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Destruction of Native abuse testimony gets mixed reaction

|Written By David Dias

The Saskatoon lawyer overseeing documentation of testimony from tens of thousands of Indian Residential School abuse victims is satisfied by an Ontario Superior Court decision Wednesday that would destroy the personal accounts of sexual and physical abuse after 15 years.

Dan Shapiro, chief adjudicator for the Indian Residential School Adjudication Secretariat, argued in July that storing the records indefinitely would fly in the face of confidentiality and privacy guarantees made at the outset of the Independent Assessment Process.

Justice Paul Perell set a 15-year grace period giving survivors of Indian residential schools the opportunity to decide the fate of their records.

“The Court has issued a clear statement confirming the privacy of claimants and others identified in compensation claim records,” Shapiro said in a statement.

“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.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission — tasked with casting light on a shameful chapter in Canadian history — had argued to preserve the historical accounts for posterity, given that the documents have already been redacted to protect the identity of victims and perpetrators (in accordance with the settlement agreement).

Shapiro, however, applauded the compromise reached in the order by Justice Paul Perell, which sets a 15-year grace period. During that time, victims will be individually contacted to see whether they would consent to having their testimony preserved in a new national archive.

“We have supported this voluntary right of claimants,” Shapiro writes, “provided that documents are redacted to protect the personal information of others, the necessity of which the court also recognizes.”

Observers have issued a mixed reaction to the ruling. Eleanore Sunchild, a North Battleford lawyer representing claimants, told the Regina Leader-Post she believes the decision offers a sound compromise.

“The survivors will have the choice on the fate of their records,” she said. “Hopefully there’s enough notice given to them so they understand the implications and those who want history preserved can do so.”

Abuse victims themselves are split on the decision. While some no doubt will be relieved to have their accounts removed from public display, others insist that destroying the testimony of 38,000 victims will only serve to undermine the healing process within their communities.

Piita Irniq, an Inuit aboriginal elder who has been vocal about the extent of his suffering, told Nunatsiaq Online that, if the records are destroyed, “you destroy the history of the aboriginal people. The pain and healing would go away.”

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