APTN National News
OTTAWA–The commission created to delve into the dark chapter of residential schools is taking its battle for “control over history” with Ottawa to the courts, says a lawyer for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The federal government has refused to hand over millions of Indian residential school documents still locked away in its vaults, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission inching closer to the end of its mandate in 2014. The documents originate from 23 federal departments and agencies ranging from the RCMP, the Office of the Privy Council to Parks Canada and are held by the Library and Archives Canada.
The TRC is applying to the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice to force Ottawa’s hand to release the documents. The TRC wants the court to issue a definition on Canada’s responsibility on the production of residential school documents. A decision by the court could order Canada to pay.
The TRC believes Canada is obligated to hand over all documents under the multi-billion dollar Indian Residential School settlement which created the commission. Canada, however, is refusing to pay for the cost of digitizing, processing and organizing the documents, which range from reports to photographs of residential schools.
“What is at stake here is nothing short of the control of history,” said Julian Falconer, the lawyer representing the TRC.
The battle over the documents also strikes to the very heart of the TRC which was created to fully reveal the story behind the 150 year existence of residential schools by collecting the testimony of survivors and the massive paper trail the system left behind inside to bowels of the bureaucracy.
The TRC is now in danger of failing in its key goal.
“If Canada is successful in terms of its resistance to providing these documents, there is a real risk that…the truth telling function of the commission will be undermined,” said Falconer.
The cost of processing all residential school documents held by Ottawa would surpass the TRC’s $60 million budget alone, he said.
“There is no prospect that the commission was set up to do that and Canada has decided not to do that,” said Falconer.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan’s office did not return a request for comment.
The TRC will be in court beginning on Dec. 20 to make their case. The Assembly of First Nations, the University of Manitoba and Inuit representatives have also been granted intervener status, according to a statement from the TRC.
The TRC has been raising concerns about its document collection for some time and said in their interim report released earlier this year it was contemplating court action.