A Dangerous Attempt To Shut Down Free Enquiry

An early 20th century photo of the cemetery associated with the St. Mary’s IRS, Kenora, Ontario, showing wooden grave markers of students that were allowed to disintegrate over time, proving that students were given […]

An early 20th century photo of the cemetery associated with the St. Mary’s IRS, Kenora, Ontario, showing wooden grave markers of students that were allowed to disintegrate over time, proving that students were given a proper Christian (Catholic) burial.


“We must protect the truth.” That’s what Kimberly Murray gave as her motive for demanding those she called “residential school deniers” be criminally prosecuted or subjected to civil liability for raising questions about unmarked graves and other related topics that Murray and her colleagues find uncomfortable. Murray believes anyone who questions claims made by anyone who attended a residential school about unmarked graves, or who claims that anything positive came from residential schools should fall into this criminally and civilly punishable “denier” category.

But there are problems with this.

In the first place, if saying that anything positive came from residential school attendance is a crime, it would put many indigenous people who attended residential schools in legal jeopardy — even the people who wrote the Truth and Reconciliation Report. Because even that report contains a section titled “Warm Memories” that contains only positive accounts of indigenous residential school attendees who remember their years at residential school fondly, and credit their school attendance for their success in life.

That section is short, but there are hundreds of other personal accounts — and even entire books — of people who speak of how their attendance changed their lives for the better. The best book written by a residential school attendee is “Permanent Astonishment” by acclaimed indigenous playwright, writer and pianist Tomson Highway. In the book, Highway describes his experience at the Guy Hill Residential School in northern Manitoba as “nine of the best years of my life” during which he not only acquired the skills he needed to become an internationally acclaimed author, but learned to play the first piano he had ever seen, and developed his skills to a professional level. Many other important indigenous leaders received the educations that equipped them to succeed at residential schools.

So, if merely stating the truth — namely that some people benefited from their residential school experience — becomes a criminal offence, expect to see some of Canada’s most successful indigenous leaders in the criminal dock.

But there are other problems as well, because Kimberly Murray wants to criminalize anyone who raises questions about what residential school “survivors” have claimed to be the truth. Readers will recall that two years ago the Kamloops chief and her colleagues claimed that 215 graves had been discovered containing the remains of 215 children who had died under sinister circumstances at the school, and who had been secretly buried — with the forced help of six year olds. Almost immediately copy-cat claims followed, with allegations that there were thousands of such “missing children” buried all across the country.

Senior indigenous leaders weighed in with allegations that there were “tens of thousands” and “25,000-maybe more” such “missing children.” ‘Survivors’ claimed they had personally observed priests clubbing indigenous children to death and throwing them into pits; that dead indigenous children were hung on meat hooks in barns; that the bodies of indigenous children were “tossed into rivers, lakes and streams,” and even that Queen Elizabeth herself had kidnapped ten indigenous children from the Kamloops School.

But if Kimberly Murray gets her way, and anyone who questions any of these claims becomes a criminal, they had better start building more jails. Because there is not a single shred of evidence that would stand up in any court that any of those fantastical claims are true. Never mind “thousands” there is no credible evidence that even one single child was murdered or secretly buried at any residential school. And it is now almost certain that the 215 “soil disturbances” detected at the Kamloops school were not graves at all, but were from previous excavations on the school grounds.

The “survivors” who made the false claims might believe that they are true. But they are not. And the fact that these stories have circulated in indigenous communities for years does not make them true.

So, Kimberly Murray’s demand that anyone who refuses to accept her odd version of reality must become a criminal will go the way of most expensively produced government reports — sitting on a dusty shelf.

Murray is right about one thing — “We must protect the truth.” Indeed. But we do that not by making criminals of those who ask questions. Instead, we welcome those questions.

And we do our best to answer them.


Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. You can watch him on Return to Reason here.

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