Two years ago Canadians bought into what was probably the biggest conspiracy theory ever promulgated in this country. Members of the Kamloops indigenous community made the astounding claim that 215 graves, containing the remains of students of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS), had been found on the school grounds.
They clearly implied that those children had somehow been killed by the priests and nuns who ran the school, who then buried the children secretly during the night, and that these murdered children had gone to school and “never returned” to their parents. To make this ghastly tale even more ghastly they added that children “as young as six” had been forced by priests to help dig the graves.
No evidence was presented, apart from the report of a radar operator, who detected soil disturbances she thought might be graves, (but who also made clear that only excavation could confirm whether the disturbances were graves, or a long list of other possibilities). No excavations were ever done, and we now know that her report is deeply flawed. Except for wild conspiracy theories that had circulated in the community about murderous priests and nuns – that was it. Nothing that would meet even the basic standards of evidence.
And yet – for reasons that are far from clear – in what can only be described as a mass delusion – virtually the entire country immediately swallowed this fantastical claim, hook, line, and sinker. The Prime Minister ordered the flags on all federal buildings across Canada lowered, where they stayed for a year and a half!; the NDP leader openly wept; schools throughout the land festooned themselves with tiny orange shirts supposed to symbolize secretly buried indigenous children, and the populace went into some strange state of mourning and hysteria.
Meanwhile, anonymous sympathizers, apparently moved to action by these inflammatory conspiracy theories about murderous priests and nuns, went on a frenzy of church burning that resulted in damaging or destroying dozens of much-loved mainly Roman Catholic churches.
Not one reporter even thought to ask questions such as “If 215 children had disappeared at the school, why is there no historical record of even a single Kamloops indigenous parent – or any parent anywhere in Canada – claiming that their child had failed to return from school?”, “Where is your evidence of murderous priests, nuns and secret burials?” Why are you not releasing the radar operator’s report, that you promised to release?” or Why are the RCMP refusing to investigate what indigenous leaders are calling a “crime”, and why are the RCMP refusing to properly secure what indigenous leaders are calling a “crime scene” and do at least basic excavations?
Instead of asking any of these obvious questions, the response of the media was to further amp up these claims. The New York Times invented the claim that these were “mass graves”. CBC immediately went from “soil disturbances” to “graves” and “human remains”. The Trudeau government then showered the community with millions of dollars to search for these phantom children.
In short, our own media and leaders – indigenous and non-indigenous- actively promoted a conspiracy theory.
The obvious happened: Other indigenous communities jumped on the bandwagon and began to make even more preposterous claims. Each new claim was rewarded with money. The Williams Lake community claimed that indigenous children had been murdered in every conceivable way, with their tiny bodies thrown into rivers, lakes, streams and furnaces. Chief Willie Sellars claimed that a conspiracy between the federal government, the churches and the RCMP kept all of this horrible information from Canadians for decades. The most senior indigenous leaders claimed that “tens of thousands” of indigenous children had been deliberately killed at the schools, and “25,000, maybe more” were missing.
Similar claims of “missing children” and “lost children” were made across the country. Some of the claims are downright farcical. For example, cemeteries are now being searched – at taxpayer expense – to see if there just might be any human remains – in a cemetery! One community even claims that the church or government deliberately poisoned hundreds of children with tuberculosis-infected milk, with “witnesses” alleging that they observed priests clubbing indigenous children to death and throwing them into pits. These claims – based on zero evidence- have been rewarded with millions of dollars – no strings attached – from Ottawa.
Inevitably, because these reckless claims met no pushback from media – and active encouragement from Ottawa – they morphed into claims of “genocide”. A national day of mourning, called “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation” based on these false claims of murder and secret burial was mandated. Meanwhile, anyone questioning any of these specious claims was labelled a “denier”, or “denialist”. (The clownish Indigenous Affairs Minister, Marc Miller, went so far as to call a distinguished history professor, who dared to ask why absolutely no evidence supporting any of the highly improbable claims had been produced, a “ghoul”.)
The secret burial hysteria reached its apogee when our House of Commons unanimously passed its now internationally notorious motion condemning Canada as a genocidal nation – (perhaps the worst day in Canadian Parliamentary history).
That, in a nutshell, is the story of what has unfolded in this country since that story of murderous priests, and late night burials by conscripted six year olds, was first foisted on an unsuspecting public.
It is now two years since the country went into that paroxysm of grief and self-flagellation, and yet absolutely no evidence has been found to support the Kamloops claim – or any of the other copycat claims that followed. Canadians have paid out millions of dollars uselessly, and declared to the world through their elected representatives that their country is genocidal.
People are now beginning to suspect that they have been deceived. They have. Canadians have been duped by opportunists, and betrayed by both their elected representatives, and a gullible media.
There is no credible evidence that even one residential school child was killed and secretly buried anywhere in Canada. None of the accusations made at Kamloops or elsewhere meet even the basic standards of evidence. Yes, students succumbed to diseases common at that time, as did everyone else – but particularly Indians on reserves. Yes, many of their graves were untended, and have now been lost in time. Yes, children were sexually abused at the schools – mostly by fellow students. But residential schools were never places of murder and secret burial. Those “secret burial and missing children” claims are conspiracy theories. Pure and simple.
In short, Canadians have been victims of an enormous conspiracy theory. If it was just a hoax – as it is to the more sophisticated people pushing it – it could easily be undone. Sadly, entire communities believe that the tales of murderous priests are actually true. It will take generations to undo the harm that has been done. Canada’s history has been forever tarnished by these false claims, and all of our ancestors have been permanently slandered. Ironically, this societal wreckage has all been done in the name of “reconciliation”.
Our elected leaders who allowed this travesty to occur must be held accountable. As a start, they must reverse the scandalous genocide motion. Our media must return to objective journalism on indigenous issues. All references to inflammatory, unproven allegations must be removed from descriptions of the newly created National Day For Truth and Reconciliation.
Canadians want the best for our indigenous compatriots, but accepting conspiracy theories as fact is folly.
Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy