OP-ED: Poilievre and Trudeau are in lockstep on residential schools narrative
OP-ED: Poilievre and Trudeau are in lockstep on residential schools narrative

What is the difference between Pierre Poilievre and Justin Trudeau when it comes to Canada’s Indian Residential Schools?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing, because both are guilty of a “grave error.”

Even in his condemnation of the burning of Christian churches, this newest Conservative leader was shown to be a Justin Trudeau ventriloquist puppet when it came to Indigenous issues at a Jan. 22 press conference in Vancouver.

Ninety-six Christian churches in Canada have been vandalized, burned down, or desecrated since the announcement of the apparent discovery of graves found near a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. on May 27, 2021.

In response to a True North reporter’s question about unmarked graves and these church burnings following Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops Indian Band) “confirming the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” Poilievre said little which had not already been said by Trudeau.

“There is no justification for burning down a church. Period. Regardless of the other information or justifications that people claim to use, there is never a justification to burn down a church,” replied Poilievre.

While the one word “period” slightly differentiates him from Trudeau, the rest of his reply does not. Indeed, a “grave error” from a political perspective.

Three weeks after the first churches were destroyed in the summer of 2021, Trudeau said that the burning and destruction of churches is “unacceptable and wrong,” but quickly qualified this condemnation by claimed this was “understandable.”

“I understand the anger that’s out there against the federal government, against institutions like the Catholic Church. It is real, and it’s fully understandable, given the shameful history that we are all becoming more and more aware of and engaging ourselves to do better as Canadians,” Trudeau said.

“That is simply not right, it is a shame,” Trudeau said of burning churches when asked if these acts were hate crimes, thereby implicitly denying they were hate crimes.

In retrospect, nearly four years later, shame on Trudeau for being so ill informed about his own country’s history and hate crime laws.

Poilievre did not term these church burnings hate crimes either – another grave error.

As for the lack of evidence supporting the Kamloops claim, and presumably the many others that followed – not a single body has been found in an unmarked or unknown grave anywhere in Canada – Poilievre’s reply was:

“We should provide the resources to allow for full investigation into the potential remains at residential schools, Canadians deserve to know the truth. And conservatives will always stand in favour of historical accuracy.”

He qualified these assertions by saying, “None of this changes the fact that the residential schools were an appalling abuse of power by the state and by the church at the time.”

If Poilievre did a little reading, he would find that beginning in the 1870s, both the federal government and Prairie tribes wanted to include schooling provisions in treaties. Indigenous leaders hoped Euro-Canadian schooling would help their youngsters to learn the skills of the newcomer society to help them make a successful transition to a world dominated by Europeans.

With the passage of the British North America Act in 1867, and the implementation of the Indian Act (1876), the government was required, when asked by Indigenous leaders, to provide aboriginal youth with an education and to assimilate them into Canadian society.

The federal government supported schooling to make Indigenous people economically self-sufficient and to decrease their dependence on public funds. To do so, the government worked with Christian Churches to encourage religious conversion and Indigenous economic self-sufficiency. This led to the development of an educational policy after 1880 that relied heavily on boarding schools when reserve-based Indian Day Schools were not practical for reasons of small size and remote location.

Despite their underfunding, high dropout rates, alien rules, and sometimes harsh systems of discipline, thousands of children benefited from their attendance, as the historical record clearly shows.

Stating that the Indian residential schools represented “an appalling abuse of power by the state and by the church at the time” simply does not accurately reflect their origin or operation.

But the gravest error of all made by Poilievre, once more in concert Trudeau, was whipping the party he leads to unanimously support Leah Gazan’s notorious Oct. 26, 2022 House of Commons motion calling on the federal government to recognize Canada’s residential schools as genocidal institutions based on not one iota of evidence and not a moment of debate.

Both Tweedledee Trudeau and Tweedledum Poilievre badly need to familiarize themselves with the origin, purpose, operation, and legacy of these schools.

Hymie Rubenstein is editor of REAL Indigenous Report and a retired professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba.

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