Condemnation of Good-Faith Research Into Residential-School History Must Stop
On April 1, a new website was launched by the Indian Residential Schools Research Group (irsrg.ca) whose mission is to share with the public historical materials concerning the residential-school system, materials that uphold “the highest standards of research, evidence, and logic in the pursuit of the truth, wherever that may lead. Most importantly, we believe only through truth can there be reconciliation.”
The IRSRG principals—lifetime scholars in the field—are aware that the site will be considered controversial in the present environment. Under the site tab, “Misconceptions,” for example, the visitor finds statements most Canadians believe to be true, but are inaccurate: that, for example, “The residential schools were responsible for a higher rate of disease and death among First Nations children”; and “The Indian Residential School system was a tool to commit Cultural Genocide.” Each statement is rebutted with objective evidence.
This is not to claim that the website is perfect, or that it’s above criticism. As well, all scholars firmly state in their writings that they are not denying the residential school system’s shortcomings or abuses. But in an environment where many media have lost objectivity, and many scholars self-censor out of fear for their careers, this website offers a chance to look at the evidence critically while openly having the vital discussions that the topic requires.
The “genocide” misconception is by far the most contentious. Last September, a distinguished judge and former president of the International Criminal Court effectively told the National Gathering on Unmarked Burials in Edmonton that the residential school system did not qualify as a genocide. “There is no pathway to the International Criminal Court for the situation of the historical Indian residential school system in Canada,” Dr. Chile Oboe-Osuji stated.
Nevertheless, last October, the government unanimously adopted a resolution proclaiming, “the government must recognize what happened in Canada’s Indian residential schools as genocide.” This virtue-signalling resolution, which casts moral shade on the work of objective historians, could plausibly be the thin end of a wedge leading to legislation that proscribes the publication of the IRSRG scholars’ work.
I am an “at large” member of the IRSRG board. My support centres largely on the appropriation of the Holocaust by activists and their political and media allies as a false analogue to residential schools. Such exploitation of a unique historical evil not only insults the memory of the Holocaust’s millions of victims, it also corrupts the meaning of the word “denial.”
Holocaust denial is a known form of antisemitism. That is because only someone blinded by hatred would willfully deny voluminous archived documentation—most of it compiled by the Nazis themselves—of the most systematic, targeted mass murder in recorded history. To liken denial of Europe’s extermination camps and killing fields to rejection of the term genocide for the residential schools, where no documentation for, let alone evidence of, any murders exists, is an odious comparison.
It is in fact a Big Lie, encouraging Canadians to believe that research into the residential schools is an expression of hatred for indigenous people. And it furthermore implicitly gives licence to those Canadians to feel hatred for those who reject the charge of “denialism,” but who continue to publish the fruits of their research in publications with journalistic integrity, such as The Epoch Times.
Politicians and chattering-class elites who lend support to such demonization are acting irresponsibly. On Canada Day 2021, in response to reports of two church burnings—part of a wave of vandalism that followed the false reports of a discovery of an alleged “mass grave” in Kamloops, B.C.—Harsha Walia, then-president of the BC Civil Liberties Association, encouraged activists in a tweet to “Burn it all down.” Bad enough. Then, in response to criticism, Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau’s longtime formal and informal adviser, defended Walia, conceding that while her tweet wasn’t “cool,” it was certainly “understandable.”
No, it is not understandable. It is unhealthy incitement, but consistent with a wider progressive trend.
As the U.S. Supreme Court heard opening arguments concerning the abortion protections provided by Roe v. Wade, Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer addressed justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh at a public gathering in words that sounded to many like a threat of violence if they ruled against progressive wishes: “I want to tell you, Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch, you have unleashed a whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” Schumer said. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
These words may or may not be directly linked to a later assassination attempt on Justice Kavanaugh, but even the mentally disturbed, as Kavanaugh’s would-be killer Nicholas Roske was, can and do pick up on violence flirtation by people in high places. One thing is certain. If this same scenario had involved a Republican rather than a Democrat, he would have been subjected to blanket condemnation for the incident.
As we saw during the Black Lives Matter “demonstrations,” violence by darlings of the left is played down by progressive politicians and media, while non-violent demonstrations by conservatives, like the Freedom Convoy, are demonized by the media and politicians as a threat to national security. The result has been escalating violence amongst progressive activists.
Witness the mobs in Auckland, New Zealand, who surrounded Kellie-Jay Keen, a.k.a Posie Parker, a bold defender of women’s sex-based rights, at her lawful March 25 “Let Women Speak” rally. The palpable rage of these trans activists was frightening. Parker had tomato soup thrown at her face to resemble the blood they would have liked it to be, and as a warning: Next time it could be acid, or a bullet.
Which brings me back to the IRSRG and a tweet I posted to announce its launch. Response came swiftly, both positive and negative, the latter mostly ad hominem accusations of racism. Some disgusting, rage-filled posts are not suited for republication in these decorous pages. Such detractors aren’t worth a column inch. But given the present inclination to openly expressed rage and physical bullying by activists on the left, a hate-fuelled tweet by a politician is.
NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, Matthew Green, responded to my tweet announcing the website launch in these words: “Like Holocaust denial, Indigenous (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) Genocide denial should be a crime in Canada. Every person involved in this is absolutely despicable.” (Replies were restricted to his followers, not cricket at all.)
This defamatory discourse is neither understandable nor acceptable. When a politician singles out identifiable citizens as enemies of the people for expressing reasonable opinions, he is inciting hatred for them. If anyone in the IRSRG ends up with tomato soup—or worse—on their face, Matthew Green will have egg on his. Green is playing with fire. All condemnation by politicians of good-faith research into residential-schools history must stop.