(This story may be triggering for some readers. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be reached at 1-800-721-0066 and there's a 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.)
B.C.'s largest university is receiving blowback over an upcoming livestreamed event.
UBC Students for Freedom of Expression plans to host a panel discussion with filmmaker and former Rebel Media worker Lauren Southern, Republic of Kanata convener Kevin Annett, and George Brown, who's identified as a residential-school survivor on the club's Facebook page.
It's being promoted on the group's YouTube channel as "An Honest Conversation on Canadian Residential School and Mass Graves".
Southern created a film called "The Canadian Mass Grave Hoax", which is available on YouTube.
Her appearance on the panel has led to a call for anyone associated with UBC to register their opposition with the UBC's president's office.
Southern's film zeroes in on what ground-penetrating radar cannot detect, such as organic matter, according to one of her interview subjects. She also takes issue with the term "mass graves" and what might have caused people to be buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
She also makes the claim that there's no evidence of a Catholic Church cover-up, insisting that misleading media coverage has led to churches being burned.
Moreover, Southern's documentary insists that there was no "mass grave" and no "genocide" in Kamloops.
TRC and MMIWG reports overlooked
Southern doesn't once mention the findings of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which determined that cultural genocide occurred in Canada. Nor does her film make any mention of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, which stated that genocide occurred.
She also overlooked a paper by UBC's Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, entitled "Considering the Legal and Human Rights Framework for Addressing Mass Graves Connected to Indian Residential Schools".
In addition, Southern did not address another paper by the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre concerning the terminology in connection with the findings of so many unmarked graves on the grounds or near former church-operated Indian residential schools.
That paper notes that the Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation—supported by the International Commission on Missing Persons—offers this definition of a "mass grave":
“A site or defined area containing a multitude (more than one) of buried, submerged or surface scattered human remains (including skeletonised, commingled and fragmented remains), where the circumstances surrounding the death and/or the body-disposal method warranting an investigation as to their lawfulness."
A "missing person" is defined in this way: “Persons missing as a result of conflict, human rights abuses and/or organised violence.”
According to the protocol, "victims" are people "who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative in the state or as a result of acts which constitute gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law".
That led the centre to offer this conclusion: "While the preference of certain First Nations might be to refer to unmarked burials of their cherished relations, as the lens shifts to the framework for analysis and consideration of next steps, the international standards and protocols should inform terminology and dialogue. In this respect, the emerging international human rights and legal norm is to classify such sites as 'mass graves'."
Therefore, in the eyes of the centre, any claim that there were no mass graves doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
"As we lack the full disclosure of church and state records regarding Indian residential schools, it is important to hold space for dialogue and reflection surrounding the terminology and framing of the situation," the centre states in this document.
"There is an urgent need to ensure that all records related to the Indian Residential School System and its operations by the church are made available, without exception, to appropriate entities to support the identification of missing children and to ensure that protocols can be followed for the investigation of a mass grave," it continues. "The religious congregations that operated the Kamloops Indian Residential School must immediately make all records available and accessible to Tk’emlúps te Secwépmec First Nation."
Southern, however, describes the unmarked graves at the Cowessess First Nation simply as a "community graveyard".
"It truly doesn't feel like any journalist has done any fact-checking when pursuing these grave stories—or perhaps they simply didn't want to," Southern declares in her film.
Annett opposed vaccine distribution
Another panelist, Annett, is part of the sovereign-citizen movement and has been an outspoken critic of vaccinating the public against COVID-19.
Last year, Annett declared that sheriffs with the so-called Republic of Kanata were going to stop the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Annett is a former United Church minister who was fired in the 1990s after making claims about that church's involvement in genocide against Indigenous people on Vancouver Island.
UBC Students for Freedom of Expression describes Annett on its Facebook page as "a pivotal figure in the investigation of Canada's residential schools".
After this article appeared, UBC issued the following statement regarding the upcoming panel discussion:
This week, senior university staff were made aware of a Nov. 17 talk on campus that was booked by the UBC Students for Freedom of Expression. To be clear, this was not an event sponsored by anyone at the University of British Columbia. The host of the event is an external group that is not endorsed by UBC.
The university has reviewed the requested event booking and conducted an assessment of the event in accordance with our event booking process. Although the university does and will continue to support academic freedom, we have determined that this event should not proceed. We believe proceeding with this event would adversely affect campus and community safety.
UBC is committed to truth and meaningful reconciliation as well as the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion. In September 2020, the University was the first in North America to commit to taking a human-rights approach to its Indigenous strategic framework through the launch of its Indigenous Strategic Plan, which outlines the goals and actions the university is collectively taking to support and uphold Indigenous peoples’ human rights. UBC is also committed to supporting Indigenous peoples and communities to know and share the truth of mass human rights violations associated with residential schools. For accurate and Survivor-centred information please visit the Indian Residential School History Dialogue Centre or the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
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