APTN National News
OTTAWA–Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Murray Sinclair says he will again take the battle over historical Indian residential school documents to the courts if Ottawa continues to resist its “obligation” to turn over the full archive.
Sinclair spoke to APTN National News Tuesday following the release of the spring Auditor General’s report earlier in the day.
The report found that nearly three years after the work began and with a year left before the TRC’s mandate ends next year, no one knows how much it will cost to gather all the historical documents, who will pay for it or what materials are even “relevant” for the project.
The TRC was created as a result of the multi-billion dollar Indian residential school settlement and part of its mandate includes compiling and preserving the historical record.
The Auditor General’s report found that the TRC and the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs had failed to find “common ground” on the transfer of historical documents from Ottawa’s vaults.
Sinclair, however, said the report was an “endorsement” of the TRC’s continued battle with Ottawa over the release of the historical material.
“It’s their legal obligation, it’s not their discretion. They don’t have a choice in this, they are legally obligated,” said Sinclair..
If the federal government doesn’t comply, then the TRC will again take Ottawa to court.
“The matter will be back in front of the judges who approved the settlement agreement, who continue to have a supervisory role with respect to the conduct of the parties and we won’t hesitate to take it back to them if necessary,” said Sinclair.
In Ottawa, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt defended his government’s handling of the Indian residential school documents.
Valcourt said during question period that the federal government has already handed over 3.5 million documents to the TRC and that he met with Sinclair in Montreal last week.
“Our government is committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools,” said Valcourt, after facing questions from the NDP. “This is an ongoing process and we are committed to continuing working with the commission.”
NDP MP and Cree politician Romeo Saganash, whose brother who died in residential school, demanded during question period that Valcourt commit to releasing all documents requested by the TRC.
“Will the minister rise today and solemnly commit and send the commission all the documents they request?” said Saganash, who also attended residential school.
Valcourt, however, did not directly respond to the question, but repeated his prepared line about the 3.5 million documents.
“Who is talking about politicizing the issue? That is what he is doing by ignoring the facts. The fact is that the government’s commitment is clearly reflected in the work of the Commission,” said Valcourt.
The Auditor General’s report found that the TRC and the federal department couldn’t agree on what constituted relevant documents, where to search, what time frames the documents would cover, what formats to use and who would pay for it all.
“The scope of the undertaking is still undefined. Canada and the Commission need to cooperate in order to assess what has been accomplished, what remains to be done, how long this will take and what resources are required,” said the report.
The issue has already hit Federal Court once. On Jan. 30, 2012, the court ruled that Canada’s obligation included documents held in the vaults of Library and Archives Canada.
The department had taken the position that Canada’s responsibility did not include searching for additional archival documents and federal departments did not have to go digging at Library and Archives Canada.
The department effectively transferred that responsibility to the TRC which “strongly disagreed” and held to its claim that the federal government’s responsibility included finding archived documents.