The United Church of Canada is appealing a landmark court ruling ordering it to compensate victims of childhood assault at church-operated residential schools.
The church's decision brought an immediate and angry response from both victims and lawyers involved in the case.
"I think it's totally disgusting," said Willy Blackwater, a British Columbia man who suffered years of sexual abuse. "The officials who are appealing weren't raped. We were."
Church representatives said the appeal is not intended to slight the victims.
"We aren't denying that the plaintiffs were abused, and that awful things were done to them," said United Church moderator Bill Phipps. "But the question is, what is our true liability?"
At issue is a highly publicized ruling last month by Mr. Justice Donald Brenner of the B.C. Supreme Court, which said that both the United Church and the federal government must compensate men who were sexually abused at a native residential school on Vancouver Island.
When word got out that the United Church of Canada was appealing a court decision that found it jointly liable for sexual abuse at a B.C. residential school, Willy Blackwater's phone started ringing.
The drug and alcohol counsellor in Gitsagukla near Hazelton is one of 30 victims of Arthur Plint, ex-dorm supervisor at the school. In 1997, a B.C. Supreme Court judge branded 80-year-old Plint a "sexual terrorist" before sentencing him to 11 years in jail for abusing and beating students.
Some of his victims, now living around Hazelton and Vancouver Island, unleashed a barrage of anger to Blackwater yesterday.
"I don't want to repeat any of the language they used," said Blackwater, 43, who also blasted the church for repeating its apology for the abuse. "They can take their apology and stick it where the sun don't shine," he said. "With this appeal, all they are doing is laughing at us."
Last month, the church and the federal government were both found "vicariously liable" for the abuse inflicted by Plint between 1948 and 1968 -- meaning they are liable without fault.
On Friday, the church voted to appeal the decision. Church spokesman Right Rev. Bill Phipps said the church takes responsibility for its role, but noted "it was Canadian government policy to assimilate First Nations people. The schools were there to implement Canadian government policy."
Ottawa has not yet announced plans to appeal.