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A bold assault on a narrative that’s just plain wrong

In their new book “Grave Error”, editors C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan challenge the prevailing narrative that some students were murdered by priests and nuns and then buried in graves that have yet to be investigated.

A review by Shannon Lee Mannion

First published in The Western Standard on 17 Dec 2023

…..

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

What’s that, you ask? What about the murdered indigenous children?

Well, Virginia, according to a recently published book, Grave Error, there are no murdered indigenous children.

C. P. ‘Chris’ Champion and Tom Flanagan, the editors of Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), have done yeoman’s work in selecting articles and essays written by writers who have extensive backgrounds in research and longstanding interest in indigenous matters.

 

       

Book editors C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan

 

Naturally this includes the allegations of May 2021 that there was a mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS), a claim that sent Canadians into a tizzy of reconciliation self-reproach.

Introduced by the ever-pithy Conrad Black, this formidable rebuttal of such claims is bookended by a comprehensive account of what happened after the announcement of 215 soil anomalies at the site of the former KIRS, a contribution from Professors Jacques Rouillard and Rodney A. Clifton.

Having lived at two residential schools when he was a university student in the mid-Sixties, Clifton is arguably Canada’s senior statesman when it comes to indigenous affairs.

He and Professor Rouillard take us from ground-zero at KIRS two and a half years ago, when the suggestion of burials had some mandarins, journalists and pundits convinced that it was a mass grave containing the bodies of pupils from the school.

This revelation initiated a spiral of false claims which shook the world and caused a moral panic among Canadians the likes of which has not been seen since the last world war.

And yet there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations that otherwise benign individuals — priests, nuns, teachers and staff at residential schools across Canada — had a hand in such malfeasance.

In fact, in every chapter, Grave Error puts the boots to these false allegations. The handful of actual exhumations that have taken place — mind you, not one at KIRS — have given up not so much as a missing shoelace.

This is a factual book for readers who are looking to be informed. The editors have arranged the chapters in three areas: the weakness of factual claims about unmarked graves and missing children; the irresponsible treatment of these subjects in the legacy media; and the wild exaggeration of judgments about the residential schools.

 

After only one week of availability, “Grave Error” already appears to be a best-seller.

 

Some chapters have whimsical titles: Chapter 13 by Greg Piasetzki, “Everybody’s Favourite Dead White Male”, or Chapter 16, Mark DeWolf et al, “The Tainted Milk Murder Mystery.”

Others are impeccably no-nonsense. For instance, there is Chapter 14 by professor emeritus Ian Gentles, “Were the Residential Schools Agents of Genocide?”

Or if you want the absolute nitty-gritty as to how this debacle came about, try Chapter 5 — Frances Widdowson’s, “Billy Remembers: The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and Kamloops Indian Residential School Moral Panic.”

But, if you want to learn something about Canada you never thought possible, you should go directly to Chapter 8, “The Banality of Genocide, Made in Canada”, by Michael Melanson. Canada, it seems, has brought into the world the concept of a non-criminal, uncorroborated genocide.

This is an innovation the world can do without.

Or flip back to Chapter 7 where James Pew makes trenchant observations in his essay entitled “Canada’s Descent into Collective Guilt: How the Media Used Soil Disturbances to Make an Entire Country Hate Themselves.”

 

   

 

Rod Clifton leads the reader from factual to familial in Chapter 18, “My Life in Two Indian Residential Schools.” He expresses something we intrinsically know but often forget: “We cannot honestly judge the past by the values and resources we have today.”

In reading Grave Error: How The Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), we see how Canadians have been confounded by specious accusations of genocide and much else. We need to build back our reputation as a kind and just country. Absorbing the lessons inherent in this essential book puts us well on our way.

Champion and Flanagan’s postscript calls for calm minds and common sense. That is indeed precisely what we need.

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