Indigenous

Fate of documents detailing abuse at residential schools undecided

Dan Shapiro, chief adjudicator of the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), wants all records related to claims of abuse suffered by survivors of Indian residential schools to be destroyed. But some want documents archived in a national research centre created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

TRC researcher wants documents kept in national archive but IAP chief says records should be destroyed

Residential school survivor Joe George, right, and elder Marie George embrace during a Truth and Reconciliation Commission event. The commission wants the records documenting abuse kept in a national archive instead of being destroyed. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The head of Canada's national archive dedicated to Indian residential schools says the voices of 40,000 survivors would be silenced if a judge orders their testimony destroyed.

Ry Moran, director of the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Manitoba, says thousands of survivors told their stories as part of the compensation process.

The head of the secretariat that co-ordinates compensation claims is arguing that private testimony should be destroyed so it is never made public.

Dan Shapiro is the chief adjudicator of the Independent Assessment Process (IAP). In a press release, he said, "Promises of confidentiality were properly made to claimants. These promises must be kept." 

It is dishonest at best and abusive at worst... For some, it will re-open old wounds and old fears.- Steven Cooper, lawyer

"The only way that the confidentiality of participants can be respected and their dignity preserved is through the destruction of all IAP records after the conclusion of the compensation process.”

Terri Brown is a residential school survivor and also serves on an advisory board for the TRC.

She said, "I think it is wrong to destroy them... I know it's not an arbitrary process, Dan (Shapiro) has thought about this and of how it protects, but I'm of another mind. It's the true record of what happened to us, once it's destroyed, it's gone forever."
Boys in a classroom c. 1945 at St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont. More than 20,000 survivors have gone before an adjudicator to share their experiences of abuse in residential schools. (Edmund Metatawabin collection/Algoma University)
Steven Cooper is a lawyer who has worked with hundreds of survivors. He is concerned that there could be serious consequences for survivors if the documents are not destroyed. 

"It is dishonest at best and abusive at worst.  At the very least many will lose sleep and this will affect their healing.  For some, it will re-open old wounds and old fears."

Arguments over the fate of the emotional evidence are to be made before an Ontario judge next month.

Moran says the commission has documents from churches and government, but he adds the oral history of aboriginal people is fundamental.

He says if that testimony were housed in the national research centre, it would be treated with the utmost respect and no survivor would ever be unwillingly identified.

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