A key strength of the Western world is the ability to ask questions and get to the truth through debate. We ignore that at our peril.
Something that we seem to have forgotten lately is that the power given to one party while in government will inevitably be used when a new party is in power.
This is a key feature of democracies, and it is supposed to be a check against the tendency of human organizations to amass more and more power at the expense of their opponents.
After all, if you remain aware that the power you use against others could one day be used against yourself, you should – in theory – be less likely to grab for more power.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be something that is on the minds of the current Liberal government.
Legislation like Bill C-11, C-18, and upcoming legislation to regulate ‘legal but harmful content,’ all greatly expands the power of the government in a way that could easily be one day turned around against the left-wing groups the Liberals claim to support.
A vastly more powerful CRTC could be filled with Conservative appointees who would then use government power to suppress left-wing viewpoints.
Similarly, ‘legal but harmful’ content is wildly open to interpretation, and a Conservative government could interpret it in a way that only impacts anti-Conservative views.
But that doesn’t seem to dissuade the Liberals.
They act as if they will be in power forever. Thus, they think in the short-term, about what new powers they can grab, without thinking of the long-term consequences of grabbing those new powers.
‘Residential School Denialism’?
That brings us to some concerning developments from the past week.
There is a growing move on the part of the Liberal government to criminalize what they are calling ‘residential school denialism.’
First proposed by Kimberly Murray, the government-appointed ‘special interlocutor on unmarked graves’, the idea would be to make it a criminal offense to be a ‘residential school denialist.’
Justice minister David Lametti has responded favourably to that idea:
“Murray said Canada has a role to play to combat this sentiment and that “urgent consideration” should be given to what legal tools exist to address the problem, including both civil and criminal sanctions.
“They have the evidence. The photos of burials. The records that prove that kids died. It is on their shoulders,” Murray told a crowd gathered Friday in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.
“The government of Canada and the churches must step up,” Murray said.
Lametti, who appointed Murray to her role and joined the event in Cowessess First Nation by video conference on Friday, said that he is open to all possibilities to fighting residential-school denialism.
He said that includes “a legal solution and outlawing it,” adding that Canada can look to other countries that have criminalized Holocaust denial.”
Liberal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller also expressed support for criminalization of what he called ‘residential school denialism’:
“This is obscene. Residential School denialism isn’t just idle talk. It is a malignant attempt to deny the pain and suffering of Indigenous people. In its extreme form, it is criminal in nature and in all cases needs to be confronted directly.”
This is obscene. Residential School denialism isn’t just idle talk. It is a malignant attempt to deny the pain and suffering of Indigenous people. In its extreme form, it is criminal in nature and in all cases needs to be confronted directly. #cdnpoli https://t.co/BPqwDNsjrL
— Marc Miller (@MarcMillerVM) June 17, 2023
There is a real danger here.
And the danger is that criminalizing what is being referred to as ‘residential school denialism’ would be a significant infringement on freedom of expression. It is also a very vague and ill-defined term, meaning a vast swath of society could be criminalized.
For example, consider this excerpt of an article from a publication of the University of British Columbia on ‘combatting residential school denialism’:
“But lack of accurate historical knowledge is not the only barrier to truth and genuine reconciliation. There are a handful of figures — former senator Lynn Beyak, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, Conrad Black and others — who have openly engaged in denialism.
Residential school denialism is not the outright denial of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system’s existence, but rather the rejection or misrepresentation of basic facts about residential schooling to undermine truth and reconciliation efforts.
Residential school denialists employ an array of rhetorical arguments. The end game of denialism is to obscure truth about Canada’s IRS system in ways that ultimately protect the status quo as well as guilty parties.”
By this definition, the former leader of the Official Opposition – and the winner of the popular vote in the 2021 federal election – would be a criminal.
Now, let’s turn our attention to an article from October 22, 2021. It’s titled “No remains uncovered at former Camsell Hospital site,” and it’s from CBC. The most relevant section is below:
“Crews wrapped up the search for unmarked graves at the site of the former Camsell Hospital on Friday after no human remains were found.
The facility was used to treat Indigenous people with tuberculosis for decades and some believed former patients may have been buried on the grounds. The site located at 128th Street and 114th Avenue has been slated for the construction of residential properties.
Thirteen spots flagged by ground-penetrating radar were dug up earlier this summer. Over the past two days another 21 such anomalies were uncovered but only found debris.
No further searches of the site are planned.”
Would this be considered ‘denialism’?
Was CBC asking “too many questions?”
How could the search of the Camsell Hospital site have even happened if questions weren’t asked in the first place? Someone had to actually question whether or not there were bodies buried at the site, and those questions had to lead to a debate which then led to a search. There would have been no way of knowing the truth if questions hadn’t been asked. And if questions weren’t asked – if it was just assumed that rumors of bodies at the site were true – then the truth would have been obscured.
Criminalizing the act of asking questions would make it impossible to find the truth.
The manipulative use of the word ‘denialism’
There is a very manipulative game being played here. The attempt to label asking legitimate questions about potential burial sites as ‘denialism’ is an attempt to link those asking questions to those who deny the Holocaust.
As World War Two came to an end, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered massive documentation of liberated death camps to ensure that nobody in the future could claim it didn’t take place. Mass graves were found, open pits filled with bodies, vast documentation by Germany of who was killed, where they were killed, and when they were killed was found. The ovens and gas chambers were found. Survivors spoke out about what happened, perpetrators were arrested and many confessed. The evidence was and remains undeniable, and only the most deranged and vile individuals claim otherwise.
To equate the denial of such massive evidence to Canadians asking for potential burial sites to be investigated is an insult, and it’s a disgusting tactic that has no place in Canada.
A dangerous assault on freedom of thought and expression
If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you’ve likely noticed that I often return to the theme of the values that built the Western world being under attack.
I mention it often, because I am genuinely concerned that we are forgetting and in some cases rejecting the values and principles that made Western societies the most prosperous and free in the world.
One of those values is freedom of expression, and all that freedom of expression entails. By being able to ask questions, by being able to debate, we hone ideas into more and more refined forms, and we test out ways of doing things to let reality be the ultimate judge.
This contrasts with other societies that are often more concerned with ‘saving face,’ or protecting the reputation of the leader, or ‘preserving social harmony,’ all of which are nice ways of saying that open discussion, criticism, and debate are unwelcome. Those societies tend to be poorer, less advanced, less free, and prone to making a few catastrophic mistakes, rather than the constant but easily correctable mistakes we see in freer Western nations.
Using the criminal code to make ‘residential school denialism’ a criminal code offense would thus be completely incompatible with the values of the Western world, and would push us further down the path of being a country where people are afraid to speak their minds and where arbitrary government power could be used against those who ‘step out of line.’
That’s not the kind of country we should want to be.
Photo – YouTube