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This column, soon to be illegal

Canada’s Minister of Justice, David Lametti, agrees. So does his colleague, Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Aboriginal Relations and a good friend of the Prime Minister. If they don’t act quickly enough, the NDP says it will force their hand. Because the matter is urgent. Across Canada, there are a growing number of “Holocaust deniers”. People who dare to cast doubt on all or part of the Aboriginal and Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s accounts of what happened in the residential schools. It’s time to hit these scoundrels with the Criminal Code.

This is one of the main recommendations of the report by Kimberly Murray, Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves. Quoting “numerous international experts”, she writes that “Holocaust denial is the final stage of genocide”.

It’s all down to the wording. One assumes it will be similar to that just adopted by Ottawa for the Holocaust: the offence of “willfully fomenting anti-Semitism by condoning, denying or minimizing the Holocaust by communicating statements other than in private conversation”.

I suppose there are fools in this country who deny that the residential school operation was an attempt at cultural genocide, the explicit purpose of which was to extinguish “the Indian in the child”. Others may also deny the overwhelming evidence of sexual and other abuses suffered by Aboriginal people.

But could I be prosecuted and jailed for writing here, and writing again, that we currently have no physical evidence that children were killed and buried at the Kamloops residential school, which triggered the gigantic controversy we know about?

It’s been two years since a ground-penetrating radar survey found “anomalies” in the subsoil that might suggest the presence of 215 graves. It’s been two years since the crime scene was fenced off and nothing has happened. Interlocutor Murray is right to be outraged that Holocaust deniers are trying to get into the field, with shovels, to dig up the truth. It’s unacceptable, and they should be prosecuted. But in a normal state governed by the rule of law, when a crime of this magnitude is suspected, the search for the truth must take precedence, and exhumations must take place within a reasonable time frame, both for the victims and for the accused – in this case, the clerics, the RCMP who turned a blind eye, the authorities who let it happen.

But she ignores the normal investigative process, the right of the accused to have access to evidence, and even the time frame in which the whole country should know whether or not its history is tainted by such unspeakable crimes.

On the contrary, she recommends that Aboriginal nations alone be responsible for dealing with crime zones, done at their own pace, in a process she writes could take a decade. And too bad if they decide never to dig. She cites this statement from the Shíshálh Nation of British Columbia: “[whether] unmarked graves are found or not, there is sufficient oral evidence and documented records to affirm that these burials exist or existed”. Ms. Murray does not believe that the rapid establishment of an indisputable truth can be an asset.

Indeed, her report uses choice words to close the debate. She lists 16 nations in the territory (none in Quebec) that have “confirmed” the presence of a total of 4352 “burials”, “targets” or “anomalies”. The words “confirmation” and “confirmed” are sprinkled throughout the report. But of these 16 sites, is there a single piece of physical evidence? Yes, one. At the Lebret Industrial School site in Saskatchewan, a 100-year-old portion of a child’s jawbone was found on the ground in late 2022, possibly brought there by a rodent. It’s disturbing, but it’s thin, and no counter-expertise is allowed. The report informs us of the discovery of another 14-year-old aboriginal child’s bone in Ontario. But it dated from 1600, so it was too early to attribute it to genocide.

In the emblematic case of Kamloops, here’s what’s not in the report. Archival research indicates that over the decades, more than 30% of the land in question has been excavated, notably for waterworks. No bones were found. Absent, too, is the reminder that author Tom Flanagan and ex-judge Brian Giesbrecht made in March 2022: “Where excavations have taken place following ground-penetrating radar searches, nothing has been found. This was the case at the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford, the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia, the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton and the Kuper Island Residential School in British Columbia.”

But for the interviewer, there can be no doubt: “Colonial institutions must cede power and control to Aboriginal survivors, families and communities.” This of course includes the Church, presumed to have been by far the worst serial killer in our history, but which must collaborate without asking for the right to presumption of innocence, to counter-expertise, to disclosure of evidence, to the presence of a defense lawyer, or even simply a neutral investigator and judge.

We are therefore in a state where the search for the truth and the evocation of the most elementary rules of natural justice for the resolution of a crime of historic proportions are in the process of being criminalized.

So if you’re reading this column in hard copy, please destroy it quickly, before you’re accused of complicity in Holocaust denial. I’d be delighted, however, if you came to visit me at the penitentiary. Bring me some oranges.

This article was originally published in Le Devoir. It has been translated by and republished with the author’s permission. The original article can be found here.

Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

Written by

Père, chroniqueur et auteur, Jean-François Lisée a dirigé le PQ de 2016 à 2018. Blogue : jflisee.org / Jean-François Lisée is an author and columnist for Le Devoir and a former leader of the Parti Québécois. His latest book is Guerre froide P.Q.- La CIA, le KGB et l’énigme québécoise (Carte blanche). Follow his blog at jflisee.org.

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