Barbara Kay: Muffling a lawyer’s book that looked at the entitlements of Indigenous peoples
Best believes the Indian Act is a benign form of apartheid, and advocates for the integration model of equal citizenship for all.
Last February the Sudbury, Ont., branch of Chapters abruptly cancelled an upcoming book-signing event. A clue to its decision may be found in the politically incorrect title of the book in question, by area lawyer Peter Best: There Is No Difference: An Argument for the Abolition of the Indian Reserve System and Special Race-based Laws and Entitlements for Canada’s Indians.
Best is one of my free-speech Canadian heroes (full disclosure: I not only considered Best’s book a trenchantly-argued and comprehensively researched dissertation on this most important of national themes, I wrote a positive blurb for the cover).
Few and far between are disinterested scholars of Canada’s Aboriginal history who have the tough hide and principled will to publicly depart from the approved Indigenous “nation-to-nation” narrative that keeps the guilt and money flowing, but perpetuates a dysfunctional status quo on many reserves. Most of the dissenters are university academics. But Best is simply an intelligent man with a passion for his subject, a deep impatience with political correctness, and unremitting determination to weather whatever storms afflict him as he shepherds his views to a public market.
I’ve written before in the National Post and elsewhere about Best’s lonely battles with our society’s forces of repression. There Is No Difference began its public life as a post on a dedicated online site in 2014, copied to his legal firm’s. Shortly afterward, complaints were filed against him with the Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario), asking that Best be “disbarred or suspended” and that he be forced to apologize for using his law practice “to disseminate racist materials.”(--image--)
After two years of stressful limbo, the Law Society graciously allowed that the excerpts submitted by the (unnamed) complainant were “not enough to merit a finding of any form of professional misconduct on their face.” (The last three words telegraph the ardent wish that they had been; apart from a dissenting group of new benchers, the Law Society’s board has increasingly demonstrated worrying Thought Police tendencies.)
Best believes the Indian Act is a benign form of apartheid, and advocates for the integration model of equal citizenship for all, a model promoted, for example, by Pierre Elliott Trudeau (who called the system “apartheid”), and the late Aboriginal lawyer William Wuttunee, author of Ruffled Feathers, who was marginalized and discredited as an “apple,” red on the outside, white on the inside.
Best believes the federal government must be the ultimate master in its own house for Canada to function as a healthy nation. He is fiercely critical of the Supreme Court’s 2004 emphasis on the “honour of the Crown” concept in its Haida Nation vs. British Columbia ruling, with key words “to consult and where appropriate, accommodate the Aboriginal interest” virtually decreeing a devolution of Crown sovereignty to Aboriginals, and effectively turning Indigenous bands into a third order of government with the power arbitrarily to advance or restrict Canada’s economic fortunes.
It’s easy for Indigenous activists to bash a white historian, or even an Aboriginal dissident without special standing like Wuttunee. But it will be more difficult to dismiss the opinion of a former Supreme Court justice. Best just came in for an unexpected stroke of luck. Former Supreme Court justice Jack Major (1992-2005) has given the book his endorsement in a letter discussed in an article by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP).
In a letter to Best, Major confided, “There Is No Difference continues to impress me no doubt because I agree with it.” In his FCPP statement, Major, who had personal experience in the residential schools (with Basil Johnston, author of Indian School Days), says it is a “myth” that native children were “torn from happy, loving homes.” Many were in fact saved from death by malnutrition and tuberculosis. English was mandatory, but “how else to equip the student to function off a particular reserve? It is strange that natives are reluctant to tout any success by them in the modern world …” He critiques the “mushroom effect” of the Haida Nation decision as well as the rescinding of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. It’s a powerful contribution to a discussion many ideologues would prefer we don’t engage in.
When Chapters cancelled Best’s book signing, it justified it on the grounds that such an event would compromise its commitment to giving customers “a joyful and positive experience.”
What a strange criterion for a bookstore. Many of the history books and literary masterpieces we read plunge us into sadness and pessimism, but they expand our intellectual and civic horizons. Wouldn’t a commitment to giving customers an “informative and thought-provoking experience” make more sense? For that is what Chapters’ customers would have had if the event had gone forward.
That is in fact what Best’s audience did have last week when he spoke to them about his important book at a Sudbury public library.
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Correction: This column has been updated to clarify the biography of Jack Major.