Lametti considers illiberal cone of silence over residential schools
Suggestions to criminalize "denialism" made as archives are passed through a truth and reconciliation filter
In 2021, the Governor General assigned Kimberly Murray the role of special advisor to Justice Minister David Lametti on “Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites Associated with Indian Residential Schools.” Halfway through that mandate, she has submitted an interim report. Two of its recommendations reach beyond her mandate, in ways that should concern us.
First is the recommendation for affirming “Indigenous data sovereignty.” Murray states: “Indigenous data sovereignty involves amending the laws that put power in the hands of government institutions, universities, and church organizations — the ‘creators’ or copyright holders of documents — and shifting that power back to the Indigenous people that are documented within records.”
She wants assurance that “data collected from Indigenous communities is used ethically and with the community’s consent.” Thus she finds a “need to protect Indigenous data from unauthorized access or use.”
What does this mean in practical terms? The website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) offers a clue in its section, “Proactive Disclosure.” The NCTR has already taken guardianship of a massive archive of government and church records, and now seems poised to assume authority over what records the public may or may not see.
This supposition was reinforced in a recent presentation by NCTR head archivist Raymond Frogner to the Yellowknife Knowledge Sharing Circle, in which he defines Indigenous data sovereignty as “the right of Indigenous people to govern the collection, ownership and use of data about Indigenous communities, peoples, lands and resources.” Frogner’s attached bio states it is his responsibility “to respectfully honour, safeguard and when appropriate (my emphasis), make available the records acquired by the TRC and additional records of enduring value for Indigenous peoples.”
Indigenous data sovereignty means that any record that mentions an Indigenous person would be shielded by “privacy” laws and the above-mentioned proactive disclosure procedures. Such a redrafting of mission could result in the entire school files series by Library and Archives Canada, rightfully available to all Canadians at present, falling under the NCTR’s privacy rubric and allowing the NCTR to prohibit access to seekers they disfavour.
This is an ominous scenario, and it’s no secret who would be the first targets of the restricted access: the “denialists,” a word coined to describe any historian or journalist who takes issue with any parts of the residential school narrative as told by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and — after Kamloops — expanded to cover anyone who questions the truth of any statement about unmarked graves by any Indigenous claimant.
Murray perceives findings that diverge from received Indigenous wisdom as “violence” and “hate,” even if based in documentation, such as school admission papers, medical records and death certificates. Lamentably, in Murray’s report, no effort is spared to link the evidence-based work of history scholars with the pathology of Holocaust denial, a true marker of hatred embraced only by the abysmally credulous and the moral scum of the earth.
The Canadian flag at half mast above the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, Monday, September 13, 2021. ASHLEY FRASER, POSTMEDIA
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Data sovereignty is strongly linked in spirit to the second troubling mandate overreach in the report, Murray’s recommendation that “urgent consideration should be given to what legal tools exist to address the problem (of denialism), including both civil and criminal sanctions.”
Between data sovereignty and “sanctions,” not only would dissenting scholars be refused access to records they need to advance their work, but their work itself might well result in fines or incarceration. Even to contemplate such measures, let alone urge them in an official report, is a disgrace in a free society. Nevertheless, Justice Minister David Lametti, far from shocked by Murray’s pitch, says he is open to legal options.
Again, I must ask: What would these sanctions mean in practical terms? Would they preclude the National Post from publishing further work on this topic by alpha investigative reporter Terry Glavin, whose galvanizing May 2022 exposé of media failures in reporting on Kamloops, “The Year of the Graves” caused such a stir? Glavin’s critics labelled him a “denialist” despite the fact he recognized the suffering from “the brutal sexual, emotional and psychological abuse inflicted on the institutions’ inmates.”
What about websites such as the Indian Residential Schools Research Group, on whose board I sit? Here one can find evidence-based articles by members — apart from me, lifelong researchers in this field — that have been labelled as hateful by activists. Are they criminals in waiting?
Then there is the invaluable website of formidable independent researcher Nina Green: Indian Residential School Records (IRSC). IRSC is a treasure trove of primary documentation reaching back to the late 19th century, all gleaned through Green’s unflagging sleuthing. Documents attesting to individual children’s experiences are organized under such headings as “Attendance,” “Medical Care and Student Deaths, “Quarterly Returns” and “Kamloops.” Green’s easily navigated materials are a gift to objective scholars, journalists or any curious visitor. Her documentation on specific children disputes the NCTR’s record on their “missing” status — for example, a personal phone call and death certificate proved that one student thought “missing” from a Kamloops school in fact died many years later in 2019. One can understand why the site is a source of irritation to those embracing the “genocide” interpretation of residential-school history.
For example, IRSC includes the chronicles of the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) at Cardston, Alberta which provide a detailed picture of daily life at a Catholic residential school on the Blood Reserve from 1897 to 1968. Their contents confirm that traits of warmth, kindness and selfless dedication to the students in their care were not, as Canadians have been led to believe, rare aberrations from systemic custodial evil. According to Green, examples of such chronicles are held in NCTR archives, but — with the proactive disclosure policy at work — they do not appear on the NCTR website.
If Murray’s recommendations are accepted, Green will surely become a prime target for cancellation on the grounds both of data sovereignty and denialism. But as any rational observer can see, the anti-democratic implications of this report’s illiberal thrust for suppressive power over Canadians’ inquiry and speech rights extend far beyond cancellations of individual “genocide” resisters.
Knowledge hoarding; demonization of honorable scholarship; public shaming of dissidents: And these our progressive cultural and political elites are pleased to call “reconciliation.”