Historical document backlog at some government facilities
As a genealogist and historian, I get excited when I learn about new information that becomes available to aid in my research. Sometimes it’s a data someone transcribed, while other times it is the release of a once-protected record, such as the census. The thrill adds energy to my eagerness to learn more about my ancestors; however, the realistic person in me understands the need for particular information to be protected for a certain number of years or indefinitely for that matter.
Personal medical records and sealed adoptions are two items that come to mind when I think about records that might be closed indefinitely. These records are on a personal level, but there are records on a national level that may also need to be closed to the public. If national security is threatened in any way, then that record should be permanently sealed regardless of who and what organization wants it.
Records that might be held classified indefinitely are military records or documents pertaining to specific times when the country’s security was threatened. This may have been during a war or threat of war, such as the Cold War. Protecting information that may aid in national security now or in the future is vital and trumps the need for researchers to learn the details whether 20 years or 100 years have passed.
This might be information about a secret base, a weapon, specialized personnel, training, defence or offence tactics, or a technique used to solve codes or create them.
In this high-tech, instant-information world, it’s more important than ever for national secrets to be held secure. These thoughts came to mind when I read about Canada’s so-called secret archives.
Dennis Molinaro wrote an article entitled “Canada’s Secret Archives” for to the Active History website (http://activehistory. ca/2017/05/canadas-secret-archives) concerning historical material not transferred to Library and Archives Canada (LAC: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca). After discovering the PICNIC wiretapping program in operation during the Cold War, he looked for further information to build upon the story. When he discovered LAC lacked supporting material, he went on a quest to learn if documents existed and if so, where they were located.
This led Molinaro to file Access of Information requests to various government departments and ultimately led him to the Global Affairs facility in Saskatchewan that held vast numbers of historical documents. He found the information he sought, but it led him to ask why he had to go to such lengths to find it, and why hadn’t it been given to LAC after a certain number of years. He suggested alternative reasons as if some sort of conspiracy existed and the government attempted to keep the files secret.
Although Molinaro’s suggestion of hoarding and keeping documents from the public on purpose may in some instances be true, I believe there are several other factors that keep these records from being forwarded to LAC: money, time, employees.
Government departments have seen their share of cutbacks over the years. Less money means fewer resources to manage such vast amounts of material. Cuts in qualified people to handle the sensitive material slows the process, which in turn creates a huge burden to sort and process it for shipment to LAC.
Understanding the limitations of financially strapped organizations and their inability to make hundreds of thousands of documents available to the public in a timely matter hardly deserves the title of Secret Archives. If they were truly secret, Molinaro would never have discovered them in the first place.