Over 200 boxes of records reviewed by Ottawa, courts for residential school links

More than 200 boxes of records are currently undergoing separate internal judicial and federal reviews to determine their connection to residential schools after being found in storage facilities over the past year, CBC News has learned.

The documents were discovered in storage lockers in Yellowknife and Vancouver, according to information provided to CBC News by a Crown-Indigenous Relations (CIRNA) official.

As a court-appointed firm and federal officials sift through the records, CIRNA Minister Marc Miller said searches are continuing within his department and other departments to find any documents related to the incident. residential school era.

“The condition they were found in is completely unacceptable,” Miller said in an interview with CBC News.

“It is part of this process that I am continuing as minister… This work is not finished and is still in progress – knowing any information related to this period can help to conclude and understand the truth.”

The first batch of documents, 125 bankers boxes, was found in June 2021 by the owner of a storage facility in Yellowknife who was cleaning out a unit formerly belonging to a now-defunct survivor healing group called the Healing Drum.

The owner contacted the territory’s information commissioner, who then alerted the CIRNA regional office, said Andrew Fox, the information and privacy commissioner for the Northwest Territories.

CIRNA officials took possession of the files in November 2021.

They discovered that the records were related to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the abuse compensation process known as the Independent Assessment Process (IAP).

Residential school survivors say records, like this file containing the death records of Kamloops residential school students from 1935 to 1945, can help families find out what happened to their loved ones. (National Center for Truth and Reconciliation)

Given strict guidelines for confidentiality and the handling of IAP-related cases, CIRNA referred matters to two judges overseeing the residential school settlement agreement. They, in turn, asked class action management firm Epiq in January to review the records and report back with suggestions for how the documents should be handled.

The second batch of documents, 107 boxes found in an Iron Mountain warehouse in Vancouver, was also “reported” in the summer of 2021. The last batch of these documents arrived in Ottawa in February 2022, according to information provided by the head of CIRNA. .

The records were formerly held by Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada, an organization created to handle the myriad of civil disputes related to residential schools and the settlement agreement.

The second batch of files falls into three broad categories: hard copies of residential school records, such as facility maps and attendance records that already existed in the CIRNA database; First Nations-related non-residential school records, such as community visits, health service conditions, and maps of northern remote communities; academic documents available to the public.

Based on an initial assessment, none of the records contained previously undisclosed information, according to the official.

“They are kept safe as they should be … and kept with the appropriate entities in a careful manner,” Miller said.

Ottawa has faced calls to post records

A child’s dress hangs from a cross blowing in the wind near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The search and discovery of unmarked graves sparked calls for Ottawa to release documents. (Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

The boxes of records were found amid the discovery of unmarked residential school graves across the country, sparking calls for Ottawa to release all of its residential school-related records.

In January, the minister announced that his department would transfer 11 school accounts – nine that were never delivered and two that were updates from 2016 – to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). The documents summarized Ottawa-compiled histories of the residential schools, as well as related records, and were initially enmeshed in legal bureaucracy involving Catholic entities.

Miller also announced the transfer of more than 875,000 records – totaling approximately 1.5 million individual pages – to NCTR.

These files were first transferred by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — created under the settlement agreement to examine and document the history of residential schools.

The Harper government provided some of those records on two hard drives with “corrupted” and unreadable files, according to details outlined in a memorandum of understanding between the department and the NCTR.

The commission, which transferred all its assets to the NCTR, was forced to seek a court order to access historical documents of the Harper government.

Residential school survivor Leonard James applauds at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission rally in Victoria in April 2012. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Miller also published a publicly available guideline departmental officials to report and retain any records related to “historical harms committed by Canada against Indigenous children”.

He said he was also working with the ministers of Indigenous Services Canada, Justice Canada, Public Safety, Heritage, Parks Canada and Library and Archives Canada to seek out all relevant documents.

“This is a thorough analysis of the available information,” Miller said.

“I won’t be happy until we find all the information we can. We’re definitely not there yet.”

Indian hospital records destroyed

Miller said he also had discussions with Justice Minister David Lametti about releasing residential school-related records held by the federal Justice Department, documents that have always been kept secret.

Over the years, survivors and researchers have sought to learn more about the Department of Justice’s internal discussions of Ottawa’s legal opinions on its responsibility for running residential schools over the years.

The TRC report also called on the federal Department of Justice “to be more transparent and accountable to Indigenous peoples; this requirement includes sharing its legal opinions” on Indigenous rights.

“Solicitor-client privilege, litigation privilege, and all kinds of legal concepts that are invoked to prevent disclosure of information that should have been disclosed are very difficult to parse,” Miller said.

“You need people at my level and at Minister Lametti’s level to sometimes intervene.”

Miller said there is a batch of historical records that will not yet be available for public scrutiny involving Indian hospitals and sanatoriums, where residential school children and adults were taken with illnesses like tuberculosis. Many died in these facilities without notice provided to their families.

Those filings are currently part of the ongoing class action discovery process, Miller said.

“It’s a complex issue, especially since we’re currently in a court-run process as to the disclosure of documents,” he said.

Miller said a “strip” of Indian hospital records were also destroyed “decades ago”.