The Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat is calling for survivors who made claims during the Independent Assessment Process to decide what to do with their records and testimonies before they are destroyed.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in October 2017 that only the survivors themselves could decide what to do with the evidence gathered during the assessment process.
“It is their choice and their choice alone,” said Dan Shapiro, head adjudicator of the IAP. “It is important for all the stakeholders and the country that the process can be completed in a good way to help allow individuals and communities to further their healing.”
The original plan of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to have all documented material, including included survivor interviews, letters and recordings, stored in publicly accessible archives.
“That was not a position I could support given that I had been at hundreds of hearings where confidentiality agreements had been signed,” Shapiro noted. Eventually the courts agreed with Shapiro.
Some saw the 2017 Supreme Court ruling as a way to cover up evidence of the residential-school system. Shapiro says the public is now more informed and that there is general agreement that the claimants should control the fate of their documents.
“To compel their records to be put into a public archive contrary to their consent would be a very serious injustice on those people,” he said.
The secretariat receives applications for compensation from residential-school survivors. Its adjudicators render decisions based on information gathered.
To help inform the public and survivors of their rights to their documents the secretariat has developed a notice program in consultation with the Nation Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), the AFN, the Canadian government and other stakeholders.
The website www.MyRecordsMyChoice.ca is available online to provide the public with the forms and other resources needed for the record preservation process.
“The whole idea is to get people the information they need in order to know if they want to access their records, how they can do that and if they want to archive their records,” Shapiro said. “If they want their records to be destroyed that will happen automatically on September 19, 2027.”
Once permission is given, an individual’s records will be stored at the NCTR.
“We haven’t had a huge response yet,” said Ry Moran, director of the NCTR. He added that survivors have the option to present their documents anonymously or share their personal information.
As some claimants of the IAP process are Elders who may not be familiar with computers and how to consult a website, alternative means of informing the public have been sent to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country.
Shapiro said anyone who wants to see a sampling of the information packages can do so under the “more information” tab on the My Records My Choice website. It hosts also videos providing information on the process in Inuktitut, Ojibwe, Eastern James Bay Cree and Woodlands Cree.
The notice program taking place now will continue into 2020 but Shapiro said long after the secretariat’s work is complete people will have the opportunity to share their experiences with the NCTR.
The need for the secretariat is almost done as over 38,000 claims have been processed and Shapiro said there are less then 100 left to resolve. He also said the process is taking a little longer than expected because a number of claims have been submitted arising from a school in Nunavut that has been added by the courts.
The plan was to conclude all of the judication work by December 2020 but that date is being pushed back as the court order to formally add the new claimants has not yet come into effect.