SCC: Residential Schools Settlement Agreement records may be destroyed

By Yves Faguy October 6, 20176 October 2017

SCC: Residential Schools Settlement Agreement records may be destroyed

 

In Canada v. Fontaine, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that files on individual residential school survivors may be destroyed.

What the dispute was about: The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, implemented over a decade ago, settled several class actions brought by survivors of residential schools. It established what’s known as the Independent Assessment Process to compensate victims of psychological, physical or sexual abuse. Making a claim under the IAP involved disclosing highly sensitive information for an adjudicator to examine to determine compensation. The claimants were promised confidentiality. Asked how to dispose of the records, the Ontario Superior Court initially found that they must be destroyed following a 15-year retention period during which claimants could decide instead to have their own records preserved. After the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld that order, it was up to the top court to decide what to do with them. The issue is divisive. Some groups want to preserve a historical record of the residential school abuses, while others worry about causing further distress to victims and their families.

How a unanimous court saw it: “The destruction order is subject to a 15-year retention period, during which claimants may choose to have their IAP Documents preserved and archived. That choice will be brought to the attention of claimants through a notice program administered by the Chief Adjudicator. We recognize that this order may be inconsistent with the wishes of deceased claimants who were never given the option to preserve their records. A perfect outcome here is, in these circumstances, simply not possible. In our view, however, the destruction of records that some claimants would have preferred to have preserved works a lesser injustice than the disclosure of records that most expected never to be shared.”

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