Oct/97: Church, diocese fight abuse lawsuits



Anglican Journal, Vol. 123, # 8
October 1997
Leanne Larmondin - Staff Writer, Toronto

[Please note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only. -- S.I.S.I.S.]

Controversy over church-run schools could erupt again as the Anglican Church of Canada defends itself against two potentially costly lawsuits by former students - one in British Columbia, the other in Ontario. The suits are the first filed against the church because of its connection with residential schools. In 1993, the church apologized for the detrimental effects of its role in residential schools.

But it is fighting these lawsuits because it says the federal government, not the church, ran the two institutions, St George's Residence in Lytton, BC, and Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ont. "The MSCC (Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada) ran several residential schools," said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, general secretary of the national church, "but at no time did it operate Mohawk or Lytton." The Diocese of Cariboo could face a financial crunch if a lawsuit launched by Floyd Mowatt is successful. One of 10 financially assisted member dioceses of the Council of the North, it has just eight self-supporting parishes.

Mr. Mowatt, 37, who lived at St. George's Residence from 1965 to 1977, is suing the church, the Diocese of Cariboo, the federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and Derek Clarke, a former dormitory supervisor at St. George's, for an unspecified amount in damages. The former student alleges Mr. Clarke sexually assaulted him on a number of occasions between 1965 and 1970. He is holding the national church, the diocese and the federal minister responsible because the government contracted the church to run the school, which in turn hired Mr. Clarke. Mr. Mowatt also claims the church failed to investigate Mr. Clarke's background. Mr. Clarke was convicted of sexual assault in 1988.

Specified by Mr. Mowatt are that he suffered "serious, lasting and permanent personal injuries, including nervous shock, anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, personality change" and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Archdeacon Boyles said the church's defence will be the same in both cases: that the schools were owned and operated by the federal Department of Indian Affairs and an entity known as the New England Company - not the Anglican Church. (The New England Company was founded by Oliver Cromwell in 1649 to take Christianity to the Native people of the British colonies.)

Cariboo diocese is joining the national church in its defence of the Lytton case, but the diocesan bishop, Jim Cruikshank, said lawyers have asked him not to comment on the case. (In 1993, Bishop Cruikshank delivered a personal and diocesan apology to Native people for residential schools.) The Lytton school, said Arch deacon Boyles, was owned and operated by Indian Affairs during the 1960s and '70s, the period in question for the lawsuit. The New England Company owned and ran it until the 1920s, when it was agreed that it would be operated by the government with an Anglican cleric as principal and Anglican doctrine in the curriculum.

A hearing requested by the church was scheduled late last month in a Lytton courthouse to determine whether the lawsuit should continue to be directed at the national church and diocese. Meanwhile, in Brantford, Ont., a similar lawsuit brought against the church and the Minister of Indian Affairs has not progressed as far. In a statement of claim, complainant Frederick Taylor is seeking damages of $20 million. Born in 1945, Mr. Taylor says he was removed in 1953 "without the...knowledge of his parents" from his home on Mud Lake Reserve, near Peterborough, to the Mohawk Institute at Brantford.

There, he said, he was "repeatedly physically, sexually and emotionally assaulted" by at least three teachers or other officers of the school, and subjected to punishment and a "regime of discipline and control which had as its purpose the denial to him of his race, language, religion and culture." Like Lytton, the Mohawk Institute was operated by the New England Company until the early 1900s, when it entered into an agreement with the federal government. Archdeacon Boyles said the national church is exploring the possibility that its insurance might cover the lawsuits if it remains a defendant.

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