Of charlatans, Conrad Black and Canada’s genocide denial

The éminence grise of Canada's conservatives went on a Canada Day rant that exemplifies just how out of touch the right is on Canada's residential schools shame


Conrad Black has a thing for charlatans. He refers to them often in his prose. 

He was at it again on Saturday in the National Post, deriding those who had been calling for reflection instead of the usual flag-waving fireworks on Canada Day. We have been “bewitched.”

Black is apparently unmoved by the recent discoveries of the mass graves of more than 1,000 Indigenous children at the former sites of four (and counting) so-called Indian Residential Schools. So, too, it seems, are the majority of his fans. Of the more than 253 comments on Black’s story by Saturday afternoon, most are of the predictable variety agreeing with Black and others too offensive to mention.

Black’s penchant for pomposity is well known. He’s also a bit of a windbag, which is to say that he’s paid to offer his opinions, even if they may not always be grounded in facts.

But as a senior columnist for the largest newspaper chain in Canada – and éminence grise of Canada’s conservative movement – you’d think Black would display a little tact when talking about the discovery of unmarked mass graves. That may be too much to ask of someone who was pardoned for fraud by Donald Trump after writing a glowing book about the former president. But Black should know better. He’s supposed to be a historian.

Still, his views are noteworthy for what they say about just how out of touch the conservative right has become when it comes to our nation’s residential schools shame. “Righteous self-hate,” Black hollers. The denial runs deep. It’s a little like the denial we’ve come to associate with the Holocaust. (Just so we are clear, I’m not drawing a direct comparison here, except on the denial part.) Here, too, Black has some odious connections to account for, but back to the subject of Canada’s genocide.

The UN is on record as calling Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples genocide. Desmond Tutu was calling it apartheid back in the 1990s.

Did more than 6,000 Indigenous children die in Indian Residential Schools? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report says that’s a conservative estimate.

Archeological research conducted for the commission found records documenting 3,213 deaths, but suggests the number is much higher, noting that official records weren’t kept on deaths for the first seven decades that the schools were in operation. At its height, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were enrolled in Canada’s residential schools.

Systemic racism? Doesn’t exist in Canada, argues Black, who writes that, “There should also be a supplement to the Truth and Reconciliation report on Indigenous residential schools that more accurately reflects the nuances of the information adduced. It was a time when child mortality rates in all groups were much higher than they are now.”

In other words, it’s really not as bad as Canadians have been led to believe. 

Black says he’s no racist. He points out that he actually advocates a “radical rethinking” of Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples. Only it’s not the kind Indigenous leaders have been calling for that recognizes treaties and nation-to-nation negotiations. It’s more about ending what Black calls the “aboriginal victimhood industry” and those alleged billions in handouts wasted over the years. You get the drift. 

What this country would like to see is a return to the kinds of policies espoused by the erstwhile Reform Party – namely, to get rid of government ministries overseeing Indigenous affairs and “a complete makeover of native policy which should cease to be guilt-ridden and instead focus on assisting those natives who wish more fully to integrate in Canadian society.” As for those who don’t, Black says that those individuals should be assisted “in a way that is sustainable.”

I remember being at those early Reform conventions and the general attitude toward Canada’s Indigenous peoples was “we won, get over it.”

But as more Canadians are discovering, it wasn’t quite that simple. Along with conquest came genocide. We didn’t just subjugate Indigenous peoples, we forcibly confined them to reservations and took away their way of life. We cut off their food supply to starve them into submission. We abducted their children. We beat the Indian out of the child, as John A. Macdonald had ordained, to the point that Indigenous children were taught to hate their culture and their parents. 

Black (and others) are bemoaning how white people are supposedly being taught to hate themselves and their culture, yet he has nothing to say about that exact thing being done to Indigenous kids.

The fallout from residential school abuses is being felt today in the number of Indigenous people in the foster care system, the number living in poverty, and prison incarceration and high school dropout rates, all of which far exceed national averages. 

But according to Black, there is no need to listen to the voices calling for recognition of the suffering of Indigenous peoples. Or the need to rethink reminders of Canada’s crimes. He describes the recent decision to remove John A’s statue from a park in Kingston as “an unmitigated disgrace perpetrated by cowards, poseurs and idiots.”

Black rightly sings the praises of Canada as one of the most successful parliamentary democracies in the world. It’s a decidedly different tune than the one he was singing after he gave up his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to become a British Lord. But I digress. We’re right up there, says Black, with the great democracies of the world – the UK and U.S. – only without the baggage of colonialism and slavery. 

That should be nothing to write home about given how deeply divided both countries are along political lines at the moment. After four years of Trump, Americans are also re-evaluating their attachment to the flag as a symbol of unity. For Canadians, there are some hard truths to face, too.

@enzodimatteo

Brand Voices

8 responses to “Of charlatans, Conrad Black and Canada’s genocide denial”

  1. “We’re right up there, says Black, with the great democracies of the world – the UK and U.S.
    – only without the baggage of colonialism and slavery.”

    Willful ignorance (on both counts), tone deafness, pathetic satire, obvious falsehoods,
    deliberate misleading … It’s hard to characterize the depths of this ridiculous claim
    — from someone who claims to be a historian, no less.

  2. kinda curious how does conrad intend to better integrate with real Canadian society ?
    (actually, who cares ? let that blowhard blow to distant shores instead)

  3. I am disappointed that your paper would even give platform to the likes of Black who is a convicted criminal, guilty of defrauding his own shareholders. The fact that he is even allowed to spew his radical Conservative hate garbage in Canada is a disgrace to the country. As most informed Canadians know, the NP is no more than a Conservative mouthpiece with no credible sources…shameful “journalism”.After denouncing his Canadian citizenship and ultimately being forced out of the UK in disgrace, convicted and jailed in the US, he managed to ass-kiss Harper to be allowed back to Canada. …unbelievable that he is given even a shred of credibility! The scum is not even worthy of recognition

  4. How about an article on the Belgium atrocities and slave trading! 15 million genocided!!!“The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State,” describes US author Peter Forbath in ‘The River Congo’, a classic on the region’s exploration. “Collecting hands became an end in itself. Soldiers of the Force Publique (the local “army”, paid by Leopold II) brought the hands to the stations, instead of rubber”.

    To make up for the low production, troops began to use hands as currency – chopping them was a way of punishing workers who did not fulfill their quotas, and, at the same time, served to show that soldiers were doing their part in exerting pressure over the local population to ensure the fulfillment of these quotas.

  5. Any comments on Black’s irony or insensitivity on that article were either attacked or blocked from view. When I outlined his fraud history, my comment was found not to meet community standards.

  6. National Post refuses to post my comment on Conrad’s rant:

    “…mortality rates in all groups were much higher than they are now.”
    Could anyone be more lazy and glib, Conrad?

    Did other children face these conditions:
    · Forbidden to speak their Aboriginal languages · Required to speak English or French · Required to adopt religious denomination of the school · Forced style of prayer consistent with school denomination · Forced haircut, or shaved head · Use of toxic chemical to clean children’s hair and skin · Forced to wear uniform as designed by the school · Forced to shower, no access to bath tubs · Lack of nutritious diet · Insufficient quantities of food · Served spoiled food · Segregation based on gender: brothers and sisters no contact · Sexual assault · Forced abortions · Electrical shock
    · Force-feeding of own vomit when sick · Exposure to freezing outside temperatures with improper clothing · Withholding of medical attention · Exposure to contagious illness: students with tuberculosis not segregated · Forced labour in unsafe work environments · Vilification of cultural traditions · Use of racist language to address students · Withholding presents and letters from family · Needles inserted into tongues for speaking their language · Leather strap used to hit on various areas of body · Beating with fists · Burning and scalding hands · Inflicting beatings until unconscious · Starvation · Shaming · Public beatings of naked children · Public strip search · Genital search · Sexual abuse · Locking in closets, cages, and basements

    ~Overview of the Indian Residential School System, 2013, Union of Ontario Indians
    https://bit.ly/3wwc3sa

  7. Here’s the supplement:

    Children were/subject to:

    “· Forbidden to speak their Aboriginal languages · Required to speak English or French · Required to adopt religious denomination of the school · Forced style of prayer consistent with school denomination · Forced haircut, or shaved head · Use of toxic chemical to clean children’s hair and skin · Forced to wear uniform as designed by the school · Forced to shower, no access to bath tubs · Lack of nutritious diet · Insufficient quantities of food · Served spoiled food · Segregation based on gender: brothers and sisters no contact · Sexual assault · Forced abortions · Electrical shock
    · Force-feeding of own vomit when sick · Exposure to freezing outside temperatures with improper clothing · Withholding of medical attention · Exposure to contagious illness: students with tuberculosis not segregated · Forced labour in unsafe work environments · Vilification of cultural traditions · Use of racist language to address students · Withholding presents and letters from family · Needles inserted into tongues for speaking their language · Leather strap used to hit on various areas of body · Beating with fists · Burning and scalding hands · Inflicting beatings until unconscious · Starvation · Shaming · Public beatings of naked children · Public strip search · Genital search · Sexual abuse · Locking in closets, cages, and basements”

    Overview of the Indian Residential School System, 2013, Union of Ontario Indians

  8. I highly suspect (but cannot prove) that the NP comment board consists in large part of sock puppets (commenters with fake identities). It appears that there are hundreds of different commenters, but the reality is that only several people are involved in creating leagues of ‘far-right supporting’ sock puppets who post 24/7. There are hundreds of these sock puppets. I suspect that the moderators are fake as well. Any naive, bona fide commenter who is in disagreement with this fake crowd, is summarily drummed off the board, with odious insults, and misogynistic slurs (if female). I am unclear if the sock puppet creators are paid or if a particularly exuberant right wing group has simply hijacked the board.

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