The suits have been filed by survivors of abuse at Indian residential schools that were operated, with the government, by the ACC. The 750,000-member church is named directly in 800 lawsuits, and as a third party in the remaining suits, which have been filed against the government.
"We have come to a moment in history in which we may be facing the winding up of General Synod," Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate of the ACC, told delegates to the church's triennial gathering in July. The national body has spent $5 million on legal costs since the beginning of 2000 and has about $3 million in assets left. Only 1 percent of the amount spent has gone toward settlements.
Nine of the ACC's 30 dioceses are in litigation. The Diocese of Cariboo in British Columbia, its assets wiped out by a handful of lawsuits, plans to dissolve by mid-October. The church is appealing a ruling from last year that found the diocese and the national church responsible for 60 percent of damages.
In July, however, in a case involving the United Church of Canada (UCC), a British Columbia court found the federal government responsible for 75 percent of damages awarded to six aboriginals; the UCC must pay the rest. "We're pleased with the indication that the government bears the major responsibility for the schools, which is what we've been stressing for the past year," says Anglican Church spokesman Jim Boyles.
A government negotiating team met several times with the churches during the summer. The denominations are asking the government to cap church liability.