Vancouver Sun

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.

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