The Derogatory Use of ‘Denialist’
Members of Canada’s intelligentsia have weaponized the terms “Survivor” and “Denialist” in order to stifle dissent. Even so, Brian Giesbrecht and James Pew still dissent.
Byand Brian Giesbrecht
(This piece was originally published in the Dorchester Review)
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Public Opinion is influenced and shaped by politicians, academics, and activists, perhaps to an undue extent. The media turn to such thought-leaders for comment on questions of the day. In the case of Canada’s Indian Residential School (IRS) system, all three groups are vigorously pushing a so-called “denialist” line, apparently in order to normalize the idea that the IRS system was somehow comparable to the Holocaust. That brutally insensitive claim lacks physical evidence and should be easy to dispel.
In Canada, aboriginal children educated in residential schools are referred to as “Survivors,” a term always capitalized, erroneously implying that they are equivalent to Holocaust survivors. This libel against the Jewish people, and other victims of Nazism, denigrates the sacrifices made by the many caring Christian teachers, religious leaders, and other school personnel who devoted years of service trying to enhance the life chances of their young charges, thousands of whom have benefited from their residential school experience to become productive and influential figures in Canadian society and role models for their people.
In contradistinction, there were no survivors of the Holocaust who claimed a benefit to any part of their internment in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Even still, belief in a Canadian genocide, even remotely similar to the horrors of Nazi Germany, increases with each subsequent “Survivor” story published by the CBC, always chock-full of fuzzy childhood memories of atrocities with no evidence or corroboration, and terminology stolen from the Shoah of the Jews. These reports, the stories amplified by the aboriginal industry and Canadian media, seem just as much to fulfill a desire to silence opinion that deviates from the activist-driven “postcolonial” narrative, as they fulfill the self-loathing tendencies that make up the disposition of too many cosmopolitan global citizens and social justice warriors who hate tradition and loathe the West, even while benefiting extraordinarily from both. Anyone guilty of thought-dissent, who challenges aspects of neo-aboriginal narrative, will find themselves the target of a vicious opprobrium — similar to the opprobrium that an anti-Semite who denies the Holocaust would properly face.
But there is no comparison to the Holocaust. The genocide of World War II is a historically unique evil, a circumstance that shares no similarities with any point in Canada’s history. Not only did the horrors of industrialized murder take the lives of many millions of innocent people, but the magnitude of material evidence substantiating the accounts of Nazi death camp survivors is abundant.
The Atrocities of the Holocaust were fully documented, filmed, photographed, corroborated by thousands of eye witnesses and in the confessions of hundreds of Nazi murderers. Never before in the history of humanity was anything of this scale, so deliberately evil, carried out in such a cunning and systematic way, and never had there been a clearer picture assembled after-the-fact from a mass of evidence proving to the world the awful details and the horrendous outcome of Nazi Germany’s Final Solution. Students of history know that in order to be a Holocaust denier one must be crazy or anti-Semitic or both. The appropriation of these terms for the Residential Schools is no accident; they are deployed deliberately and cynically, in a derogatory manner to stigmatize and scare off dissent from the government-backed, government-funded — but false and grossly exaggerated — narrative.
It is the members of Canada’s intelligentsia who have weaponized the terms “Survivor” and “residential school denialist,” and alleged that “Politicians and journalists have openly engaged in residential school denialism,” deliberately implying equivalence to the Holocaust and Holocaust denial. Setting aside the immoral comparison to the Holocaust, about which research continues and books continue to be written, there can be no definitive historical narrative because history is not made that way. History is a discussion that develops as researchers and historians make new discoveries or reveal previously unknown information, and in turn reinterpret them, so as to create a more nuanced and balanced body of knowledge. In turn some reinterpretations may turn out to be incorrect or distorted, and the debate continues.
The history of the Indian Residential School system does not stop developing just because a few officials, or academics, or politicians, or indigenous leaders say so. The debate about the IRS does not stop just because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its deeply-flawed Report, makes rhetorically evocative use of carefully chosen Holocaust terminology. No authority could ever put the shackles on scholars who make new historical discoveries that improve our understanding or prove recent allegations and historical claims to be false. And the activists who accept the TRC narrative, or have read only the Summary Report, no matter how hard they may try, do not have the authority to compel Canadians to ignore the work of independent researchers who challenge TRC claims. No matter how many billions the Government of Canada spends in support of its chosen narrative, the historical debate continues.
To be clear, there is no such thing as “residential school denialism” or “denialists” in the Canadian context. It is a political red herring. It is a bogeyman that has nothing to do with scholarship or historical activity. It is universally acknowledged that residential schools existed. The issue is whether or not they were universally bad. The TRC and its numerous media and official establishment adherents say they were. Others, who seek truth and balance, say that much good came from the schools. Alumni say much good came from the schools and they have written books about their good experiences.
Senator Lynn Beyak was canceled by the mob and by her own political party for having the temerity to suggest that the biased TRC Report needed more balance. In particular, Senator Beyak noted that many successful indigenous Canadians received their education at an IRS, and opined that the good that residential schools did should be acknowledged, along with the harm that they caused. Largely for publicly expressing these valid opinions, shamefully, she was forced out of the Senate, and publicly disgraced.
The discussion took a much darker turn with the Tkʼemlúps band announcement of May 27, 2021, that 215 “graves” (which were actually only soil disturbances) had been “discovered.” Thereafter the intimidating language of “residential school denialist” was expanded to malign anyone who questions the truth of any assertion by any indigenous claimant, or any claim about a growing body count — thousands upon thousands now across the country — all the while not one body has actually been verified to have been found by anyone anywhere in Canada.
There are far too many examples of unchallenged and highly implausible claims coming from the neo-tribal elites of the aboriginal industry. Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Rose Anne Archibald, in typical fashion, told the BBC that residential schools were specifically designed to kill children, and that the bodies of sixteen hundred children have been recovered so far. In fact, not one child’s remains has been “recovered” anywhere at all, and there is no evidence to indicate that any will.
Ms. Archibald went on to assert, contrary to massive evidence in the archives known to the TRC, that, “These institutions weren’t schools. Everyone calls them schools, but they were institutions of assimilation and genocide.” That much is a matter of opinion and interpretation, but it represents the extreme end of the spectrum. But she went on, “... Oh it was designed to kill and we are seeing proof of that. Sixteen hundred little children — little ones — innocent children, have been recovered so far.” This is a lie, or at best premature since no real evidence exists.
Archibald goes on to explain that at the time of the BBC interview, only eight former residential school sites had been searched. She then says that there were “a total of thirteen hundred institutions in total, so we are going to be into the thousands upon ten thousands of children found [sic]. I’m not sure how you can say that that’s not intentional and that the recovery of so many little children doesn’t signify what it is, which is genocide. The UN calls it genocide, we call it genocide.” Her tale gets more preposterous in the telling. But Archibald obviously believes that she can get away with it.
So far she has. And her tall tales are abetted by people like UBC archaeologist, Eric Simons, who says: “I get so angry. … The idea that indigenous communities should exhume, unbury their dead children, just to satisfy the evidentiary demands of other Canadians, I just can’t wrap my head around it. It’s just so awful.” It is a good example of how the “denialist” discourse works. Mr. Simons’ outrage may lead the reader to wonder if the “evidentiary demands” would be just as “awful” if suspected clandestine burial sites were thought to contain non-indigenous children? If true, is the presence of murdered children’s remains not putative evidence of a crime that should be properly investigated? Can reasonable people expect the authorities to leave the bodies of potentially murdered children undisturbed (and unverified), out of cultural sensitivity or mystical faith in the veracity of such stories?
Mr. Simons’ opinion appears to be a common one: Canadians should simply accept whatever claims any indigenous person or community makes about missing children and unmarked graves — no matter how unlikely, and whether or not there is any evidence supporting the claim.
It is therefore no surprise that new claims are coming in fast and hard, and the evidence supporting them appears to be very thin indeed. But the J’accuse posturing against “denialists” was ramped up recently in a Winnipeg Free Press column by Nigaan Sinclair. In a thinly veiled imputation against five Manitobans, Mr. Sinclair implied that “judges and professors” were aiding and abetting a man recently accused of murdering indigenous women. Sinclair’s insinuation of “denialism” in this case included one of the authors of this article (former Manitoba judge, Brian Giesbrecht). However, both authors have been challenging the veracity of the Kamloops claims since the original May 27, 2021 announcement, so the “denialist” pejorative is something we are getting used to.
Simply put, we and some of our colleagues are skeptical that 215 (or 200) indigenous children could somehow have been killed and secretly buried by other children, nuns, or priests working at the Kamloops IRS, as alleged. There is now a great deal of evidence that it is unlikely there are any graves at all in the Kamloops IRS apple orchard, as alleged. What’s more, it is even more unlikely that there are “thousands” of similar secret burials throughout Canada, as alleged.
Nevertheless, Mr. Sinclair insists that the claims must be taken at face value. In fact, questioning those claims might cause some unhinged people to commit murder. According to Sinclair’s far-fetched imagination, the accused murderer in Winnipeg was influenced by “denialist” essays! The only “evidence” he provided was two links to videos produced by people unknown to the authors. Mr. Sinclair apparently heard from a friend that those two links were on the accused killer’s Facebook page. What else was on the page, we don’t know.
It doesn’t matter. People who commit crimes are influenced by many things. Perhaps Miles Sanderson, the Saskatchewan mass murderer, was influenced by something written by Mr. Sinclair: that doesn’t make him complicit in murder. To argue otherwise would mean that no writer should ever write anything controversial, or question any claim.
On the contrary we believe that more, not fewer, people should be challenging claims of secret burials, “some with the help of children, as young as six.” After that claim, it is interesting that many copycat claims were made by other indigenous communities, with little challenge from mainstream media. Millions of dollars of public funds are being spent pursuing these unsupported claims, which get more outlandish each time. Meanwhile anyone questioning them is labeled a “denialist” as if he denied the schools themselves even existed. Mr. Sinclair seems to believe that “denialists” are accessories to murder.
These folks want to silence us. But there are many other Canadian writers and researchers who are doing great work in tracking down IRS records and assembling an accurate history of the IRS system. They may unjustly be accused of “denialism” but their work continues independent of public funding and academic attempts to censor and intimidate them.
What happens when Canadians are led to believe the IRS system was akin to the Nazi’s extermination camps?
For The Year 2021, Stats-Can reported a 260% increase in police reported hate crimes against Catholics. Indeed, Canada had a version of pogrom-like violence last summer, with dozens of Catholic churches vandalized and set on fire. The common features were reckless and hateful allegations, made with no evidence, but inflamed by the media and fanatical stereotypes against Catholics and other Christians.
In Kamloops, Chief Roseanne Casimir said: “We had a knowing [sic] in our community that we were able to verify [sic]. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” stated Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir. “Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children…” said the Kamloops Indian Band press release.
According to the widespread myth, the priests and nuns who ran the school did not want those deaths discovered, so they suborned pupils as young as six to help bury the 215 late at night. This fanciful tale is explored in depth in Frances Widdowson’s essay Billy Remembers.
If true, the Kamloops claim, by itself, would surely be the most sensational crime to ever take place in our placid and rather dour Dominion. But the claims then got even more blood-curdling and fantastical. Williams Lake Chief Willie Sellars alleged that unnamed students at the Williams Lake IRS had been tortured, raped, and murdered by almost any means known to man. Bodies of children were flung into rivers, lakes, streams. Children were routinely summoned to the office on the school intercom to be sexually assaulted, and children were thrown into roaring furnaces. Sellars claimed that there was a conspiracy between the clergy, RCMP and the federal government for decades to keep all of this horror from coming to light. Chief Louis claimed that “each child was a prisoner of war,” who were subject to an “intentional cultural genocide.” NDP MP and former residential school student, Roméo Saganash, commenting on Senator Beyak’s criticism of the TRC report, said it was “akin to defending actions taken by Adolf Hitler against the Jewish people in the Second World War.” And the new claims coming in follow this pattern: children who died by foul means, and were then hurriedly buried in secret to keep the truth from being known.
The problem for all of these grisly claims is that there is absolutely no evidence that any of them happened. In fact, all of the evidence is the other way: namely, that when children did die of disease at an IRS, they received a Christian burial, and they were mostly buried at their home cemetery, or in a few cases at a special IRS cemetery in a grave marked by a wooden cross that subsequently eroded over time through neglect by the local inhabitants.
Moreover, the great majority of the children listed on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation “Memorial List” were actually not lost, but buried in their home communities. They weren’t “missing” at all. They tragically died, mostly of disease. Tuberculosis, in particular, carried away a great number of residential school students, as it also took away children and adults on reserves at an even higher rate.
So far, Canada’s mainstream media have shown no appetite to question any of these damagingly anti-Catholic tall tales of murder and nocturnal secret burials. In fact, with the exception chiefly of Conrad Black, Barbara Kay and Terry Glavin, the mainstream newspapers seem determined to parrot the murderous-priest narrative. Writers, like Globe and Mail guest columnist Tanya Talaga offer enthusiastic support for every claim made by any indigenous claimant, no matter how extreme. These writers implicitly accept claims that priests threw babies into furnaces, secretly buried children with the forced help of youngsters, and performed atrocities that would make Dr. Mengele blush. The editors who supervise all of this will at some point have to answer for their suppression and distortion of the truth.
So, we and our colleagues will continue to question these unverified and unbelievable historical claims, even at the risk of being called bad names, even Mr. Sinclair’s irresponsible imputation of complicity in murder. The struggle to clarify and reveal the truth — the real truth, not the TRC’s pretended one — is too important to be deterred by word games.
Thanks for reading. For more on indigenous issues from Brian and James read, Unmarked Graves: Money or Justice?
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From my perspective as a teacher fired for stating disease and not murder in a discussion on residential schools, a claim of mass murder or genocide (made unanimously by the political class in Ottawa on October 27, 2022) should be accompanied by evidence. The only proof adduced to date is from Sarah Beaulieu who found soil anomalies from a 1924 sewage bed. That her report is hidden to this day evokes a cover-up. Essentially, a lot of people are caught in a most preposterous lie of Christian teachers murdering thousands of their indigenous pupils without a single parent or community complaint.
An excellent article capturing all the critical points. The appropriation of Holocaust lexicon to describe their boarding school experience is both laughable and deplorable as is "Truth and Reconciliation" a copy cat phrase borrowed from the South African experience of apartheid. Both reveal a rather cellophane attempt to garner undeserving victimhood status for personal gain. Even worse is the despicable unchallenged acceptance by government and their woke minions in their unrestrained pandering to and lavish spending on such an obvious and shallow pernicious deception. Perhaps a change in government will afford some future optimism for in the words of Mark Twain:
"Politicians are a lot like diapers. They should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons."