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Can We Handle the Truth? Or Should We All Join the Cult?

Can We Handle the Truth?  Or Should We All Join the Cult?

NDP member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre Leah Gazan rises during question period in the House of Commons in June 2021. The House gave unanimous consent in favour of Gazan’s motion calling on the federal government to recognize Canada’s residential schools as genocide. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

By James McRae

From an article first published in the Western Standard on 5 Mar 2023


Since May 27, 2021 when the Kamloops Indian Residential School (IRS) story broke about mass graves, unmarked graves, reflections, anomalies, etc., and the many searches following, it seems that some Canadians “can’t handle the truth,” to borrow a phrase from Jack Nicholson in the motion picture A Few Good Men.

We hear from inquiry commissioners, indigenous leaders, journalists, politicians, activists, and others that we must believe “her truth,” “his truth,” and “their truth”. This phenomenon is somewhat new. Perhaps it arose from the Me Too movement, from social media or elsewhere, but there was a time when ‘the Truth’ was all that was needed to help us form opinions, make important decisions, teach our children, develop public policy and live our lives. 

Allegations of criminal foul play require proof, with verifiable evidence. But the test of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and even the lesser test of balancing probabilities, now seem to have been abandoned, at least in the court of public opinion. 

In that forum, those accused of foul play do not enjoy the presumption of innocence that has been essential to justice systems for hundreds of years. Byzantine emperor Justinian I (527-65) provided in his Digest: ‘Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat’: “Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.” This principle of justice survives and is relied upon daily in courts across Canada and in other jurisdictions where truth informs verdicts. 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Chair Murray Sinclair, a lawyer and judge, determined that Justinian’s idea should be dispensed with in favour of unsworn and unverified statements given by former IRS students, whose stories would form the basis for their financial compensation and determine the amount of it. Cross-examination played no part in Sinclair’s system of determining truth, the truth for which his Commission was named, and the truth that everyone says is required before there can be reconciliation among Indigenous and other Canadians. 

Yet, unsworn, untested and unverified stories have resulted in billions of taxpayers’ dollars awarded to former IRS students as compensation for their school experiences, presented to the TRC as “their truths.” Even in courtrooms, it is usually poor form to brand anyone a “liar,” but judges make credibility findings every day. They carefully weigh the evidence before them, having listened to examination and cross-examination. They observe the demeanour and evaluate the truthfulness of the witnesses. They use logic and their legal and human skills to arrive at their best judgment about what is the actual truth. 

Murray Sinclair, an experienced judge at the time of his TRC work, did none of this. Why? 

Canadians are told they must believe the stories — the “truths”. They must accept the collective guilt of their cruel ancestors and without question, fork over billions to people who may or may not have been victims. Some indeed were victims, and their criminal abusers have been prosecuted, convicted and punished. There are also former IRS students who have led happy and successful lives. Many indigenous leaders went on to succeed and excel in sports, literature, art, politics, and business, and some of them dare to attribute their successes in large measure to their IRS experiences. 

They dare, because of the guilt and remorse everyone is expected to feel as a result of the overall official — but false — IRS discourse. 

Even if we quite carefully and secretly harbour doubt about some of the preposterous stories we’re hearing, we must remain silent about it, for fear we might o%end someone’s sensibilities and be accused of denying genocide by questioning unverified stories. 

Some people have lost their livelihoods for speaking out in favour of truth (Ph.D Frances Widdowson and Ph.D Jim McMurtry, to name two). Isn’t it strange that nobody has lost a job for repeating this sensational and unverified assertion: “Sixteen hundred little children — little ones — innocent children have been recovered so far… We’re going to be into the thousands upon ten thousands of children found” (AFN Grand Chief RoseAnne Archibald, speaking on the BBC’s HARDtalk)

Nobody has lost a job for repeating Murray Sinclair’s claim that the number of children who died as a result of their school experience “could be in the 15-25,000 range, and maybe even more” (CBC’s The Current). Both of these statements are patently false, and were made to the world with no regard whatever for the profound hurt they have inflicted on indigenous families across Canada. 

The statements are believed because of their “credible” sources. Neither of them has been corrected, yet anyone who questions them is the subject of ridicule and — should MP Leah Gazan’s proposed bill to outlaw residential school genocide denial, come to pass — will perhaps face future prosecution for “hate speech.”

This is the new Canada, folks. Not one child who is missing under sinister circumstances and secretly buried has been found, yet our members of Parliament unanimously declared on October 27, 2022, without debate or research, that the residential schools policy and its implementation were genocide. 

What has happened to us? Have we become a cult, whereby anyone who questions its leadership is shunned, shamed, fired, persecuted and — perhaps ultimately — prosecuted? Will some perverse form of excommunication follow? 

Canada’s war veterans and their children — indigenous veterans and their children especially — must be shaking their heads and wondering what their sacrifice was all about. 


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