The Ontario Superior Court ruling applies only to testimony given in private by former Indian residential school students to the Independent Assessment Process. Photo: Kuzma
Some former students of Indian residential schools are concerned and confused about an Aug. 7 Ontario Superior Court ruling that testimony about the abuse they suffered in the schools should be destroyed after 15 years unless individuals agree to provide their personal information to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The ruling applies only to testimony given in private by about 40,000 former students to the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), an out-of-court process set up following the negotiation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The IAP was intended to hear individual claims and provide compensation for abuse suffered in the schools. Those who came forward and spoke of their experiences at the IAP were promised that their testimony was private and confidential.
The Rev. Andrew Wesley, a former residential school student, now an Anglican priest who works in urban native ministry with the diocese of Toronto, told the Anglican Journal that there has been some confusion among the people he works with at Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, who are mostly survivors. “They think they are the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] records that are going to be destroyed, but actually that’s not so.”
Records from TRC events and hearings that have taken place across Canada since 2010 are public and will be archived in the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to be established at the University of Manitoba. (The TRC was established as a key component of the residential schools agreement; its mandate is to document the 130-year history of Indian residential schools and to educate Canadians about it.)
In a speech in June, IAP chief adjudicator Dan Shapiro read a few lines from a former student that underlined the reasons confidentiality was promised:
“In my IAP compensation hearing, I was questioned about my life before, at, and after residential school. I testified in excruciating detail about my most painful, devastating, intrusive and intimate experiences and suffering. I disclosed violations and trauma of which I never speak. The fortitude, support, and trust that was necessary for my compensation hearing is difficult to adequately describe. It took me many years to even consider taking my case through the IAP. The shame, mistrust and fear [that] I felt made me very hesitant to proceed.”
In August, Shapiro issued a statement praising the decision of Justice Paul Perell. “The Court has issued a clear statement confirming the privacy of claimants and others identified in compensation claim records,” Shapiro wrote. “This will be a huge relief to the thousands of claimants who have appeared at our hearings fully expecting that their accounts of the abuse they suffered at Indian Residential Schools would not be made public without their consent.”
Esther Wesley, co-ordinator of the Anglican Healing Fund, established by the Anglican Church of Canada, agreed that the decision will be a relief to many people who recounted their experiences to the IAP, trusting in promises of confidentiality made at each hearing. “I was concerned, too, because…[for] many of them, their families know some of the story but not the detail that was presented in those hearings…Some of the stories that were written are very graphic.”
She acknowledged that others may feel differently and want their personal information to be archived at the research centre. “They have that choice, which I think is wonderful.”
Shapiro’s statement said the IAP has also “supported this voluntary right of claimants, provided that documents are redacted to protect the personal information of others, the necessity of which the court also recognizes.”
Canon Murray Still, who has been an Anglican representative in the diocese of Rupert’s Land at the IAP, said that opinions about what should be done with the records are mixed among former students he has spoken with. “They were promised that confidentiality, and that’s what we try to honour as the church. It should be up to those survivors to be able give the permission…whether their story is heard or not.”
The Rev. Andrew Wesley said that some of the people he has spoken to have said that they would prefer to have the transcripts of their testimony to the IAP returned to them rather than having them destroyed or archived at the research centre.
When the Journal inquired about that point, a communication officer for the IAP responded by email, writing that claimants can request a copy of their transcript in a number of ways:
- asking the adjudicator at their hearing;
- contacting the Chief Adjudicator’s Office directly at 306-790-4700306-790-4700 or IAPS_Chiefadjudicatorsoffice@irsad-sapi.gc.ca
- asking their lawyer to contact the Chief Adjudicator’s Office on their behalf.
Information identifying other people, such as staff or other students, will be redacted from the transcripts before these are mailed to individuals who have requested them, the spokesman wrote, noting that the IAP has received about 900 such requests to date.
Anglican Journal News, August 20, 2014