Privacy laws stifle Yukon’s truth and reconciliation

The Yukon government says it can provide statistics on students of residential schools, and in the case of people who died, the date of death and place of burial. But exactly who died of what is subject to Yukon privacy laws.

Information on exactly who died of what while at residential schools is subject to Yukon privacy laws

Yukon government officials are now sorting through hundreds of documents for information on how residential school students died in Yukon.

It's for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it won’t be easy to get the full picture.

"We can give them the name, the date of birth and the date of death, the place of death and the place of burial,” says Pat Living, a government spokesperson.

The government can also provide statistics about cause of death — for example, how many died of tuberculosis — but exactly who died of what is subject to Yukon privacy laws.

"We'll be able to say, well 20 of those people died from accidental deaths, 30 per cent from tuberculosis, you know, that kind of thing,” Living says. “So, they will be able to determine the number and causes,  but they won't be able to link a specific cause to a specific individual.”

The TRC says it understands, and will be happy to take what it can get.

But the issue has caught the attention of Yukon's Information and privacy commissioner.

Diane McLeod-McKay says Yukon needs a provision to override privacy laws when there's a clear public interest.

"I think it's something they should consider,” she says. “So they don't run into problems where there is clearly a compelling public interest to have access to information that would otherwise be exempted from disclosure."

The government is reviewing the Commissioner's suggestion.

But McLeod-Mckay says any change to the law would likely be too late for the TRC's needs.

Government spokesperson Pat Living says it will take time to sift the information out of hundreds of documents and, without giving a timeline, said it is a priority.

The Yukon Legislature voted last week to help the TRC find whatever information it needs.