Toronto, Friday, May 18, 2001 - Led by the Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, a senior five-person delegation representing the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada meeting Thursday, May 17 with the Hon Herb Gray, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, received assurances that the federal government is now in a position to "move from dialogue to formal discussions, leading to an agreement" in the ongoing matter involving 'residential schools' litigation.
Meeting at his Centre Block offices in Ottawa, Minister Gray told the Anglican delegation he had received a definitive mandate two days earlier from Cabinet to act as the designated federal official tasked to bring the schools crisis to a satisfactory conclusion by initiating direct "negotiations" with the four church denominations named in litigation. Mr Gray said he was not yet able to provide precise details about two key dimensions of these negotiations - specifically, the timing and parameters of the settlement procedures - however he indicated he intended to conduct a briefing with the four churches involved (Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian) within the next two weeks.
During the course of the one-hour meeting, Mr. Gray assured Anglican leaders the government takes the view that church organizations 'play a valuable, far-reaching role in Canadian civil society' and reiterated his view, stated at earlier meetings, that the government has 'no desire to see the churches driven into bankruptcy' as a result of the residential schools litigation.
The Anglican delegation was led by the Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, and included Terence Finlay, Archbishop of Ontario, Donald Phillips, Bishop of Rupert's Land (Winnipeg), Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of General Synod and Esther Wesley, Coordinator of the Anglican Church Indigenous Healing Fund. The group had pressed for a meeting with Minister Gray at the instigation of the Anglican House of Bishops to convey the immediate concerns of the General Synod and the Diocese of Cariboo, and urgent concerns of several other dioceses affected by the schools litigation. During the meeting, the delegation made a forceful presentation to Minister Gray reiterating the financial deadlines and programmatic pressures exerted by the residential schools crisis across Canada.
The Anglican delegation also took the opportunity during the meeting to underscore its deep concerns over the approach taken by the Federal Department of Justice, which has taken an aggressive stance in repeatedly naming the Anglican Church as a third party defendant in cases brought primarily against the government as primary defendant.
"We took the opportunity to remind Mr. Gray of the pressing financial concerns we are facing as a Church and to urge the government to adopt a constructive, timely stance in bringing this matter to a speedy conclusion," commented Archbishop Michael Peers following the meeting.
"We are still waiting for more details setting out the proposed government approach to the new level of negotiations," said Archbishop Terence Finlay.
"In spite of this, we felt our meeting with Minister Gray was a positive step, demonstrating goodwill on both sides."