AFN National Chief Bellegarde welcomes Supreme Court decision on rights of former residential schools students
OTTAWA – The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde said that the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision ensures the rights of former residential school students are respected as part of the continuing work towards justice, healing and reconciliation.
On October 6, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal by Canada to take full control of sensitive documents and transcripts created by individuals who participated in the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. These documents outline abuses individuals suffered, as well as how the Indian Residential School experience affected their lives into adulthood.
“Individual testimony belongs to each individual. This is a good and fair decision by the Supreme Court today,” said Bellegarde. “Each individual has the right to decide if their personal stories and experiences told during the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) are made public or kept private. This is especially true in these situations, where the testimony deals with very personal experiences of trauma and abuse. Many former students shared their stories on the understanding that the IAP hearing was private and confidential. This must be respected.”
Northwest Territories Regional Chief Bill Erasmus who holds the portfolio for Indian Residential Schools for the AFN also expressed his endorsement of the Supreme Court’s decision. “The AFN has always advanced the proposition that only students of Indian Residential Schools have full and complete control over their experiences and testimonies. The Supreme Court of Canada has now endorsed AFN’s position. Any attempt to access IAP records will now require the express written consent of the individual concerned.”
On June 21, 2017 Bellegarde sent a letter to the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Carolyn Bennett to request resources for former residential school students to discuss this matter and to ensure they have an opportunity to meet with the Minister.
During the July 2017 Annual General Assembly, Chiefs-in-Assembly passed Resolution no. 39/2017, Support for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). Resolution 39/2017 directed the AFN to work with the NCTR and other parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to advance NCTR’s mandate, including public education on the devastating impacts Indian Residential Schools had on First Nation families and communities.
The AFN will continue to ensure the rights of former students are respected in accordance with the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat (IRSAS) and will continue to work towards justice, healing and reconciliation.
The AFN will also work with the NCTR and the other parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to advance NCTR’s mandate.