Appeals Court restores survivors’ rights
SIX NATIONS – Many of those who gave testimony during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) work, where their personal experiences were told and recorded, were unhappy with the court’s first decision that the material gathered regarding personal residential school testimonies was to be destroyed after 15 years.
But on Monday, the Court of Appeals in Toronto overturned that decision and ruled that residential school survivors, should they wish, have the right to archive their stories for posterity.
Thirty-thousand residential school survivors opened the secret parts of their hearts in horrifying detail about cultural genocide, philological, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuses.
According to the Court of Appeal decision, those who have received compensation did not surrender control of their stories.
The Canadian Press reports that “Residential school survivors are free to disclose (or not) their own experiences, despite any claims that others may make with respect to confidentiality and privacy.”
Both the federal government and the TRC were against the information being destroyed, but the Catholic Church argued in favour of its destruction after 15 years.
“This is a once and for all determination of the rights of all parties relating to this issue,” wrote Chief Justice George Strathy in his report on behalf of the Appellate Court.
But unless survivors register for the archiving, the information will be destroyed after 15 years. It leaves it up to the individual to decide if they wish their story to be accessible to future generations, or not.
It was argued that the documents were government records, however the court flatly rejected that idea.
“It is critical to understand that the independent assessment process was not a federal government program,” ruled the court, and that the notification process is the responsibility of the chief adjudicator of the claims process.
Justice Robert Sharpe said that it was an “important moment in Canadian history when all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, confront the shocking treatment of generations of aboriginal children in the residential school system and searches for ways to repair the damage done. If the documents are destroyed, we obliterate an important part of our effort to deal with a very dark moment in our history.”
By leaving the decision up to the survivor, he or she can rest easy that some day the intimate details of their experience will not be revealed sometime in the future unless they want it to stand as a record for all time of the past abuses against aboriginal people in Canada.
The material collected by the TRC is being held outside of government or church’s hands. It is housed at the National Research Centre at the University of Manitoba.
“This is wonderful,” says Six Nations’ Ida Martin.
Martin has been instrumental along with others from Six Nations in advocating for “mush-hole” survivors. She ended up quitting her day job as a clinical workers to advocate full time, taking a job with the “Children of Shingwauk,” movement.
She has also been at the forefront of helping Six Nations survivors and continues to do so.
“When they were having statement gathering sessions where survivors could record their stories, they were each asked at that time if they wanted these records closed and destroyed or open to future generations,” she says.
According to Martin’s knowledge, no one said they wanted the information closed or to be destroyed.
Some survivors were glad the statements they gave would be available for the family to view sometime in the future, if they have never told their families about what they had been through and are still not comfortable enough to tell them in person.
“I know it was some the churches that wanted this information destroyed, but I am very glad to hear of Monday’s decision,” she told Two Row Times.