Yukon officials are unsure if they’re going to be able to help the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identify students who died in the Yukon’s residential schools.
The commission reached out to all of Canada’s jurisdictions for records of deaths during the time of residential schools. Staff hope to cross-reference that information with spotty records available from the schools to fill in the blanks surrounding who died, how they died and where they are buried.
But the Department of Health and Social Services, which handles Yukon’s vital statistics, says current legislation does not allow them to release a person’s cause of death.
The Vital Statistics Act says: “No certificate issued in respect of the registration of a death shall be issued in a manner that discloses the cause of death as certified on the medical certificate, except on the order of a court.”
Unlike in other jurisdictions like British Columbia where rules like that only last for 25 years after a person dies, Yukon information remains private for 100 years, said department spokesperson Pat Living.
At the peak, there were more than 130 residential schools across the country. The last one closed in 1996.
Today, there are an estimated 80,000 former students still living, according to the commission.
Living said it’s too early to say that the territory won’t be helping the commission at all.
Yukon officials hope to speak with the commission soon to get more details on specifically what information it needs, she said.
“The department is reaching out to determine how we can assist them,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t support what they are doing, we do, we just need to see what we can do under our laws.”