Ottawa, Catholic church renegotiate residential school payout

Ottawa, Canada - Thousands of aboriginal people who attended Catholic-run residential schools will receive the last instalments of their compensation settlements later this month as a result of a new deal between the Catholic Church and the federal government.

The money won't come from the church, as originally expected; Ottawa has agreed to pay 100 per cent of the costs.

Last September, a landmark $2-billion compensation deal came into effect for about 80,000 former residential school students.

Victims of physical or sexual abuse in Catholic-run schools received a cheque from the government along with a letter explaining the cheque represented Ottawa's share of compensation payment, about 70 per cent of the total amount owing.

Churches — including Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Catholic — were to pay the balance.

While victims from schools run by other denominations were getting full settlements, many people were still waiting for the remaining 30 per cent from the Catholic Church, which did not agree to the deal and continued negotiating.

Now, an agreement has been reached. Luc Dumont, Ottawa's point person on residential school resolutions, says the federal government will pay the amount that was not paid by the Catholic Church.

In return, the church agreed to pay $25 million to a healing and reconciliation fund, open the church's archives, and provide counselling and other services to survivors.

Kathleen Mahoney, who represented the Assembly of First Nations in the negotiations, says the churches are not getting off "scot-free.

"Their responsibility is not just cash. It's cash-plus," she said. "Some people may argue it's not enough, but why are we wrangling about this? The Catholics negotiated their contribution towards indemnifying Canada."

It's a time of 'repentance and atonement'

News of the agreement was not welcomed by Marcel Wolf, a former student at a Catholic-run school, who said it tells him the church still isn't prepared to accept responsibility.

"I'm angry about it," he said. "I think they should all have to pay a piece of this."

But others argue the deal makes sense.

"The churches didn't suddenly decide one day a century and change ago that they were going to begin removing children from their families and placing them in residential schools. That's a policy of the government of Canada," said James Christie, president of the Canadian Council of Churches and dean of the faculty of Theology at the University of Winnipeg.

The Catholic agreement means the other churches will also have to pay proportionately less than they have been. Because they have paid their share all along, their financial obligations are now complete.

"We are trying to take responsibility," said Ellie Johnson, spokeswoman for the Anglican Church. "We're in a time of repentance and atonement. It's a sin we're repenting of, trying to."

True healing is hard work, and is often more difficult than just writing a cheque, Johnson said.