The legacy of Canada’s aboriginal residential schools is shameful and profound. For more than a century, residential schools meant to educate aboriginal children instead functioned to traumatize them.
The residential school system removed 150,000 children from their homes and communities to forcibly assimilate them. Many of them endured horrific physical, sexual and psychological abuse. The effects continue to ripple across generations.
We know this, in part, thanks to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 2008 to examine the activities perpetrated in those schools, and their impact.
It has collected hundreds of thousands of documents on the cases of native claimants.
Now, Dan Shapiro, the chief adjudicator of the Independent Assessment Process, will ask a judge to order that the documents created by, and provided to, the IAP be destroyed when the process has ended.
Mr. Shapiro’s request hardly comes from a bad place. He wants to protect native claimants’ confidential information – everything from medical and tax records to transcripts that reveal the identities of witnesses and alleged perpetrators. He also wants to shield native claimants from possible future trauma, if the door is left open for their testimonies to be revisited.
But he is wrong to suggest the obliteration of documents is the only way to protect claimants’ privacy. Private medical and financial information should be sealed and protected. However, some of the documents that detail the experience of residential schools survivors constitute a crucial part of Canada’s history.
Some of the repercussions of Canada’s residential school system have only begun to surface. The testimony submitted to the TRC is a crucial starting point for future generations of aboriginals to access and understand that legacy.
Those documents belong in Library and Archives Canada, as a matter of historical record. While Mr. Shapiro, as chief adjudicator, has a duty to native claimants, he also has a responsibility to all Canadians to ensure a painful chapter of this country’s history is never forgotten.
Editor's Note: The original print version and an earlier online version of this editorial gave incorrect information about the position of Mr. Shapiro. This online version has been corrected.