OP-ED: “You have no place here”: Chaos descends upon Quesnel, B.C.
OP-ED: “You have no place here”: Chaos descends upon Quesnel, B.C.

Startling events took place recently in the small city of Quesnel, B.C., where the city council voted to condemn a book that none of its council members had read, and asked for the mayor’s resignation because his wife had given a few copies of it to friends.

You would think a city council has better things to do than to tell citizens what not to read.

The book was Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), edited by Chris Champion and me, published by True North, and available only on Amazon, where it is a best-seller.

The book shows that not a single unmarked grave has been discovered at Kamloops or in connection with any other former Indian Residential School or Indian hospital; that there are no “missing children,” though some may have been forgotten by their relatives; that attendance at the residential schools was mainly voluntary and typically required written consent from parents or guardians; and that health conditions at the schools were probably better than on Indian reserves.

Pat Morton is the wife of the mayor of Quesnel, Ron Paull. She read and liked Grave Error, so she bought ten copies to give to people she thought would be interested. Fatefully, she gave a copy to Connie Goulet, the mother of Tony Goulet, a local Métis politician.

Morton’s efforts to promote Grave Error 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 Paull himself, obediently voted to denounce the book, even though none had read it.

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.”

There was an even more raucous council meeting on April 2.

“We can’t have a community that hands out hate literature and expect people to listen to us and to take it seriously…” said Lhtako Dene Chief Clifford Lebrun, who also warned that his organization would cease to work with Quesnel and its council.

Nazko First Nation Chief Leah Stump, for her part, was choking back tears when she declared, “We deserve better than having to come here to prove we went to residential school, to prove that we were hurt and broken.”

Frances Widdowson, a contributor to Grave Error, had driven out to attend the meeting and address council, but she was given only three minutes to do so. Instead, one councillor told her, “You really have no place here. We really don’t want to hear from you.” Morton was likewise given only three minutes to explain what she had done.

A new political agenda also appeared at this meeting, with calls for the mayor to resign. Paull and Morton think previous political opponents were behind this, hoping to get Paull to vacate the mayor’s chair for a new election. Paull, however, has insisted he is staying put.

Despite the controversy surrounding the book, the media made no attempt to find out what is actually in it, either by reading it or by contacting the editors and authors. Instead, articles misrepresented the book’s contents or accused it of circulating “disinformation.”

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

Nice words. But the CBC and other legacy media are propounding an entirely one-sided view of the former Indian Residential Schools. Grave Error contains all sorts of documented evidence on these questions. Ignoring that evidence is a disservice to the Canadian public.

There is no conspiracy to ignore Grave Error or to report only criticism of the book. The phenomenon is more a matter of groupthink. Stories about the mistreatment of children 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.

So it is no mystery why journalists latch on so uncritically to the Kamloops narrative of unmarked graves and other fables about residential schools. It’s simple confirmation bias, because to the left-leaning media all these stories have an immediate ring of truth. But as even the CBC acknowledges – at least in theory – reporting only one side of a story is media malpractice. If only the media would live up to their own professed ideals.

The original, full-length version of this article was recently published in C2C Journal.

Tom Flanagan is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary and co-editor of Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), published by True North

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