Defense of Relevance
December 4, 2012
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The topic of relevance was highlighted in an interesting article that Professor Tiemessen retweeted titled “Truth commission taking feds to court over access to records: CP.” The article addresses the ongoing Canadian truth commission regarding past corrective residential schools. Further, the article addresses the fight to release a multitude of government records that allegedly are vital to a successful the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which includes record keeping for reconciliation purposes.
The article states,
“Under the agreement, the government of Canada and churches are obliged to provide all “relevant documents in their possession or control” to the commission. Court filings show years of government squabbling over the word “relevant.”
I found this to be an interesting point that can be applied to many other cases discussed over the length of the course. What standards are used to measure the relevance of documents, information, etc.? There seems to be a divide between collecting information between verbal and written submissions. While studying the truth commissions of South Africa, one of the requirements in applying for amnesty was that the entire truth must be told. This was measured against the facts known about the crime. On the other side, the above article explores the notion of the release of “relevant” Government documents and that the State has hid behind the shield of relevance when asked to release documents. The documents are not only being sought after for the truth commissions, but also as, “part of the commission’s mandate is to help in a process of reconciliation, while yet another is the “creation of a legacy” that includes collection of records, taking statements from those involved, and classifying and preserving the materials.” In the end, the article states “it took until November 2011 — about six years after Ottawa first signed the settlement in principle — for the government to hand over the bulk of what’s been provided so far.”
Is relevance a legitimate argument for withholding documents? This is a similar argument to those commonly made by lawyers in court rooms and thus it should not be a surprising that governments also use this gray area to fight larger conflicts. This article was an interesting example of the defense of relevance.