Whoa Daddy: Quesnel City Councillors Kill Democracy Over the Book Grave Error

In the movie Fargo, the camera captures the horror on the blood-spattered face of one of the characters who, after seeing his psychopathic partner shoot a police officer right before […]

In the movie Fargo, the camera captures the horror on the blood-spattered face of one of the characters who, after seeing his psychopathic partner shoot a police officer right before his eyes, murmurs “Whoa Daddy.” Watching the complete breakdown of democracy at the City of Quesnel’s Regular Meeting on April 2, 2024 felt like a ‘”Whoa Daddy” moment.

The bizarre sequence of events that resulted in the killing of democracy at Quesnel city council began two weeks earlier, at the March 19 meeting, when the  council entered into a discussion about the fact that Mayor Ron Paull’s wife, Pat Morton, had shared the book Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools) with the mother of councillor Tony Goulet. Goulet, who is Métis, claimed that his father, who he alleged had attended a residential school, saw the book being shared. This, according to Goulet, was “very traumatizing” and “disrespectful.” Morton’s sharing of the book had also “come to [the] attention” of the Lhtako Dene Nation, and its letter complaining about this was read into the record.

In a democracy, the discussion about the actions of the Mayor’s wife should never have occurred. A private citizen has a right to share books with whomever she chooses. It has nothing to do with council business. The Council then embarrassed itself further by unanimously passing a motion denouncing the book Grave Error, thus declaring itself the arbiter of which books can be read in Quesnel.

The democratic breakdown continued at the next meeting on April 2, 2024. First, the Council entered into the record two documents closely associated with councillor Tony Goulet. Goulet is the President of the North Cariboo Métis Association and actually signed the letter that was entered into the record. This letter erroneously stated that Grave Error was “written solely to dispel the truth about Residential School abuse and traumas effecting [sic] the lives of residential school survivors and their families.” Goulet is also the Board Vice-Chairperson of the Quesnel Board of Education, which sent a letter to the city council “denouncing this book.” There was no recognition that it would be inappropriate for a councillor to use his positions in other official capacities to influence the council on which he was sitting.

Second, the Council violated its own rules to show favouritism to those who agreed with it, while silencing dissenters. The Council’s rules governing Question Period stipulate that “All Gallery questions…must be an explicit question about a specific business item that is on the Council Agenda” and that “Gallery question period is not an opportunity to debate with Council, or to raise issues/concerns with Council, that does not explicitly form part of the business item contained on the Council Agenda.”

These rules were not enforced. Indigenous leaders and those who supported their position were allowed to speak as long as they wished and on any topic chosen, but Pat Morton’s concerns were peremptorily ruled “Out of Order.”

With respect to my own participation, I had driven to Quesnel from Calgary specifically because city councillors had, two weeks earlier, unanimously denounced a book to which I had contributed. My chapter in the book – “Billy Remembers: Analyzing the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc/Kamloops Indian Residential School moral panic” – meticulously examined the lack of evidence for the false claim made by the Kamloops band that announced the “confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School” (this misinformation was also entered into the meeting’s record in the form of a News Release from the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations). Although well qualified to contribute to the discussion, I was rudely told by councillors Laurey-Anne Roodenburg and Scott Elliott that they “didn’t want to hear” what I had to say and that I was not “welcome” at the meeting.

In a democracy, equality under the law means that the rules are applied equally to citizens regardless of who you are related to, and deliberation based on hearing different points of view is essential. There is also recognition that public officials should not be punished for the actions of their relatives. At this city council meeting however, retired journalist and editor Robert Roth noted that “[e]very principle of decency, decorum and democracy was ruthlessly eviscerated by mob behavior abetted by a complicit council.”

This democratic destruction was made possible because a number of people are using the compassion people feel about indigenous suffering to assert autocratic control over all facets of Canadian life. Democracy is also being subverted because it is not understood that traditional indigenous cultural features are inconsistent with modern political institutions. In tribal societies loyalty to kin and blood vengeance are the overriding considerations. The killing of democracy that occurred at Quesnel is indicative that its city council is reverting to tribal relationships instead of upholding the democratic principles upon which it was founded.


Frances Widdowson is a political scientist whose firing from Mount Royal University is currently in arbitration. She is a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre and a Board Member of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. Her research and activities are documented on the website www.wokeacademy.info.

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