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7 Feb, 2022 15:08

Mass graves mystery shows the danger of the politics of hysteria

Mass graves mystery shows the danger of the politics of hysteria

When the anthropologist Sarah Beaulieu reported that she had found 215 unmarked graves near Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia last year, the story caused a sensation. A wave of hysteria engulfed the Canadian media and political landscape. But eight months later, mystery surrounds the case, as not a single body has been found – and it is unclear if there are any plans for excavation. 

What Beaulieu’s ground-penetrating radar scan found were 215 areas that showed soil disturbances such as tree roots, metal and stones – but not bodies. One bone and a tooth were discovered, but she acknowledged at the time that without conducting a proper forensic investigation no “definitive” conclusions could be drawn. Nevertheless, the media and the political class were quick to characterise what had been found as mass graves.

Soon it was claimed that Kamloops Indian Residential School was implicated in an act of genocide against First Nation People. Some moral crusaders presented the discovery as integral to the colonisation of Canada by Europeans. From their perspective, the history of Canada is a story of systematic genocide against the native population. The Catholic Church, which ran Kamloops and other residential schools for First Nation children, became the target of media hostility.

The narrative of mass murder was legitimised by the behaviour of the Canadian political class. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to Beaulieu’s claim by describing it as a “dark and shameful chapter” in the nation’s history.

On 30 May last year, the Canadian Government lowered the flag on its buildings to half mast. It also created a new holiday to honour “missing children” and survivors of residential schools.

As alarmist stories of genocidal behaviour escalated, 65 churches were set on fire and vandalised. The desecration of these places of worship were accepted as fully justified protest. Both Trudeau and Gerald Butts, a political consultant and former principal secretary to the prime minister, described the anti-Christian violence as “understandable”.

Throughout Canada, statues of the nation’s historical figures were attacked. In Montreal, the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, was overturned, his detached bronze head symbolically rolling on the ground. The statue of Queen Victoria in front of the Manitoba Legislature was knocked down. Numerous other statues were defaced and vandalised in an orgy of violence directed at Canada’s historical legacy.

Soon numerous other unsubstantiated claims were made about the discovery of other unmarked graves near residential schools. The historian Professor Jacques Rouillard was one of the few academics who sought to expose the lack of evidence behind the Kamloops story that had sparked the hysteria. He criticised media outlets for further hyping things up “by alleging that the bodies of 215 children had been found, adding that ‘thousands’ of children had ‘gone missing’ from residential schools and that parents had not been informed.”

Those who pointed out that not one body had been found in Kamloops were even denounced as genocide deniers. Writing in The Toronto Star, K.J. McCusker stated that the call for bodies “of residential schoolchildren is nothing more than a racist rant bordering on genocide denial”. And he added that “what happened in residential schools is not about the evidence. This kind of trolling is part of genocide, as are the actual crimes”. From this perspective, not only is evidence unimportant, the very demand for it is integral to the furthering of genocide.

The cavalier use of the term “genocide” to describe an as-yet unsubstantiated claim about an unmarked mass grave is disturbing. The hysterical tone adopted by those who are so free with the term speaks to the moral disintegration of public life in Canada. But it isn’t confined to the use of “genocide”. The behaviour of Catholic Residential Schools was also likened to a Holocaust. In a statement that implicitly insults the genuine victims of the Holocaust, one commentator wrote, “It is hard and painful for me to say that the discovery of the graves of the children in Kamloops may be Canada’s Holocaust moment”.

There is something terrifying about the casual manner with which the memory of the Holocaust is opportunistically plundered to make a point about the discovery of a soil disturbance. To make matters worse, the authority of academic historians has been exploited to legitimate the use of the term “genocide”. In the wake of Kamloops, a statement issued by the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) stated that the “history of violence against indigenous peoples fully warrants the use of the word ‘genocide’.”

In response, a group of historians wrote an open letter criticising the statement in which they admonished the CHA for purporting to “promote a single ‘consensus’ history of Canada,” and adding, “with this coercive tactic, the CHA Council is acting as an activist organization and not as a professional body of scholars.”

But the reality is there has been little concerted effort to counter the alarmist campaign designed to rewrite Canada’s past as a protracted era of genocide. Public figures who ought to know better have become accomplices of the campaign to shame the country’s past. Instead of countering the outburst of anti-Catholic sentiment, leaders of the Church opted for the policy of appeasement.

When Trudeau demanded that the Pope come to Canada and apologise in person, many church leaders nodded in agreement. Father Raymond de Souza was one of the few religious figures who spoke against the grovelling Canadian bishops and pointed out that some of his colleagues had forgotten the meaning of the word sacrilege.

The history of mass hysteria and of witch hunts has shown that unless it is countered, society will fall prey to moral corruption and decay. Looking at Canada and the behaviour of its political leaders and cultural elite, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it has become a nation that has lost its way.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.