His­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment back­log at some gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ties

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - COMMUNITY - Diane Tib­ert Roots to the Past Diane Lynn McGyver Tib­ert, au­thor of Scat­tered Stones, is a free­lance writer based in Cen­tral Nova Sco­tia. Visit her Roots to the Past blog (https://root­stothep­ast.word­press.com) to learn more about her genealogy writ­ing.

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.

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