Canada’s largest collection of residential school records will be destroyed in 15 years
This spring, Pacific Peoples’ Partnership staff provided communications support to the Coalition for the Preservation of Truth. Many Pacific Peoples’ Partnership supporters helped spread the word and generously donated to the #StandForTruth campaign to fund their Supreme Court challenge.
On May 29th, 2017, the Coalition appeared as interveners in the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the impending destruction of over 38,000 residential school records. The Coalition was a broad alliance of residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors that recognizes the ongoing impact of residential school trauma, and that formed to advocate for the preservation of these documents, while respecting individuals rights to privacy.
On October 6th, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) had intended for the IAP process to be a confidential and private process and as such, all IAP documents will be destroyed after 15 years. This outcome has the potential to impact efforts to reconcile survivors and intergenerational survivors with Canada for years to come.
The Independent Assessment Process (‘IAP’) was created by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement in 2007. Through the IAP, victims of serious physical and sexual abuse in the residential school system accessed a second level of compensation from the Government of Canada. Thousands of documents were generated in this process and as a result, the IAP files represent the single largest collection of residential school records.
The Coalition had argued that the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement was akin to a treaty with Indigenous peoples. This was not accepted by the Supreme Court, who narrowly interpreted the Settlement Agreement as a contract.
The Coalition is disturbed by this ruling. Although there will be a mechanism for living survivors to consent to have their records destroyed, what about the many more survivors who have already passed away? The ruling does not distinguish between different types of records. What about procedural documents? How will the IAP ever be examined and held to account if there is no record of the process?
The court ruled that disclosure of IAP records would be a greater injustice than the destruction of records, arguing that most participants in the IAP never expected the information to be shared. Privacy and archival legislation, which have many mechanisms to protect the individual privacy rights of survivors, were not given any weight.
The trauma of residential school has and will continue to ripple through communities across Canada. We share a responsibility to ensure current and future intergenerational survivors can access specific knowledge about what led to their broken communities, fragmented families and loss of language and culture. In the same way that future generations have the right to clean air and water, the Coalition continues to believe that future generations have the right to know their historical record through the content of these documents.
Neither the Supreme Court decision nor the IAP process itself was consistent with Indigenous laws, which are rich, textured, and full of space to hold differences of opinion. Indigenous teachings hold that we can just as truly dishonor our ancestors and future generations as we can our living family. The Coalition believes that this decision is a demonstration of why sensitive cultural differences of opinion cannot be resolved in a colonial arena.
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Pacific Peoples’ Partnership has been a strong advocate for truth and reconciliation movements across the Pacific, including in East Timor and the Solomon Islands. We continue to support peace efforts amidst 30 years of ongoing genocide in West Papua.