Revisiting Canada’s collective guilt for mass murders that were never committed

To date, no excavations have taken place at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, despite the federal government allocating CAN $7.9 million for the task in August 2021.

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School / Bruce Raynor/Shutterstock

On May 27, 2021, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced that ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology had located the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School located in British Columbia, Canada.

The news was readily accepted and publicly grieved by every society figurehead and institution.

On May 28, The New York Times ran with the headline, ‘Horrible History’: Mass Grave of Indigenous Children Reported in Canada.’

Three days following the press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an apology for those “whose lives were taken” at Kamloops. He ordered Canadian flags to be flown at half-mast and they would remain lowered for nearly six months, raised a few days before Nov. 11, only to be lowered again for Remembrance Day.

Pope Francis spoke of “the shocking discovery of the remains of 215 children” in his June 6 Angelus address.

Taking their lead from the Pope, church communities quickly reacted. In the following weeks, many congregations set out 215 pairs of child-size shoes on their front steps.

Between the half-mast flags and the little shoes, Canada was covered that summer by a pall of grief that extended from sea to sea to sea.

The grief quickly turned to anger. A wave of church burnings and vandalisms ensued. The violence continues to this day. According to the media outlet True North, some 96 churches have been burned, damaged or desecrated in the last two and a half years. As recently as December, two Alberta churches were burned to the ground. Trudeau noted that though burning churches was wrong, the anger was “real and … fully understandable, given the shameful history that we are all becoming more and more aware of.”

However, it seems that the high tide of collective guilt has finally started to pull out and the retreat has left behind the detritus of what some now say was a “moral panic.”

The incremental shift in public sentiment is in part due to the absence of bodies.

To date, no excavations have taken place in Kamloops, despite the federal government allocating CAN $7.9 million for the task in August 2021.

From the outset, the GPR findings cited in Kamloops were largely misunderstood by both the media and the public. Sarah Beaulieu, the GPR expert upon whose work the Kamloops First Nation based their claims, would later clarify that the technology does not provide x-ray images of coffins or bodies but merely shows ground disturbances. It would later be revealed that the orchard surveyed was the site of a septic field laid in 1924. It is noted that the tiles would have been placed at the depth of the disturbances picked up on the GPR survey. It is not clear whether Beaulieu was aware of these modifications when she was surveying the area.

In places where they have been excavations, no bodies have been discovered. At the Pine Creek First Nation in Manitoba, 14 sites in the basement of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church were excavated during four weeks in the summer of 2023. Chief Derek Nepinak announced on Aug. 18, 2023, that despite “anomalies” initially detected by the same GPR technology used in Kamloops, no human remains had been found.

The Pine Creek announcement led to the word “hoax” being used in the international press.

“I don’t like to use the word hoax because it’s too strong, but there are also too many falsehoods circulating about this issue with no evidence,” Jacques Rouillard told The New York Post.

Rouillard, professor emeritus in the Department of History at the Université de Montréal, is one of a stalwart number of researchers, jurists and journalists who began the painstaking work to counter the prevailing narrative.

Researcher Nina Green amassed and uploaded thousands of documents to the website Indian Residential School Records. Journalist Terry Glavin wrote a piece for the National Post a year to the day after the Kamloops announcement that, while not disregarding “the brutal sexual, emotional and psychological abuse inflicted on the institutions’ inmates” was clear that “not a single mass grave was discovered in Canada last year.”

In the newly published book Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan have assembled 18 essays from those who stepped out, often at great cost to their professional reputations, to bring clarity to the Kamloops claims and the wider questions of the residential schools and allegations of missing children or a physical genocide.

In their preface, author Champion and former University of Calgary professor Flanagan stress that while contributors do not speak with a unanimous voice, “all authors in this collection agree on the main point: that no persuasive evidence has yet been offered by anyone for the existence of unmarked graves, missing children, murder or genocide in residential schools.”

As the title suggests, the book examines not only the claims of mass graves of missing children from the schools, but the media buy-in that, in large part, drove the social panic.

Why did the international media, politicians and, indeed, Canadian Catholics fall so hard for a story that is now being likened to the “Satanic panic” of the 1980s and ’90s?

Jonathan Kay, Canadian editor of Quillette, in an essay originally published in the online journal, writes that, “I was one of many Canadians who initially got swept up with all of this — in large part because it seemed as if everyone in the media was speaking with one voice, including journalists I’d known and respected for many years.”

Unfortunately, despite the widely available research referenced by the authors of Grave Error, journalists continue to couch their reporting in language reminiscent of the summer of 2021.

On Jan. 10, 2024, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) finally turned its attention to the dozens of Canadian churches that have been “torched and burned” and the dozens more that have been vandalized since the summer of 2021.

On the day the story aired, David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador to the People’s Republic of China and past president of Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College, posted the article to X/Twitter, noting that though coverage of the church burnings was long overdue, it was an example of “journalism CBC style.”

When Mulroney was asked why he is concerned by the tenor of the reporting, he responded that “the approach the journalist took was both familiar and disappointing.”

“Although we learned a few details about what seems a half-hearted police investigation, we’re also told that a ‘researcher and some community leaders suggest Canada’s colonial history and recent discoveries of potential burial sites at former residential schools may have lit the fuse.’”

But as Glavin, Champion, Flanagan, Rouillard, Green and others challenging the “mass graves” story are revealing, what Canada has experienced since May, 2021 is less a fuse than a fusion of political opportunism, sensational-cum-lazy journalism, anti-Catholic animus, and the spreading of now proven falsehoods to exploit the lives of innocent children – the living and the dead.

(Editor’s note: This essay was posted originally at The Catholic Herald site on February 2, 2024, and is reposted here in slightly different form by kind permission of the author.)


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About Anna Farrow 6 Articles
Anna Farrow is a Montreal-based writer and columnist for The Catholic Register.

36 Comments

  1. Fear and loathing in Ottawa [and without prejudice in NYS]. Did my master’s at Ottawa U, loved Canada both Anglophone and French. Hated the ingrained prejudice toward Catholicism from Anglophone and French [it was during the time of the Quebec FLQ and the turn in Quebec against the Church]. First week at class the Parliament area was surrounded by armored cars, tanks, troopers. Pierre LaPorte, deputy minister of Quebec was murdered by his FLQ captors by strangulation with his leg chain. Early reports said it was with his cross necklace. Pierre Trudeau Justin’s father was PM at the time. A likeable liberal who I met with his lovely wife by accident at a movie theatre.
    Later, Stateside as a missionary in a diocese with the largest Native American population there were similar, less inflammatory accusations made against the Church by a variety of sources including some opportunist Native Americans seeking reparation. Insofar as Canada PM Justin Trudeau exceeds his father in liberal ideology to the point of wackiness with visions of a transsex new world order. Unfortunately we also have Biden.

  2. So, after years of hysteria and a Pope’s groveling apology, there is yet no proof of murders of any sort? I have a genuine problem with accusations made 25 to 100 years after the fact. When proof of a crime cannot be genuinely obtained and the accused are either dead or unable to defend themselves due to the amount of elapsed time. It is true these children suffered the removal of their culture and language and that was exceedingly wrong.That is a great deal different than mass murder. Or even occasional murder. Is it possible the mass murders never happened? Why have the bodies not been produced? Is it because the media hype combined with white guilt makes it more politically beneficial to keep fomenting a lie? It should be quite easy to find hundreds of bodies in a field, if such actually exist. For some decades now, both Canada and the US have allowed itself to have emotion and not facts run the table on governmental response to accusations involving minorities. This to the detriment of both nations as a whole. The “reasoning” appears to be: all accusations, no matter how bizarre or unprovable, must be believed. Further. no evidence need be collected. Then pile on the media and minority activists, who make a living in shoveling these accusations for a price. It doesnt matter if the accused (often dead at this point) are the ones punished. Its more than fine to punish their descendants or facsimilies who had nothing at all to do with the incidents in question, and are in fact not guilty of anything. For example, see the Catholics whose 100 churches have been burned or vandalized in Canada, and the US, where black activists have been pushing for slavery “reparations”, to be paid to those who were never slaves,payment to be extorted from whites who were never slave owners. In fact,an attempt will be made to extract payment from the descendants of many whites whose families often arrived on these shores long after slavery had been abolish.

    Its time to call a halt to ANY accusations that exceed 25 years old, on the simple basis that they cannot be fairly tried and ajudicated. And most of all, blame cannot be placed on descendants of accused who had nothing to do with the crime.No matter the crime, at this point ,100 or more years after the fact, it is indeed time to get over it and move on.

    • We have proof of over 4000 dead at the hands of the residential school system, over 1900 of them undocumented and buried in unmarked graves.

        • Please see the wikipedia article “Canadian Indian residential school gravesites” it contains a vast collection of sources, some even containing photos of the remains.

          We’ve been finding these unmarked gravesites since the 70s, there is no excuse for ignorance here.

          • “No excuse for ignorance”? There is no proof and the Truth and Reconciliation report provides no truth or proof either, just passed down stories from ‘elders’. You’ll have to excuse me if I DON’T use Wikipedia as a source of integrity as most adults don’t. NOT ONE BODY HAS BEEN FOUND.

          • Imagine my shock that the immediate source you jump to in such a claim is Wikipedia.

            A serious study of these deaths that looks into their actual original sources will quickly uncover that deaths at the residential schools take place in communities where there is high adolescent mortality and in particular where tuberculosis is rampant. These details are almost always deliberately ignored to craft a narrative that priests and nuns murdered children at the schools. It’s shameful.

      • Inflammatory statements are not proof. Not a single grave has been unearthed. As someone whose family has been here for 400 years and has done extensive genealogy research, I can tell you that graves do not last as long as we wish they would. Grave markers in the early centuries were perishable and crude,often wood, decaying with time.This is not a sign of anything more nefarious than the ravages of normal decay. Further, as medicine was rudimentary during this period, LOTS of people , especially the vulnerable aged and the young, died of all sorts of things: measles, typhus, a simple infection, dysentery, or a wound which became infected in an era before antibiotics. Folks had tons of kids back than because so many didnt survive to adulthood. You may not like the reality but thats the truth. Further, since you are on this site I assume you are Catholic?? Clergy and religious devote their lives to following the rules set down by God. How do you square nuns, priests, and representatives of the church, who are ALL well acquainted with the 10 commandments, including that one about “thou shalt not kill”, going about slaughtering 4,000 small children? All this while NOBODY spoke about it at all to others? Yeah, that as believable as the accusation that Donald Trump is a Russian agent. An hysterical lie repeated over and over until it gains traction STILL does not make it true. If at some point Canadian authorities DO unearth bodies, it will STILL not mean those kids were murdered until it’s proven.

    • There were excavations done at several sites. Two bodies were found but they were determined to have been there approximately 100 years before the school and were believed to have been Irish settlers. No other bodies have been found. There are many unmarked graves in the abandoned/neglected/forgotten graveyards on First Nations reservations today because as the wooden crosses disintegrated, no one replaced them as this former chief states of her own reservation graveyard. https://globalnews.ca/news/7996606/cranbrook-residential-school-graves-chief/

  3. The really disturbing thing to me is the speed with which Canadians, especially Catholics, swallowed what has turned out to be a media blitz.

    • We Canucks received media reports that the underground radar was carried out properly with legitimate evidence of bodies. Turns out we were lied to by the media reporting on it, and unfortunately by our prime minister who should have asked for hard evidence before acting and did not – the anti-Catholic crusade continues. Our dioceses collected thousands of dollars to pay the outstanding 32 million years ago owing in an agreement to the indigenous groups across Canada- not sure if it has been paid out as of yet. Not a peep about apologies from the feds- I guess we are that polite and nice anymore.

  4. One problem with reparations is that you are (now) basically just printing the money. When slavery existed or these other crimes against humanity money was tied to gold.

  5. The people using ground penetrating radar should be restrained and made to pay. First, they should not be allowed to announce suspected findings without hard evidence – no announcements without bones in hand. Second, they should be made to pay for damages, issue apologies, and perhaps have their licences removed. Also, native leaders should not be so quick to condemn and should give endless apologies and admit that their hatred of non-natives is a deeply held sin that will continue to separate them from the rest of humanity.
    As I already once before posted at this site that I, from my experience at student residences in BC and Alberta did not and do not think that any of the claims had validity. As a representative of “Indian Affairs” at the time it was my job to inspect and hire for student residences. These were always happy places. The students looked forward every year to meet their friends. There was joy in the air. The teachers were yearly happy to rejoin their students. Contrary to the claims that the schools were being taught to lose their cultures and adopt ‘white’ ways, it was the ‘white’ teachers who researched and wrote / created the books and stories that still provide the truest insights into what native culture as truly like. And, it was a part of my responsibility to ferret out problems and eliminate them. We had dedicated teachers who loved their children. The haters in our medieval would (I include governments, journalists, politicians, universities as a part of this mess) who think that their virtue is to be marked by a hatred with no connections to reality. We need an annual day of praise for those who worked so happily and hard to bring happiness to native children.

  6. It reminds me of the Tuuam burials in Ireland. There were indeed many infants & young children who succumbed to infectious disease in institutions during that era but the story began circulating that one order of Catholic nuns were doing away with illegitimate children & chucking them into a septic tank. Whether the structure was originally a burial vault or a repurposed septic tank, I don’t know but I’ve read that death certificates were found for almost 800 deceased infants & nothing has indicated foul play. Just a revealing commentary on the poverty, health, & social issues of Ireland at that time.
    And it’s likely a similar case in Canada. Could things have been carried out in a better, more culturally respectful way? Absolutely. Was there harm done intentionally to cause children’s deaths? Probably not.

    • There’s a book calles “@tuambabies: a Critical Look at the Tuam Children’s Home Scandal, by Brian Nugent, that is quite informative. Some information here : https://www.catholicarena.com/latest/tuam

      Isn’t it interesting that so many of the same people wailing about the poor murdered babies and children (with no actual archaeological evidence of any such thing) look complacently at the millions of babies slaughtered by abortion and see nothing wrong with it.

      • Thank you so much Leslie for providing that link.
        Yes, it does say something when folks are outraged about infants who died from the effects of infectious disease & poverty but they have no compassion for those intentionally killed in the womb. Only when it’s a situation that casts the Church in a bad light do we hear outrage.
        Ireland was the poorest nation in Europe at the time of independence & the Church was the only institution available to take on social programs. Imagine if the Church had not stepped in? You’d likely see higher infant mortality rates & unwed mothers giving birth in ditches, etc. Something like what we see now in homeless populations.
        I have Irish & Scottish ancestors & people were extremely poor right up until rather recently. Some homes just had a length of rope separating the livestock from where the family slept at night. A hole in the roof let out the smoke from the fire. It was a whole different world.

  7. Typically before one writes an article, they do the bare minimum of research, but I guess Anna is anything but typical.

    Since the 1970s, the undocumented remains of over 1900 people, mostly children, have been found in unmarked graves across the country. That’s just the undocumented victims, if we include the documented victims we see well over 4000 dead at the hands of the residential school system. The catholic church is complicit in the genocide of Canadian indigenous people and there’s no way to pretend it isn’t.

    I am ashamed that this article was written at all, but even more ashamed that it comes from a fellow Canadian.

    • Brian;

      Your statement – “The Catholic Church is complicit in the genocide of Canadian indigenous people and there’s no way to pretend it isn’t.”

      That is a rather strong statement – what PROOF do you have of it?

      • My proof is their involvement with the schools at all. They were a tool of genocide that stripped children of their cultural backgrounds and forced them to be like the Europeans that ran them.

        If you want proof of the dead, it’s available with sources containing photos on the Wikipedia article “Canadian Indian residential school gravesites” (i won’t post a link because the moderator might flag it as spam and not post it).

        • Brian, you are aware that Indigenous leaders at the time negotiated education in the treaties, right? The fur trade was dying and they wanted their kids educated. Treaty 4 is an excellent example. Even to this day, culture is taught at home, not school and English or French are the instructional languages.

      • Remember, leftist ideologues don’t recognize facts. It must have been genocide because I feel really strongly about this!!!”🙄

    • I don’t have any experience with Canadian residential schools but I do have first hand experience with unmarked graves. Those were a common feature in 19th & early 20th century institutions & amongst the poor. We had a family cemetery on our farm with a number of unmarked graves. You could only make out the gravesites from the depressions where the earth had sunk after the coffins rotted way. There was no other identification.

    • Brian, you seem rather quick to judge Anna of not doing research yet you provide none to back up your statements. There are many unmarked graves in reservation graveyards because the wooden crosses were never replaced due to erosion. There is no proof what-so-ever that any of these children were murdered but much proof they died of disease as did children of all races at the time, prior to vaccinations and proper sanitation that we all take for granted now. Please provide your proof or you just look foolish.

  8. “Not a single mass grave was discovered in Canada last year.”

    In other words – IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.

    Why is the word ‘hoax’ “too strong” to describe this? I would argue that it is not strong enough.

  9. “Ground Disturbances” Science often does not sit upon “solid ground”. The result is hysteria, and egg on many faces. Resultant emotional reactions lead to vandalism, etc.
    Oh, the Outrage. We could say that science can be quite “judgmental”?

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