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Canada’s Most Dangerous Book: How Quesnel, B.C. Went Crazy Over a Local Woman’s Reading Choices

On December 4, 2023, Amazon began selling the book Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), published by True North with the cooperation of the Dorchester Review and edited by Chris Champion and me. Grave Error immediately became a Canadian best-seller. Ever since publication, it has consistently been No. 1 in the category of “Canadian Literature” and as high as No. 3 in the more general category of all books sold in Canada by Amazon, where it is competing against children’s literature, celebrity biographies, popular fiction and self-help books.

The alternative media have contributed greatly to the book’s popularity, with interviews, excerpts and reviews in outlets such as True North, Rebel News and of course C2C. But, apart from one column by Barbara Kay in the National Post, there was thunderous silence in the legacy media – until three weeks ago, when the proverbial merde hit the fan in the small northern British Columbia city of Quesnel, as some local media began to include negative comments about Grave Error in their coverage. Prior to this, you could search the online archives of the CBC, CTV, Global TV and all the metropolitan dailies, and would find: nada!

The centre of controversy: Following its release in December 2023, Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), edited by Chris Champion (left) and Tom Flanagan (right) and published by True North editor-in-chief Candice Malcom (centre), quickly became a runaway bestseller – with sales recently topping 10,000.

Admittedly, despite the catchy title Grave Error (furnished by publisher Candice Malcolm), the book is not an easy read. It consists of 18 chapters, mostly written by academics and lawyers. It is heavily documented with citations from primary sources and footnoted references to published literature. It’s a minor miracle that sales of such a book could rise so high on Amazon – recently topping 10,000. But the book’s sober and factual character is not why the legacy media have ignored it. Grave Error has been shunned because it challenges the narrative about Indian Residential Schools (IRS) purveyed by the media ever since the faux announcement on May 21, 2021 about 215 “unmarked graves” at Kamloops.

While Grave Error certainly does not deny that the residential school experience was difficult for many native children, or that abuses and neglect occurred, the book shows that:

  • Not a single unmarked grave (let alone “remains” of children as some alleged) has actually been discovered at Kamloops or in connection with any other IRS or Indian hospital;
  • There are no “missing children”, though some may have been forgotten by their relatives;
  • Attendance at IRS was mainly voluntary and typically required written consent from parents or guardians;
  • Health conditions at the IRS were probably better than on Indian reserves;
  • If children died while attending IRS, it was usually because they were already infected with TB or other disease when they first came to the school; and
  • Many further points refuting the currently dominant narrative.

The legacy media don’t want to hear any of this. Right after the Kamloops announcement, they closed ranks with the politicians, leading churchmen, academics, journalists/activists and even corporate executives around the fable that IRS were universally horrible places where children were beaten and starved, tortured and murdered, where they could disappear without any notification to their families, and where they were deprived of their natal language and culture.

Grave Error challenges many components of the mainstream narrative regarding Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, including the alleged discovery of “unmarked graves” in Kamloops in 2021 – what has since been called “Canada’s George Floyd moment”. (Sources of photos: (clockwise, starting top-left): Wandering views/Shutterstock; Paul McKinnon/Shutterstock; Canadian Congress University of Diversity; megan.mason, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Kamloops became something like Canada’s George Floyd moment, unleashing a kind of nationwide moral panic and making headlines around the world. The media, heavily invested in the lurid narrative of murdered and missing children, refused to consider any countervailing evidence, even though considerable such evidence began to accumulate soon after the Kamloops announcement, ferreted out by courageous researchers – including lawyers, retired judges, professors and others – willing to endure vile personal attacks in return for their efforts to keep the truth alive.

So, in the ongoing absence of attention in legacy media, sales of Grave Error have been driven by coverage in alternative media and by word of mouth. And here’s where events in Quesnel became relevant.

Pat Morton is the wife of the mayor of Quesnel, Ron Paull. She has worked for many years doing tax returns in a business, QTAX, owned by her son, Kevin Christieson. She is active in community affairs and at times has used her accounting expertise to dig into the expense claims of local politicians, perhaps helping pave the way for her husband to move up from city councillor to mayor on his fourth try in 2022. Because both Morton and Paull have been active for many years in local politics in this city of 10,000 people (another 13,000 live in the surrounding area), they have a lot of friends and some enemies.

Check your spouse’s reading list: Pat Morton (left) purchased and offered copies of Grave Error to a few local friends she thought would appreciate its alternative viewpoint; her efforts trigger accusations of “hate” and calls for her husband Ron Paull (right) to step down as mayor of Quesnel. (Sources of photos: (left) Frank Peebles photo/Quesnel Cariboo Observer; (right) Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

As Morton told me in a recent phone call, she read and liked Grave Error, so she bought ten copies to give to people she thought would be interested (an author’s dream!). Fatefully, she gave a copy to Connie Goulet, the mother of Tony Goulet, a local Métis politician. Connie is white but her husband was Métis, and their son Tony identifies as Métis. Morton said she had done the family’s taxes for many years, knew them well, and felt safe giving Connie a book that challenges conventional narratives.

As an aside, the name Goulet resonates in Métis history, going back to the time of Louis Riel in the Red River Colony (later Manitoba). Elzéar Goulet was on the council of Louis Riel’s Provisional Government in 1869-70 and a member of the committee that infamously condemned Thomas Scott to death, triggering a chain of events that led to the exiling of Riel and some of his compatriots. Goulet, however, drowned in the Red River while being pursued by Canadian militia men after the arrival of the federal expeditionary force sent from Ontario to restore order in 1870. Elzéar’s older brother, Roger Goulet, was more of an establishment figure: the local surveyor in Red River, a member of the Council of Assiniboia, and a member also of the Half-Breed Scrip Commission of 1885. I haven’t tried to research the exact genealogy, but the connection is obviously a point of pride for the Quesnel Goulet family.

Morton’s efforts to discuss Grave Error in private conversations and her distribution of a few copies to close friends and acquaintances appear to have been well-intentioned. But they backfired badly, not just with Tony Goulet but with local First Nations. At the city council meeting of March 19, the Lhtako Dene Nation turned out in substantial numbers to condemn Grave Error and Morton’s efforts to distribute it, with some accusing the book or Morton of “hate” and “denialism”. All council members, including Mayor Paull himself, obediently voted to denounce the book, even though none had read it. To an outside observer, it looked as if the mayor was throwing his own wife under the bus, but their relationship is apparently strong enough to withstand trivial disagreements about politics.

City hall melodrama: During a March 19, 2024 meeting, Quesnel city council voted to denounce Grave Error; councillor Tony Goulet claimed that simply handing out the book was “very, very, very traumatizing” and “very, very, very disrespectful to an Indigenous community.” (Source of photo: CBC)

The performance of Paull’s fellow council member Goulet was particularly melodramatic. “It’s very, very, very traumatizing, it’s very, very, very disrespectful to an Indigenous community and especially [an individual] to receive this book,” he declared. “And especially with my dad going through residential school.” Of course, Tony Goulet himself did not “receive” the book from Morton – his white mother did; perhaps she passed it on to him.

The backstory: Quesnel city councillor Goulet self-identifies as Métis, and can trace his heritage to Elzéar Goulet (left), a member of Métis rebel Louis Riel’s (right) Provisional Government of 1869-70. (Sources of photos: (left) Société historique de Saint-Boniface; (Archives of Manitoba, Personalities, N5732)

Nor is it clear that the attendance of Goulet’s father at an IRS can be taken at face value. He has never identified the school in question, and Métis children were not supposed to attend IRS, although some did get in, like Senator James Gladstone, who attended St. Paul’s Residential School near Cardston, Alberta. Gladstone was born Métis but later gained Indian status as a member of the Blood tribe. Also, some Métis children attended religious boarding schools that were not IRS in the legal sense because they were not supported by the Department of Indian Affairs. Whatever the exact truth may be, Tony Goulet’s statement remains to be clarified.

There was an even more raucous council meeting on April 2, following a march outside Quesnel’s city hall by about 200 people (under 1 percent of the city and district’s population), attended by other First Nations in addition to the Lhtako Dene. Contrary to normal council procedures, visitors were allowed to speak at length from the floor. Here’s a sample of their statements, as reported by the CBC:

“We can no longer work with this mayor and we will not work with the City of Quesnel until [the] issue has been resolved…We can’t have a community that hands out hate literature and expect people to listen to us and to take it seriously…We have a whole room full of elders and survivors here. They could go on all night and tell you what they went through. It hurts them that much that they would relive that, just to let you know.” — Lhtako Dene Chief Clifford Lebrun

“Whoever wrote that book, they didn’t go through residential school with us…[At residential school] they beat us, sexually abused us.” — Lhtako Dene Elder Bryant Paul

“We deserve better than having to come here to prove we went to residential school, to prove that we were hurt and broken.” — Nazko First Nation Chief Leah Stump, choking back tears

Frances Widdowson, a contributor to Grave Error, had driven out to attend the meeting and address council (and I paid part of her travel expenses), but she was given only three minutes to do so and was at times drowned out by drumming from the visitors’ seats. One councillor said (as reported in the previously linked article), “You really have no place here. We really don’t want to hear from you.”

Book haters unite! Ahead of an April 2, 2024 meeting of Quesnel city council, local native leaders organized a march (top left and bottom) to condemn Grave Error as hate literature and to call for the mayor’s resignation. Among the speakers were Lhtako Dene Chief Clifford Lebrun (top right) and Lhtako Dene Elder Bryant Paul (middle right). (Source of photos: CBC)

Morton was likewise given only three minutes to explain what she had done. So much for the first principle of justice, audi alteram partem – hear the other side. Before being shouted down, Morton managed to convey that she was standing her ground. “I’ll say I’m sorry my actions sharing this book have upset you,” she said, while adding, “I’m hurt I’m put in this position. I believe in love not hate.” (Meanwhile, Kevin Christieson came under pressure on social media to denounce his own mother, but politely defended her.)

A new political agenda also appeared at the meeting with calls for the mayor to resign. As a councillor and more recently as mayor, Paull had gone out of his way to work with Indigenous leaders and communities. Among other acts of reconciliation, he voted to rename Quesnel’s Ceal Tingley Park to Lhtako Dene Park and later appointed the city’s first Indigenous Relations Liaison. Most recently, Quesnel partnered with the Lhtako Dene in hosting the 2024 B.C. Winter Games. Still, now it seemed Paull’s good works stood to be undone by his wife’s reading choices. Paull and Morton think previous political opponents were behind this, hoping to get Paull to vacate the mayor’s chair for a new election. It’s hard to assess this from a distance. In any case, Paull insisted he would not resign, and was reportedly sticking to that as of yesterday.

One side only, please: After indulging numerous Indigenous speakers and hearing several lengthy letters, Quesnel city council gave Grave Error contributor Frances Widdowson (at bottom, left) and Morton (at bottom, right) a mere 3 minutes each to speak; both were shouted down by the crowd before they could conclude their remarks. (Source of photo: CBC)

Several questions arise from these farcical proceedings. Why didn’t the council follow its normal procedures? Should the elected politicians who comprise a city council be voting to denounce a book, especially one that none of them has read? They have a legal right to pass resolutions, but should they really be spending their time telling their citizens what not to read? And should a husband be held accountable for what his wife does, e.g., should a mayor resign because his wife gave a few people copies of a book? That might have seemed appropriate a century ago; but in 2024, when it’s generally thought proper for spouses to engage in public affairs on their own account, it seems anachronistic.

Let’s also look more closely at the media’s role in this ruckus. They repeated all sorts of comments about Grave Errormade by First Nations people and others who had obviously not read the book, but they made no effort to find out what’s actually in the book. I heard second-hand that one CBC reporter tried to check the book out of the local library but couldn’t find it there. Granted, the CBC is worried about possible budget cuts, but the reporter could have instantly downloaded a digital copy from Amazon for $8.99 plus GST.

Even if reading the book was too much to ask, journalists had access to Widdowson, who had made a special trip to Quesnel. The media had been given advance notice of her presence, so any reporter who wanted to talk to her could easily have arranged an interview. In the event, virtually none tried to find out from Widdowson what’s in Grave Error, although they wove her presence into the story, mentioning her appearance at the April 2 council meeting, always pointing out she had been dismissed from Mount Royal University, but leaving out that she is contesting that dismissal in arbitration and that she had a long career as a published political scientist specializing in Indigenous peoples.

The media missed a golden opportunity here because Widdowson was one of the first to dig into the backstory behind the Kamloops claims about unmarked graves, missing children and infants being thrown into incinerators, showing that these claims were very similar to the 1980s moral panic about satanic cults and daycare centres.

Alternatively, the media could have contacted me as the book’s co-editor. My email address is listed in the University of Calgary’s online directory. Because of my off-and-on career working for conservative leaders Preston Manning, Stephen Harper and Danielle Smith, I have been interviewed hundreds, maybe thousands of times. For many years I also wrote regular newspaper columns in the National Post and the Globe and Mail.

Not hard to find: Despite the clamour over the alleged harm done by the mere presence of Grave Error, no mainstream media journalist sought out any of the authors to hear their side of the story. Shown are book contributors (clockwise, starting top-left): Jacques Rouillard, Jonathan Kay, Rodney Clifton and James Pew.

If the media didn’t want to talk to me, they could easily have reached most of the contributors to Grave Error. Jacques Rouillard is a retired history professor at the University of Montreal. His chapter is an updated version of an article, originally published on the Dorchester Review website, which has received over 100,000 views. Jonathan Kay is the North American editor of the hugely popular international journal Quillette. Rodney Clifton and Mark DeWolf edited an earlier book on the IRS, From Truth Comes Reconciliation. James Pew is editor of the political and cultural website Woke Watch Canada.

You get the picture. Those who put together Grave Error form a large, expert – and willing – field of interview subjects. If the legacy media haven’t contacted us, its’s not because they never heard of us or can’t find us, it’s because they don’t want to.

The legacy media’s studied indifference to Grave Error presents a grave issue (pun intended). The CBC’s document on Journalistic Standards and Practices contains this admirable statement about “balance”:

“We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.”

This was the conventional philosophy of journalism that prevailed throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, until the proliferation of openly one-sided “advocacy journalism”. Yet how “balanced” is it to report multiple third-party comments that Grave Error is “hate literature”, “hateful”, has “caused harm” and represents “denialism” without giving the editors and authors any chance whatsoever to comment or rebut? If this had just happened once, it might be written off as an isolated occurrence, but it happened repeatedly during the coverage of events at Quesnel.

This lack of balance is compounded by the media’s recurring sleight-of-hand, falsehoods and sheer incoherence. A headline in the left-wing West Coast journal The Tyee falsely insinuates that Paull himself has been engaging in “denialism” by promoting the book’s messages which, the sub-headline brusquely declares, contain “disinformation” – making Paul’s decision to “resist” calls for his resignation seem all the more insensitive.

All the news that fits our point of view: The one-sided coverage of the Quesnel conflict actively disseminates several obvious falsehoods, including The Tyee’s (top right) claim that Mayor Paull “promoted” Grave Error, when in fact it was his wife who distributed it.

Other media coverage proved ignorant of the most basic facts or was plain incomprehensible. An article on the CKPG Today website leads with the bizarre claim that Grave Error “essentially questions the existence of residential schools,” when the book is entirely – and plainly – about residential schools. Confusing and distorted coverage of this nature has the effect, if not the intention, of misdirecting readers away from the substance, namely Grave Error’s evidence-based conclusions concerning the claims of unmarked graves and missing children.

The “grave issue” is that the media are propounding – repeatedly, determinedly, consistently – a distorted and entirely one-sided view of one of the most important questions in Canadian politics. That is, whether the missionaries, educators, government officials – and, let’s not forget, thousands of Indigenous employees – who ran the Indian Residential Schools over the course of more than a century caused the deaths of thousands of children and secretly disposed of their bodies.

If this is true, Canadians should hang their heads in shame because the perpetrators of such crimes have never been identified and punished. But if this is not true, those who make such claims are deceiving the Canadian public, are circulating a monstrous calumny about a mostly admirable country, and deserve to be denounced. Grave Error contains all sorts of documented evidence on these questions. Ignoring that evidence is a disservice to the Canadian public.

To be clear, I’m not alleging a conspiracy or deliberate agreement to ignore Grave Error or to report only criticism of the book without giving the editors and authors a chance to respond. The phenomenon is more a matter of groupthink. Stories about the mistreatment of children at the IRS fit perfectly into the left-progressive or woke ideology, according to which the world is dominated by straight white males who oppress racial and gender minorities.

Most journalists “bat left”, no matter how hard some might try to be objective according to their own lights; younger journalists have been exposed to such heavy doses of progressivism at university and school that many disdain the very idea of objectivity. It is thus no mystery why they latch on so uncritically to the Kamloops narrative and other fables about the IRS. It’s simple confirmation bias, in which all these stories have an immediate ring of truth to the left-leaning media.

Fits like a glove: The narrative of residential school abuse and cultural genocide fits perfectly into broader woke ideology which regards white, straight males as “oppressors” and everyone else as the “oppressed”. (Source of photo: Margarita Young/Shutterstock)

Still, the effects are just as damaging as if a deliberate plan were at work. And the controversy is certainly being used as an additional cudgel for those who want to shut down any discussion of this topic – those who, like Kimberly Murray, the federal government’s recently appointed “Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools”, want to make it a crime punishable by prison for anyone to assert, as we do, that the IRS system was not a program of genocide. Although the aforementioned Tyee seemed incapable of locating any of Grave Error’s contributors for an interview, it did manage to round up Sean Carleton, a “settler historian” at the University of Manitoba who declared that, “What the book is trying to do is backslide. It’s trying to question what we’ve already established as the truth.”

The extreme nature of the reaction in Quesnel also needs to be noted: that, even after all the city of Quesnel and its prominent citizens have done to advance reconciliation in forms that Indigenous groups demand, it might all be wrecked because of the reading choices of a single local resident whose husband happens to be mayor. It seems Indigenous reconciliation, Canadian-style, is terribly fragile, conditional, one-sided – and easily withdrawn.

An important part of left-progressive ideology is that opponents are not just wrong, but evil. Thus, someone who commits error has no rights, and there is no imperative to give skeptics a hearing. Books such as Grave Error can be ignored and, if that doesn’t work, shamed and denounced, along with anyone even indirectly associated with them. Just ask Ron Paull, husband of Pat Morton. If the truth is already known, skeptics have nothing to contribute. But, as the CBC acknowledges, at least in theory, reporting only one side of a story is media malpractice.

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