Halifax archdiocese bill scrapped after concerns about impact on sexual abuse cases

A bill that aimed to reorganize the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth was called out this week by a lawyer representing victims of sexual abuse. Now, it's been withdrawn.

'It's pointless to continue ... because nobody is really listening,' says deacon Bob Britton

The private member's bill, shepherded by Immigration Minister Lena Diab, was shelved at the committee level Tuesday and withdrawn the next day. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

A bill that aimed to reorganize the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth has been withdrawn after facing scrutiny this week by a lawyer who represents sexual assault victims who were abused by priests.

The private member's bill, shepherded by Immigration Minister Lena Diab, was shelved at the committee level Tuesday and withdrawn Wednesday at the request of the archdiocese.

"They sent a notice saying that that is their wish, that what happened yesterday at the committee was unbeknownst to them and … that was not the intent of the bill," Diab told CBC News.

She said it's the archdiocese's bill and it's up to the group to make those decisions. 

Concerns raised at committee 

The bill aimed to reorganize the archdiocese for the first time since 1844, according to deacon Bob Britton.

But lawyer John McKiggan worried that the changes could shelter property from future legal claims and have serious implications for victims who have been sexually abused by priests. 

McKiggan testified that allowing the church to create separate corporations for each parish could result in victims being shortchanged when it came to court judgments or settlements.

"It is a very sad fact that time after time we have seen that persons in authority within the church have sought to protect the institution, the reputation of the institution, rather than protecting children in the parishes in the diocese," McKiggan told reporters after the committee meeting. 

'Perception is reality'

Britton, who is chancellor of the archdiocese, denies that the new bill would allow the church to hide money, but added that "perception is reality."

"I think it was becoming much more contentious than was ever intended," said Britton. "It was taking away from the important aspects of the legislation and, you know, it's pointless to continue if I can put it that way at that point because nobody is really listening."

The changes were meant to bring civil law in line with church law, according to Britton.

He said the archdiocese wasn't prepared for the controversy at the committee level, and he's not sure where the bill will go from here.

"Do we look at revising, revamping, reconsidering? We don't know. We can continue on without the bill. This doesn't stop the archdiocese from continuing on," he said. 

With files from Jean Laroche and Shaina Luck