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Ottawa must hand over documents on residential schools: judge

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OTTAWA – An Ontario judge has sided with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and ordered the federal government to hand over all relevant documents on residential schools.

Justice Stephen Goudge ruled the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, signed in 2007, obligates the government to produce all relevant documents, regardless of where they are housed.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission took Ottawa to court in December after not all federal departments complied with requests to get the documents.

The TRC is mandated to create a record of the history of residential schools in Canada. During the court hearings in Toronto, TRC lawyers argued Ottawa refused to hand over any documents it had obtained from churches for legal reasons, and that Ottawa said it wasn’t obligated to identify and provide relevant documents from Library and Archives Canada.

Justice Goudge disagreed.

TRC’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, said this is a landmark decision.

"This was about ensuring survivors and their families have some control over their history," he said.

More than one million documents have been handed over thus far but there are more than one million more outstanding, Falconer said. Only one of 24 departments which have acknowledged having residential school documents in archives have even done a search, he said.

A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said the government is reviewing the court ruling.

"We will continue to fulfill our obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to address the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools," said Jason MacDonald.

More than 150,000 aboriginal children were forced into residential schools between the 1880s and early 1980s, as Canada embarked on a mission of assimilation. The schools were run by the churches for the government. Many students told stories of physical and sexual abuse and the imprint of residential schools is still largely blamed for the rampant social problems facing aboriginal Canadians today.

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the government of Canada for the saga of residential schools.

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was approved by the courts in 2007 as the result of a class-action suit by survivors of residential schools. In addition to establishing the TRC, the settlement offered compensation to survivors as well as additional compensation to victims of abuse.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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