The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is proposing a 30-year seal on documents from the claims of residential school survivors in a bid to avoid their outright destruction.
Julian Falconer, lawyer for the commission charged with producing a report on the residential school system, proposed the option in court Tuesday in the midst of a hearing that will decide the fate of transcripts and records from about 38,000 claimants.
“The minute you destroy this portion of history, you alter the ability for generations to come to remind people what was done to these individuals,” Falconer told the court Tuesday.
At the request of Justice Paul Perell, who is hearing the case, Falconer prepared a draft order that would satisfy the commission. The order would see the documents given to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to be sealed for at least 30 years and a large-scale “enhanced notice” program undertaken to inform claimants about the fate of their transcripts, applications and decisions.
“You’re guaranteeing the claimants that no one can access their information for three decades and you’re not putting yourself in that irreversible position the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is worried about,” said Falconer.
At the end of 30 years, the documents would be transferred to Library and Archives Canada where they would be subject to the federal Access to Information Act and Privacy Act.
The commission was originally requesting that the documents be transferred to the National Research Centre, a facility set up at the University of Manitoba for the sole purpose of handling residential school records and the home for other records gathered by the commission.
“A destruction order means it’s irreversible. You create an act that can’t be changed about accounts that are some of the most detailed accounts we have access to,” said Falconer. “A court should be empowered to open that vault in two generations to deal with what neither you nor I can anticipate.”
In June, Dan Shapiro, chief adjudicator of the claims process, publicly called for the destruction of all documents, which include applications, hearing transcripts, and decisions, created throughout the formal restitution process.
“I think it was decided from the beginning that there was, in fact, a confidential, private process. That part of it was decided, but what wasn’t decided fully was how that would be operationalized,” Shapiro told the Star in June when he first announced the move. “It is a logical conclusion to what is intended to be a private, confidential process.”
He said that the public testimony collected by the commission — which includes about 7,000 survivors — have given researchers enough information to inform the historical record.
Shapiro’s lawyer, Will McDowell, will deliver arguments for his position Tuesday afternoon. The hearing is scheduled to continue until July 16, 2014.