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The End of Nuance

Originally published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy on May 26, 2024

It was U.S. President George W. Bush  who, after the 9-11 terrorist attack in 2001, said famously to Congress, “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Similarly, George Orwell said in 1942 that “in practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me.’ The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle…is a bourgeois illusion.”

My employer in 2021, the Abbotsford School District, showed me that I was not aloof from the struggle by investigating me for “extremely serious misconduct.”  And what was my misconduct?  I had relayed to senior history students the “most important news in Canada,” which was that the remains of 215 Indigenous children had been discovered in a mass grave in an apple orchard on the site of a former Indian residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

This news — quickly picked up by media in other countries — led the Canadian government to declare itself guilty of genocide for having placed about one-third of First Nation children in long-ago-shuttered residential schools.

At the end of the partial and superficial investigation, I was fired. But, like the Joseph K. character in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, I knew I had done nothing wrong:

“But I’m not guilty,” said K. “there’s been a mistake. How is it even possible for someone to be guilty? We’re all human beings here, one like the other.” “That is true,” said the priest, “but that is how the guilty speak.”

My crime was in saying that most students who died while enrolled in these schools from 1883-1996 did so from disease, especially tuberculosis.

A 2015 PBS documentary on “the deadliest killer in human history”

Though what I said was factually true, the Abbotsford School District wrote to me in June 2021 that it was a time to hear from students “and not debate or challenge their emotional response to the news…. [Students] were struggling to make sense of the news and process the discovery.”

The problem was there was no discovery in Kamloops, and there still is no evidence whatsoever.

For the past three years the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have not conducted an investigation of the alleged murders; the archeologist’s report has been sealed by a local university (Simon Fraser University); and no excavation of the site has taken place.

The Abbotsford School District charged that “clearly it was not a time to play ‘devil’s advocate’ or to have a nuanced debate or discussion of the underlying reasons for these deaths…or push their thinking on the issue when students, as [with most] of the staff and general public, were struggling to make sense of the news.” It didn’t help that I was a history teacher: “Mr. McMurtry decided to use the class as an opportunity to teach a history lesson.”

The allegations kept changing. For example, they first accused me of saying “the deaths could not be called murder or cultural genocide,” but later they said that “my comments to students were inflammatory, inappropriate, insensitive and/or contrary to the school’s message of condolences and reconciliation.”

I noted, of course, that they replaced the word truth, as in Truth and Reconciliation, with condolences.

In time I realized that I was simply outside of an orthodoxy that was distorted by sensationalized headlines and cowardly journalistic practices. The woke employ a dual lens of good and bad, friend and foe. In their lynch-mob mentality, nuance and compassion get short shrift.

In the Canadian schools where I taught, there is an administrative class of citizens who play the role of gatekeepers against unacceptable ideas, worried that a Trojan horse might get inside the walls and open the gate for other ideas to enter. In a not-so-brave new world such as this, you are either with us or against us. There are no shades of allegiance, no nuance. As I was not onside with those administrators, they came for me.

I have now been without a teaching job for three years, and my grievance against my employer is in abeyance while an investigation into my teaching conducted by my regulatory body, the B.C. Teachers’ Regulation Branch (TRB), slowly unfolds. The TRB investigator’s report could take up to a year to write, and a subsequent public hearing could consume another year of my life.

Clearly, the process is the punishment.

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