A Catholic organization that operates dozens of boarding schools in Canada said it is seeking outside advice on privacy laws that may affect the quality and comprehensiveness of the records it promises to provide.
Ken Thorson of the Consecration of the Immaculate Missionaries of the Fathers and Mothers of the Virgin said that these documents are personnel records that contain personally identifiable information, including those who work in boarding schools.
He said that privacy laws may prevent Oblates from publishing these records, but the organization is now studying the possibility of some disclosure.
“Our main concern now is the truth,” Tolson said on CBC Power and politics.
Tolson said that the release of these documents now helps to ensure that the Aboriginal groups “fully and responsibly access the history that may be included in these personnel files, at least in part.”
Watch: priest.Ken Thorson talks about efforts to publish residential school records
The Missionaries of Immaculate Conception operate 48 boarding schools in Canada, including the Marieval Indian Boarding School in Cowessess First Nations in Saskatchewan and the Kamloops Indian Boarding School in British Columbia
Cowessess First Nation announced last week that 751 unmarked graves were initially found on the site of the former boarding school.
Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said last month that preliminary scans found the remains of approximately 215 children near the former boarding school in Kamloops.
Oblates has made a “formal commitment” to release records related to these schools, but Thorson said in an interview on Monday that the legality of the release of personnel files is unclear.
Information of this nature is usually protected by various federal and provincial privacy laws designed to protect employees.
Indigenous groups, including the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Peoples (FSIM), criticized Oblates for failing to fulfill past promises of providing residential school records.
FSIN stated that if Oblates extends the release of records or conceals information, it will explore legal actions.
Oblates seeks guidance from a privacy officer
According to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the disclosure of personal information should “Usually it can only be done with the knowledge and consent of the employee.”
Thorson said Oblates is consulting with privacy experts to see if it can release these records without breaking the law. He also asked government officials to provide guidance.
“Maybe the federal and provincial privacy commissioners [can] Help us find a way forward,” he said.
“We wanted to find a way to make it available to indigenous communities. That’s why we seek guidance.”
Thorson said that other records related to the school may be released within three to six months, or even longer.
He attributed the delay in part to the difficulty of digitizing records.