costs.

Ms McLellan says there must be a way to recognise and compensate the victims but without going through thousands of costly and time-consuming cases.

"If there are ways we can do that outside the formal court process, then we are most interested in sitting down and talking about that."


The justice minister so far has made no direct commitment to the churches.

The justice spokesman for the opposition New Democratic Party, Peter Mancini, says that is how it should be. He says that financially helping the churches would set an unacceptable precedent.

"It sends a message that the government is going to bail out the churches and that's not what this is about.

Is the fact that they are crying poverty going to stop us from taking this case to trial? No

Students' lawyer Russ Rakes
"It's wrong for the government simply to write a cheque to the churches and say 'here, we're going to help you pay your bills on this'."

Lawyers for former students say political lobbying will not deter them from seeking compensation. Russ Rakes represents around 1,000 claimants.

He says: "Is the fact that they are crying poverty going to stop us from taking this case to trial? No."

Mr Rakes says the former students are not trying to bankrupt the churches; they just want compensation and recognition for the suffering they endured over several generations.

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28 Oct 98 | Americas
Church apologises for abuse
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