The Kamloops Guilt Trip, Three Years On

The third anniversary of the Kamloops claim — that 215 indigenous students died under sinister circumstances, and were buried in secrecy on the grounds of the local residential school  — […]

The third anniversary of the Kamloops claim — that 215 indigenous students died under sinister circumstances, and were buried in secrecy on the grounds of the local residential school  — is fast approaching.

No excavations have taken place to date.

It is becoming apparent that none will, for the simple reason that those making the claim must almost certainly know by now that there are no graves to be found there.

The indigenous communities with similar claims that did excavate, because they believed the stories circulating in the community about sinister death and secret burials by priests, found that those stories were untrue. The excavations turned up nothing but stones.

Baseless stories and conspiracy theories circulate in any community. It is only necessary to look at what circulates on social media to see that not everything there is true.

The real question is why the easily disprovable Kamloops claim, and the copycat claims that followed, were taken seriously in the first place. Why, for example, was CBC so quick to definitively announce  “mass graves”, “human remains”, and “graves”, when nothing of the sort was found?

What was actually found, by a junior academic who had not done her homework, were soil disturbances. Her ground penetrating radar instrument detected what were almost certainly tiles from an old septic system, not bodies. She had not bothered to check for previous excavations in the area she searched before issuing her report. It is not surprising that the Kamloops band reneged on their promise to release her faulty report.

And why was the Trudeau government so quick to give the very thin claim an air of legitimacy by lowering flags, kneeling with a teddy bear, and promising hundreds of millions of dollars to any indigenous communities tempted to make a similar claim?

Why were all of our institutions so willing to accept such a highly improbable, easily disprovable claim?

The answer: It was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that laid the groundwork for these false claims, and all but guaranteed that spurious claims of this type would be made. The three commissioners had fallen under the spell of a purveyor of conspiracy theories, Kevin Annett.

Annett’s claim that many thousands of indigenous IRS students had been murdered and secretly buried was the subject of a 2008 Tyee article, written by Terry Glavin, who was on to the unhinged fabulist, Kevin Annett, from the start. Glavin responds to Canadians who want to believe Annett’s claims of priest murderers, secret burials and “missing children” with a challenge — if they choose to believe Annett’s claims, they would also have to believe his claim that the late Queen Elizabeth kidnapped ten Kamloops students, who were never seen again.

Annett’s other stories are equally preposterous — indigenous children clubbed to death by nuns, hung on meat hooks and thrown into incinerators. Annett’s numbers of supposedly “missing children”, by the way, varied from telling to telling. His highest estimate was that 250,000 children had been murdered, and were buried between church walls, coast to coast.

Unfortunately, some very influential Canadians chose to disregard Glavin’s advice, and fell for Annett’s stories, which were mainly based on the alcoholic ramblings of a former KIRS student, William Coombes, whom Annett had befriended on Vancouver’s skid row. Coombes told tall tales of priests and nuns killing indigenous children, and forcing six year olds to bury them, babies being thrown into furnaces, students being murdered by priests in classrooms full of students, and hit over the head with two by fours — as well as the popular kidnapping Queen fable.

Annett polished up these childish stories, and made them conform to the confirmation biases of unsophisticated people.

Annett was also holding his own version of a truth and reconciliation commission to publicize his allegations that hundreds of thousands of children had gone missing from residential schools. Although it seems surprising that anyone believe his outlandish stories, many did. In fact, Annett’s claims went viral on Facebook and other social media, especially in the indigenous community.

An indigenous MP, Gary Merasty, was so impressed with one of the hundreds of posts, videos and movies made by the energetic Annett — this one being Annett’s most popular movie “Unrepentant” — that he was able to persuade other politicians, and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), that the TRC should make a search for Kevin Annett’s “missing children” a major priority.

And — unfortunately for Canada — the three TRC commissioners enthusiastically agreed. It is clear that the commissioners became convinced that Annett’s tall tales — or at least some of them — were true.

A search for “missing children” was never part of the mandate given to the TRC. It was a claim unknown to historians, and none of the 6,000 people who testified before the TRC mentioned such a thing. But the commissioners were determined to embark on this wild goose chase.

The chief commissioner, Murray Sinclair, petitioned the government for more money, and an extension of the TRC mandate to include a search for what they now believed were thousands of “missing children”. The government refused, but the commissioners pursued their search nevertheless.

And over the years of the TRC hearings, Sinclair would frequently go on CBC hinting darkly about sinister deaths, babies thrown into furnaces, and “missing children”

His numbers of supposedly missing children ranged from “6,000 to five times that number”, depending upon the telling.

At one point Commissioner Marie Wilson theatrically “spoke” to these imagined missing children:

“We know that a quarter of you left this world without the dignity of having your name recorded. A third of you left without anyone noting whether you were a boy or a girl. And fully half of you passed on without the cause of death being recorded.”

There is not one scintilla of evidence to support these reckless claims. Indigenous children died in equal numbers from disease whether they went to residential schools, day schools, or no school at all. The deaths of the residential school students who died were properly recorded, and most were buried on their home reserves by their parents. Many burial sites were forgotten, because grave sites and cemeteries went untended, and thus there were “forgotten children” as Tom Flanagan calls them in “Grave Error”.

But it is false that there were “thousands of missing children.” The TRC commissioners misinformed Canadians.

The TRC Report itself contained some stories which could not possibly be true. For example, there is the testimony of Doris Young.

Young was a former student at the Elkhorn Indian Residential School. She told the commissioners that a fellow student was murdered by their teacher in broad daylight in front of the entire class. She insisted that there was blood all over the classroom walls. There was zero evidence to support this claim — no police report, no claim from a parent that their child was missing, nothing. This alleged murder could not possibly have happened. But all three commissioners believed this story, and included it in their report.

It will fall to future historians and other experts  to analyze the TRC findings, in light of the fact that all three commissioners appeared to believe that the government officials, priests, teachers and others working in the residential schools — many of them themselves indigenous — were engaged in an absolutely horrible conspiracy to kill and secretly bury thousands of indigenous children.

But one thing is certain: The commissioners believed Annett’s stories.

That became completely clear immediately after the Kamloops announcement. Commissioner Wilson alleged that “thousands of indigenous children were ripped out of their mothers’ arms, never to be seen again”. Sinclair increased the “thousands” to “25,000.

The commissioners, who were charged with finding the “truth”  were instead spreading misinformation.

So, the 2021 Kamloops claim, with all the copycat claims, and church burnings that followed really aren’t that surprising, given the fact that Canadians had been told by the TRC for a decade to believe these Annett anti-Catholic memes. Nor is it that surprising that impressionable young journalists, or even an impressionable prime minister, should react as they did — blind acceptance, with no questions asked.

The result for the country is an unmitigated disaster. The indigenous community now believes a false narrative. That same false narrative is being taught in Canadian schools as fact. All of our major institutions are pretending to believe – for now – claims they know are not true.

On May 27, 2021, all of our major institutions failed. Our prime minister behaved more like an emotional schoolboy than a leader, our legacy media failed to ask even the most basic questions, our RCMP hid in their detachment offices, and senior indigenous leaders made reckless claims.

But it was the institution charged with the responsibility to find the “truth” — the TRC — that was ultimately responsible for this national tragedy. The commissioners bought into Kevin Annett’s conspiracy theory. All Canadians — but particularly indigenous Canadians — will pay the price for generations.


Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy


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