Court order to destroy residential school accounts 'a win for abusers': NCTR director

The upcoming destruction of survivor accounts of abuse from Canada's residential schools will be a loss for survivors, says the director of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

However, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde calls ruling 'good and fair decision'

Ry Moran, head of the The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, called Friday's decision 'a win for all the abusers.' (White Pine Pictures)

The upcoming destruction of survivor accounts of abuse from Canada's residential schools will be a loss for survivors, says the director of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NTRC).

"[Some survivors] feel like this is a win for all of the abusers," said Ry Moran.

In a unanimous decision released Friday, Canada's Supreme Court said the collection of accounts for independent compensation assessment was meant to be a "confidential and private process" and that "claimants and alleged perpetrators relied on the confidentiality assurance." 

The court ordered that 38,000 accounts be retained for a 15-year period, during which time survivors can choose to have their records preserved.

After that time period, they will be destroyed.

Moran spoke to the NCTR governing circle of survivors via teleconference following Friday's announcement.

"There was tears on the phone…it was very emotional. The detailed records of the exact nature of the crimes committed against children as young as five, will be lost in their entirety."

Moran acknowledged the importance of confidentiality and privacy that was promised to survivors when the accounts were collected and thousands of survivors shared their stories. And it should be up to them whether or not they want their stories publicly preserved, he added.

"Survivors feel, with certainty, the principle of survivor consent is paramount," he said.

During previous meetings with survivors from across the country, Moran said there was an overwhelming consensus that the records were important to the future healing of both inter-generational survivors and to Canada.

But there are thousands of more records that have already been destroyed.

"That's because there are thousands of residential school survivors that have already passed away that will not be provided the option to archive their material," said Moran.

The court ruled, however, the destruction of the records was a lesser injustice than having records made public that many did not consent to. 

Question mark

Peter Desjarlais, from Maskwacis, Alta., said he would have liked his mother to have shared her story of survival.

His mother Mary-Anne passed away in the early 1970s, before the secrets of her painful past while attending residential school in Onion Lake could be acknowledged.

"It leaves a big question mark in our lives," said Desjarlais.

He learned after his mother's death that she had twice been impregnated by a priest at the residential school. Desjarlais was told by family members that one of the babies had been killed, and another, a boy, was adopted.

My mom would've been able to tell us what happened. And I know she would've shared her story.- Peter Desjarlais

"We might have a brother out there. My mom [if she were alive] would've been able to tell us what happened. And I know she would've shared her story."

Desjarlais compares the residential school era to the holocaust and believes the records should be preserved.

"I don't agree with them destroying the records. In other parts of the world they have a museum to keep the info from the holocaust in," he said.

Right to privacy

But survivor Josie Nepinak fiercely defends her privacy in regard to the abuses she experienced during her stays at Pine Creek and Mackay residential schools in Manitoba.

She doesn't want the painful memories to affect the lives of her children and grandchildren, she said.

"I don't talk to my family about a lot of the things that happened in residential school," said Nepinak.

"I do think there's a need to tell the story in its entirety. At the same time, for me personally, there is a need to protect my family members, grandchildren and to not let them know what happened."

Nepinak hopes the government will find a way to store survivor stories in a way that will capture authentic experiences while respecting confidentiality.

Fair decision: AFN

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called the ruling a "good and fair decision."

"Each individual has the right to decide if their personal stories and experiences told during the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) are made public or kept private," said Bellegarde via a statement.

"This is especially true in these situations, where the testimony deals with very personal experiences of trauma and abuse. Many former students shared their stories on the understanding that the IAP hearing was private and confidential. This must be respected."

Moran said the NTRC is already working towards supporting survivors throughout the process.

"We need to work very quickly to get out into communities, to have comprehensive conversations with survivors to sit down and determine what truths we hold onto in this country and what truth we let go of," he said.

About the Author

Brandi Morin

Brandi Morin, Métis, born and raised in Alberta, possesses a passion for telling Indigenous stories. Based outside Edmonton, Morin has lent her talents to several news organizations, including Indian Country Today Media Network and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network National News. She is now hard at work striving to tell the stories of Canada's Indigenous peoples to a broader audience.

With files from Kathleen Harris