Ottawa, churches playing hardball over residential school historical documents, TRC charges

conversion scan of old document Posted on November 24, 2011

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The TRC was created as part of the federal government’s massive billion dollar court settlement with residential school students.

In total, Parliament approved $66 million for the TRC to use.

About 150,000 children were forced to attend residential schools. Many were taken from their homes with the help of the RCMP. There, children suffered physical and sexual abuse and many died from disease and violence.

The schools aimed to purge Indigenous culture from the children by forcing them to lose their language and adopt European ways.

Some academic research has found that the aims and tactics of the residential school system fit the definition of being an act of genocide.

The TRC, however, believes its budget may not be enough to meet its mandate to compile the brutal history of residential schools in Canada.

The TRC says it needs more money, in part because of the added costs it foresees associated with gathering historical records, according to a performance report it submitted to the federal government’s Treasury Board Secretariat.

The TRC was also tasked in 2007, without receiving additional funding, to research the fate of children who never returned home from residential schools and were buried in unmarked graves.

“The overall TRC budget was developed without full costing of the program activities,” said the report. “The commission is in the process of identifying the anticipated costs and impacts on the commission’s budget that these requests are creating.”

The TRC was mandated to record the over century-long history of residential schools through the stories of those who attended and also to gather historical documents about and from the schools.

It was also mandated to create a national research centre containing these historical records but it will need extra money for that.

The churches and the federal government plan to bill the commission for the costs of copying, scanning, digitizing and reproducing historical documents, said the commission.

“This is now perhaps the most serious risk faced by the commission,” said the report. “The commission’s budget is not sufficient to cover the costs associated with reproducing the documents, including the costs associated with recording the details and locations of each original record.”

The TRC says the federal government has been throwing up “administrative barriers” preventing it from accessing historical documents. The government is refusing to deal as a single entity with the TRC and instead insists the commission deal separately with each department that holds or stored residential school documents.

Library and Archives Canada also told the TRC it can’t give the commission any records unless they get specific approval from each department that deposited the records.

“These are administrative barriers and delays to the production of records which is a legal obligation under the settlement agreement,” said the report.

Some church archivists are also posing problems, demanding that the commission agree to conditions, including trying to control how the TRC labels photos in its own reports, how many times the photos can be used or whether the commission can keep the records as part of its national research centre, which it was mandated to create, according to the commission’s report.

“In some cases, individual archives and archivists of the churches demand that the commission agree to certain conditions before those archivists will produce records to the commission,” said the report.