By Brian Giesbrecht, Tom Flanagan and James Pew
Brian Giesbrecht is a former Manitoba judge. James Pew is an independent writer. His work can be found on Substack at Woke Watch Canada and The Turn. Tom Flanagan is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary.
July 2021: The scene is a live CBC broadcast from the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ontario, where, similar to earlier claims in Kamloops, British Columbia, clandestine graves of missing Indigenous children are said to be located. From the teddy-bear-lined steps, reporter Bobby Hristova somberly states, “In terms of the search, we heard Chief Mark Hill say, ‘No Money. No response.’”
In a letter addressed to the Ontario Premier’s office, Chief Hill explains that the $400,000 annual grant secured from the Ontario government, later increased to $700,000 over a three-year period, “falls short and is not commensurate with Ontario’s role in operating the school.” The search for secret catacombs of Indigenous children is a growing Canadian industry, which repeatedly broadcasts that current funding increases are not enough for the “children to be brought home.”
A year later, Hristova reports that Ottawa has signed on for more than $10 million to assist in the search in Brantford; but in spite of this generous amount, the sub-headline of the press release reads, “Group Leading Search Says Money is a good start, but not enough, and waits on Ontario to offer more.”
Tabitha Curley, a spokesperson for the Mohawks’ Survivors Secretariat, referring to a sum not yet granted, said that “even the $9 million may not be enough.” The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs spokesperson, Flavia Mussio, assures everyone concerned that “$1.3 million is the ‘first step in Ontario’s commitment to help survivors get answers,” and that the province will “keep working with Six Nations and the secretariat .”
Now known as the Woodland Cultural Center, Brantford’s former Mohawk Institute Residential School is the focus of many rumours of unmarked graves. To date there has been extensive use of ground penetrating radar, over 1,000 test pits dug by archaeologists across the large property, as well $50,000 worth of LiDAR – a process in which light is shot into the earth, reflecting back a subterranean image of what may lie beneath. Nothing has been found.
These grants are only drops in the river of money that governments are offering for research on unmarked graves. The federal government alone promised $320 million in August 2021 and $275 million in Budget 2022. Provincial governments are providing additional funds.
Canada is an enormous landmass, there are many former residential schools, and searches around all of them can potentially be extended indefinitely. When a search comes up empty it seems only to increase demand for a broader search.
But where is the police?
When murder is alleged, police secure the crime scene by roping off the area where evidence of foul play might be discovered. If the Kamloops allegations had been taken seriously, the RCMP should have immediately secured the entire area where the secret graves were allegedly discovered – an ill-conceived Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action notwithstanding.
The police should have immediately opened an investigation and began questioning possible witnesses and people of interest. In the Kamloops situation this would mean that the “six year olds” (who would now be adults) who were said to have been forced to dig graves late at night would be found, if they existed, and questioned.
Police immediately start an investigation when a homicide occurs because they want to find the culprit. If these stories of clandestine murder and secret burial are true, and some of the perpetrators might still be alive, they could and should be charged with serious crimes.
In most parts of rural Western Canada, where the RCMP have jurisdiction, they are by far the most competent police force to do this type of work. They not only have highly trained investigators, they have the only major crime forensic laboratory in Canada, along with other sophisticated criminal investigation machinery that local police forces—including local native police forces—do not have.
In Kamloops, a year after this crime of the century was alleged, one would expect to see a huge police operation with the area and exhibits secured, and the investigation well underway.
Currently, however, there are no properly secured investigations underway by the RCMP. Despite receiving an additional $5 million to help Indigenous communities where these horrible crimes allegedly happened, the RCMP is doing practically nothing. Why is that?
Probably because the police don’t believe these allegations. The RCMP have investigated claims of late-night murder and secret burials in other Indigenous communities, and they have all yielded no evidence of secret graves or foul play. The RCMP conducted proper investigations at two sites linked to residential schools (Shubenacadie and Camsell) and nothing was found. These cases were closed conclusively (or soon will be), which is what occurs when the goal is to discover the truth, not to prolong a process. Yet prolongation is what Canadians can expect, unless the RCMP gets involved in the remaining searches—but so far, they have not.
The ever-escalating demands for money to research unmarked graves are detached from any serious effort to investigate possible crimes. Money by itself will not serve the cause of justice if proper police work is not involved. Indigenous leaders have to decide what their real goal is — money or justice?