Canada's mass graves scandal is looking more like a modern-day blood libel

Kurt Mahlburg
September 7, 2023
Reproduced with Permission

A four-week excavation near the Pine Creek Residential School in Manitoba, Canada, has uncovered no human remains.

It is the third excavation of a residential school site supposedly containing mass graves of Indigenous children that has turned up no results.

The schools were run by religious groups from the 1840s to the 1960s, after which time they were taken over by Canada's now-defunct residential school system. The last one closed in 1996.

Canada's latest discovery, or lack thereof, calls into serious question one of the biggest media feeding frenzies of the modern era.

Starting in 2021, Canada came under the grip of a great moral panic over the so-called residential school gravesite scandal. Ground-penetrating radar had allegedly uncovered the remains of more than 1,000 people at the sites three former residential schools that housed and educated Indigenous children.

Canada's latest discovery, or lack thereof, calls into serious question one of the biggest media feeding frenzies of the modern era.

It began when leaders of the Tk'emlups band in British Columbia announced the discovery of a mass grave of some 215 Indigenous children in May of that year.

A month later, in June, another Indigenous group said they had found the remains of 751 people, mostly children, at the site of a former school in the province of Saskatchewan.

Then in July, the Penelakut Tribe of British Columbia said it had uncovered about 160 undocumented and unmarked graves.

The barely-whispered fine print in each of these announcements - and in most corporate press reporting on the subject - was that no graves had been physically located or unearthed at all. Rather, radar had detected anomalies and disturbances in the soil, which were assumed to be the graves of children.

Such an assumption was not entirely unfounded: research conducted in 2015 suggested historically high rates of child deaths at residential schools due to disease. Researcher Dr Scott Hamilton described the late 19th century, when the death rate was highest, as a time of "comparatively undeveloped health care, with epidemiologically vulnerable Indigenous populations coming into sustained contact with Euro-Canada newcomers."



All nuance and perspective were left for dead by Canadian politicians, activists and journalists, as news of the alleged atrocity went global. Even in far-flung Australia, taxpayers footed the bill for half a dozen stories and a 30-minute documentary on the subject thanks to ABC News.

That the story followed so closely on the heels of the 2020 George Floyd riots gave it particular traction.

Race hustlers came out in force. The theatrics were impressive. Almost every major news outlet in Canada reported the mass graves claims as unquestioned fact.

Canada Day was effectively cancelled. Instead, marauding bands tore down statues, including monuments to Captain Cook, Queen Victoria, and the then-reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered all flags on federal buildings nationwide be flown at half mast to honour the "215 children whose lives were taken at the Kamloops residential school". Only six months later, on Remembrance Day, did the decree come to an end, making it the longest period in Canadian history the flag has remained at half-mast.

Pope Francis made a pilgrimage all the way to Alberta, where he gave a lengthy apology, saying he was "deeply sorry" for all that had taken place. "I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians," he said.

Soon, Canada was overwhelmed by a wave of anti-Christian violence. Radical activists vandalised and even burned down churches across Canada's prairies, most of them Catholic, and many attended by Indigenous Canadians and located on tribal lands. By the time the dust had settled, at least 83 churches had been targeted, 35 of them with fire. Statistics Canada later recorded a 260 percent increase in hate crimes against Catholics for the year.

A former top advisor of Trudeau's called the acts of arson "understandable". The head of a British Columbia civil liberties group tweeted, "burn it all down", as did the Chair of the Newfoundland Canadian Bar Association Branch.

A high-profile lawyer even called for "residential school denialism" to be added to Canada's Criminal Code.

All for what?

Still to this day, no graves have been found, no bodies uncovered.

What Canada has experienced is less the discovery of historic colonial atrocities, and more the frenzy of a modern-day blood libel.

Will anyone - politicians, academics, editors, the Pope - correct the record? We'll wait.