Shredding order for abuse stories
School survivors have option to archive accounts
TORONTO • Survivors of Canada’s notorious residential school system have the right to see their stories archived if they wish, but their accounts must otherwise be destroyed in 15 years, Ontario’s top court ruled in a split decision Monday.
At issue are documents related to compensation claims made by as many as 30,000 survivors of Indian residential schools — many heart-rending accounts of sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
Compensation claimants never surrendered control of their stories, the Appeal Court said.
“Residential school survivors are free to disclose their own experiences, despite any claims that others may make with respect to confidentiality and privacy,” the court said.
The decision came in response to appeals and cross-appeals of a ruling by Superior Court Justice Paul Perell in 2014 related to claims made under the confidential independent assessment process — or IAP — set up as part of an agreement that settled a class action against the government.
The federal government and Truth and Reconciliation Commission fought destruction of the documents, saying they should be kept — with appropriate safeguards — to preserve the record of residential schools. Catholic parties argued for their destruction.
“This is a once-and-for-all determination of the rights of all parties relating to these issues,” the court said. “There will be no future cases like this one.”
Writing for the Appeal Court majority, Chief Justice George Strathy decided Perell was reasonable to order the records kept for 15 years and then destroyed, unless claimants chose to have their own accounts archived.
Survivors who opted for confidentiality should not face a risk that their stories would be stored against their will in a government archive and possibly disclosed at some time, even far into the future, the Appeal Court said.
The court rejected the idea the documents were “government records” but said the material fell under the court’s control.
“It is critical to understand that the (independent assessment process) was not a federal government program,” the Appeal Court said.