Saskatoon lawyer wants residential school documents destroyed

A battle is shaping up over the personal testimony of residential school survivors.

Ontario court to decide what happens to nearly 40,000 residential school survivors

Boys in a classroom c. 1945 at St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont. (Edmund Metatawabin collection/Algoma University)

A battle is shaping up over the personal testimony of residential school survivors. 

Researchers say the documents are an important part of Canada's historical record, but a Saskatoon lawyer says they should be destroyed to protect privacy.

Dan Shapiro, a Saskatoon lawyer, is pushing for the destruction of the private testimony, including medical and counseling records so that they're never made public.

"We don't think it's necessary to go into the intimate details of individual experiences in order to create a full history," Shapiro said.

Calls to keep records

Two years ago, Fred Sasakamoose walked for four days before telling his story of pain. 

"I've always carried that load behind me," Sasakamoose said.

In 1954, he was a pioneer as the first treaty Indian in the NHL. But before he became a professional hockey player, Sasakamoose endured 10 years of abuse in residential school.

He shared his story with Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and said the walk was symbolic of his life's journey. 

"I have no more, no more pains," Sasakamoose said. "I just want to get there and be part of them and and forget about, forget about my hurt."

Sasakamoose said wasn't alone. Saskatchewan has more residential school survivors than any other province. Thousands shared their stories publicly, while others did so in private as they sought compensation for physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. 

Researchers argue that as sensitive as the documents are, they should be archived for the historical record.

Ry Moran, director of the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, says access can come decades later. 

"We're just at the journey and to throw this amount of history away before we've even taken more steps down the road just seems premature to us," Moran said.

Sasakamoose said he can't speak for others, but he wants the records to be saved. 

"I don't think they should be destroyed," Sasakamoose said. "I think our younger generation will have to learn the impact from us and what happened."

The case is headed to court in Ontario next month. It will be up to a judge to decide what happens to the records of nearly 40,000 residential school survivors who made claims.