Top court to hear federal government’s appeal on residential school records

Top court to hear federal government’s appeal on residential school records

A lower court judge ruled to destroy the stories after 15 years unless consent is given to preserve

The Supreme Court of Canada is set to hold a hearing today on the federal government’s appeal of a decision that allows personal records from survivors of residential schools to be destroyed after 15 years unless individuals decide otherwise.

Ottawa argues it controls the documents and that they are subject to legislation pertaining to access to information, archiving and privacy.

“To ensure that the history of what happened at the residential schools is not forgotten or lost on future generations, the documentary record must be preserved,” the attorney general argued in her factum to the court.

The government also argues that the use of the court’s “inherent jurisdiction” to order the wholesale destruction of the records “fails to respect the intentions”of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which settled the largest class action in Canadian history.

“Many of the records at issue in this appeal often contain deeply personal accounts of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of former students,” the factum says.

“The information was provided in the context of an independent assessment process to provide compensation for this abuse.”

Carey Newman, a First Nations artist who formed a group called the Coalition to Preserve Truth, agrees the impact of destroying the documents would be enormous, calling them a very important piece of Canadian history.

Newman said he plans to attend the court’s hearing on Thursday.

The coalition believes traumatic events are only part of the complex history of residential schools, Newman said; the ensuing personal trauma has been resonating through the lives of families for generations.

Newman, the son of a residential school survivor, decided to push for the preservation of the records after a friend asked him how he would feel about their destruction.

“It just kind of sat on my heart,” he said in an interview.

“That was the question for me that sort of convinced me that I had to do something … I think it is important for people to know this is the very final decision and that the largest number of stories about the worst things that happened in residential school are at stake.”

Many survivors are either gravely ill or have already died and do not have the capacity to make a request to preserve the records, Newman added.

The federal government and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission both agree the survivor accounts are a critical part of Canadian history that should be preserved.

For its part, the independent claims adjudicator has maintained that claimants were promised confidentiality, which means that only they have the right to waive their privacy.

RELATED: Truth and reconciliation opens with tears and courage

A lower court judge ruled the material should be destroyed after 15 years, but individuals could consent to have their stories preserved at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

In a split decision in April 2016, the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed, noting the documents were not government records subject to archiving laws.

The court also rejected the idea the documents were “government records” but fell under judicial control.

A dissenting justice maintained, however, that documents should be turned over to Library and Archives Canada, subject to normal privacy safeguards and rules.

“If the IAP documents are destroyed,” wrote Justice Robert Sharpe, “we obliterate an important part of our effort to deal with a very dark moment in our history.”

The Assembly of First Nations argues the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the promises of confidentiality made to former students of residential schools by ordering the destruction of records and ensuring former students maintain control over the accounts of their residential school experiences.

“The future release of IAP records without the consent of claimants will result in the re-victimization of former students and will pose real harms to First Nation communities,” the organization said in its factum to the court.

“This is particularly problematic in the case of victims and perpetrators related to student-on-student abuse.”

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

residential schools

Just Posted

Central Saanich has rejected plans for a pilot project that would allow food trucks in Centennial Park. (Black Press Media file photo)
Central Saanich puts brakes on food truck pilot project

Coun. Carl Jensen questions Central Saanich’s consistency

The Pat Bay Highway was closed for several hours Monday morning after a drug-impaired driver crashed into two hydro poles. (Black Press Media file photo)
UPDATE: Pat Bay closure caused by drug-impaired driver

Man struck two hydro poles, closing a section of the Pat Bay Monday morning

Police are looking for witnesses and video footage after a crash on June 18. (Photo courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP looking for videos related to Corvette crash

Driver believed to have fled the scene of View Royal crash

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Greater Victoria with unusually high temperatures expected Monday and this coming weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria’s first week of summer will be a scorcher

Special weather statement issued Monday by Environment Canada

A rendering shows what the Doral Forest Park development would look like from the southwest. (Rendering via D’AMBROSIO Architecture & Urbanism)
Beaver Lake area project passes next hurdle in Saanich

Council approval for 242-unit parks edge development hinges on meeting of conditions

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

By the end of life, the average North American has eaten the weight of a family sedan in sugar. (Pixabay.com)
FITNESS: Living the sweet life without too much sugar

Simple choices can have a major impact on your health

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Most Read