Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with establishing a research centre to hold all documents and materials it collects on Indian residential schools, has been given a year's extension to its mandate. It will work into the summer of 2015 to gather and analyze the documents the federal government was ordered by a court to provide. The material should be transferred without further delay.
The extension is the predictable result of a lengthy dispute over what documents are relevant and how they would be provided. In January, an Ontario court said not all documents that mention residential schools are necessary, but Ottawa must compile all material that is reasonably required to lay out the history and legacy of the schools. The government had argued it was obliged merely to open the doors of Library and Archives Canada to commission researchers.
But the scope of the job before government employees involved in identifying and compiling the volume of material -- Library and Archives Canada estimated at one point this envelope 29 departments and amass 69,000 boxes at an estimated cost of $40 million -- remains unclear. Indeed, following a report last spring by the Auditor General into the dispute, the commission noted it hoped it would not have to yet again return to court to settle the unresolved issues.
The commission began its work in 2009, but Ottawa knew of its obligation to provide the documents in 2006. Yet it was not until 2011 the work within federal departments to begin managing the task began.
The commission is writing the tale of a painful era of Canada's history in an attempt to heal a festering wound that arose from a policy that damaged First Nations and Canada's relationship with its original people. The federal government cannot stint in fulfilling its critical role in that process. After deadlines have passed, true reconciliation will compel Ottawa to disclose to the commission's national research centre at the University of Manitoba any new materials whenever they are discovered.