The Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat is urging residential school survivors to act if they want their claims records preserved.
“We want to tell claimants what their options are,” said secretariat spokesperson Michael Tansey.
The secretariat is an independent tribunal that has been deciding how much compensation is paid to people abused at the nation’s residential schools.
It has launched a new website to alert former students who made claims of abuse at residential schools about their options on what happens to their records.
The records contain intimate details of the physical, sexual and emotional trauma suffered by more than 38,000 former students, including 1,523 NWT and 520 Nunavut residents.
There are four remaining unresolved claims in the NWT and five in Nunavut but they are expected to be settled by 2020.
The new website explains how residential school survivors can obtain a copy of their records to keep or to share with others. It also explains how those who want to preserve their records for history, public education and research can share them with National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba.
Those who choose to do nothing will have their records destroyed in September 2027.
Claimants can visit myrecordsmychoice.ca for more information.
The secretariat has also launched a national outreach program that includes advertising, social media campaigns and training so health workers can inform residential school survivors of their options. It is designed to reach Indigenous people in all regions of Canada.
The website and the outreach program were developed in co-operation with the Assembly of First Nations, the federal government, lawyers representing former students and the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. It was also approved by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The Independent Assessment Process was established under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which was the largest class action settlement in Canadian history, to resolve claims of abuse suffered at residential schools, states a news release from the secretariat.
The secretariat engaged in a long court battle with the federal government, which wanted to preserve the documents for historical and research purposes, but the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the records were private and confidential in October 2017.
Tansey said they were trying preserve the confidentiality of settlement claims.
“Many claimants came to our hearings never having spoken of the abuse that occurred to them before,” said Tansey. “In many cases they hadn’t spoken to their children or their spouses or anyone at all. A lot of claimants told our adjudicators that they would not have agreed to go to a hearing to tell their story if they knew that there was any chance that their confidential information about the abuse they suffered would become public.”