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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

Environment Canada is forecasting up to 20 centimetres of snow on the Coquihalla Highway Friday, April 9, 2021. (File photo)
Snowfall warning in effect for Coquihalla Highway

Environment Canada is forecasting up to 20 cm of snow to fall on the Coquihalla Friday

The Peach is adhering to the mandatory mask protocols put in place by the Provincial Health Officer on Nov. 19. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Interior Health doesn’t echo B.C.’s daily COVID record

80 new cases reported Thursday, April 8, compared to 91 the day prior

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

A death at Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna was reported in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak April 7. (Google Maps)
Death at Kelowna care home among Interior Health COVID numbers

91 new cases, outbreak over in one unit at Kelowna General Hospital

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Most Read