“Mass graves” claim which led to church burnings was fake news

In Summer 2021 Canada had what was described as its “George Floyd moment.” This came with the apparent discovery of mass graves of indigenous people, mostly children. Estimates of the numbers buried in what were claimed to be unmarked sites ranged into the thousands, with the confident assertion that many more would be discovered.

There had been earlier investigations into deaths at residential homes which had reported that most of the graves were of children who had died of tuberculosis and other diseases before the 1950s. The issue was revived at the end of May last year with reports of more than 1,300 unmarked graves of children being found at different sites.

That led to accusations of genocide and violence directed particularly against the Catholic Church in Canada which had been in charge of many of the homes. The homes had been formally under the control of the Department of Indian Affairs but, similarly to such state institutions in Ireland and elsewhere, were largely administered by various Christian denominations.

Dozens of churches were burnt during the violence that erupted, and Canada experienced the same sort of national interrogation into racism that had ensued upon the death of George Floyd, and which had led to similar demands for exculpation in many other western societies including our own.

The only problem with all of this was that nothing new was actually discovered last year, and none of the new claims that were made have been substantiated. This is all succinctly set out in a piece by Terry Glavin that was published on Thursday by the Canadian National Post:

None of that mattered of course and Prime Minister Trudeau was shown in a photograph, syndicated worldwide, in which he is said to be placing a teddy bear at the site of one of the unmarked residential home graves.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Except that he was not. The grave site is a local Catholic cemetery in which indigenous and non-indigenous people are buried. Nine residents of a former school had died in the home at Cowessess over the course of a century but this was not the graveyard attached to the school. That was made clear to the media by the Chief of the Cowessess First Nation, but the Washington Post and others ran with a headline referring to 751 newly discovered graves. It, at least, subsequently corrected one of its stories.

It should also be pointed out that none of the actual site investigators made or supported any of the claims of secret burials and vastly greater numbers. Of course, none of that mattered. The Canadian liberal left and their far-left violent allies had an excuse to embark on a similar campaign to the Black Lives Matter and Antifa campaign south of the border.

Similar to this country, it became a handy hook on which to hang demands for the expropriation of Catholic Church property and its further demonization and marginalisation in societies which, as the late Desmond Fennell pointed out in the 1980s, had won the battle for secularism a long time ago.

One Canadian lawyer even publicly advocated the burning down of Catholic churches, and to “dismantle it completely.”

Gerald Butts, one of Trudeau’s key advisors, said that the burning of churches, while not to be advised, was “understandable.”

As Glavin points out, the truth in no way diminishes the undoubted ill treatment of Canada’s indigenous people, mostly during the period when the country was a British or French colony. The fact that tuberculosis accounted for 900, approximately one third, of the deaths between 1867 and 2000 indicates that the children would have been better off left with their own families.

The same can be said of the experience of children in the workhouse system that existed in Ireland and indeed Britain itself in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We also know from the terrible things that took place in Catholic and other religious run institutions here, that placing children under the “care” of mostly adult males with no biological connection to them is unjustifiable in almost any circumstance.

Similar stories have emerged from state institutions across the world from the former socialist states to modern China; to the state residential homes in Britain – which many would claim have not yet undergone the same level of investigation as took place in Ireland for example – and to the Swedish fosterage system where over 25,000 cases of abuse were being investigated in 2020.

It is human nature and the evil that dwells in individual human beings that is responsible. Not any religion or ideology or race, although undoubtedly there are individuals who will consciously use positions of power granted to them under one or other of those rubrics in order to exploit others.

There is also the issue of how the past is used deliberately in order to bolster particular political projects. Exaggerated statistics – and false statistics – as well as misleading terms such as “mass graves”, no evidence of which was found in Canada and there are no verifiable examples associated with residential homes in Ireland, are deployed in order to further those agendas.

Irish people ought to be aware of this as such means have been used in the past and are currently in use to further a particular jaundiced or sanitised version of the past in order to add spurious support for what is being sought now.

One example is the manner in which, as was pointed out by Joe Lee, certain historians in the 1970s and 1980s were subsequently proven to have been under-estimating the numbers of people who died in the Gorta Mór. As Lee himself said, this was obviously connected to the politically motivated intellectual movement against Irish nationalism.

However, it also had arguably more sinister implications in claiming that much of our history was “myth.” After all, if historians such as Tom Garvin and Mary Daly were claiming that “only” 500,000 people had died then why stop there? Why not lower the estimate to 300,000, or less? What undermined this dubious project was the work by Joel Mokyr whose actual statistical research came up with an estimate of between 1,100,000 and 1,500,000 deaths.

I refer to this solely for the purposes of demonstrating that even the most exaggerated distortions, fabricated for specific political ends, can be overturned. What that takes of course is not only the forensic skills of people like Mokyr – who had no dog in the Irish historiographical fight – but the determination on the part of those who are the target of the distortions to put forward their case on the basis of facts.

That is what members of the communities in Canada and proper journalists like Glavin have done, although you will find no recognition of the changed narrative in the broader media. Just Google any search in relation to the Canadian residential homes if you disbelieve me.

Where this is relevant in the Irish context is that we have a similar almost universally accepted narrative around what took place in Tuam where there have been claims of mass graves, bodies thrown into septic tanks, and insinuations of basically something akin to widespread abuse leading to premature deaths.

All of that is too entangled to be dealt with here, but it needs to be. Otherwise, the original narrative from whatever source it emerged is uncontested and has already served its purpose in pushing the project it is part of that bit further along the road – as did the manipulation of events in the course of the referendum on abortion.

Of course, it does not help matters if those who are being attacked seem to lack the will or the capacity to defend themselves. Its as if they live in hope that if they continue to hand over their pocket money that the bullies will leave them alone. They will not. Not until they have broken you.

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