Historians Rally vs. "Genocide" Myth

OPEN LETTER

to the Council of the Canadian Historical Association and the Canadian public

We write to express our grave disappointment with the Canadian Historical Association’s “Canada Day Statement”. The Council of the CHA claims that “the existing historical scholarship” makes it “abundantly clear” that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples was genocidal and that there was “broad scholarly consensus” as to the evidence of “genocidal intent.” The CHA Council also attacks the profession in stating that historians have turned a blind eye to the tragedies that have marked Canadian history.  

There are no grounds for such a claim that purports to represent the views of all of Canada’s professional historians. 

The recent discovery of graves near former Indigenous residential schools is tragic evidence of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) documented in Volume 4 of its final report - a report that we encourage all Canadians to read. We also encourage further research into gravesites across Canada and support the completion of a register of children who died at these schools. Our commitment to interrogate the historical and ongoing legacies of residential schools and other forms of attempted assimilation is unshaken. 

However, the CHA exists to represent professional historians and, as such, has a duty to   represent the ethics and values of historical scholarship. In making an announcement in support of a particular interpretation of history, and in insisting that there is only one valid interpretation, the CHA’s current leadership has fundamentally broken the norms and expectations of professional scholarship. 

With this coercive tactic, the CHA Council is acting as an activist organization and not as a professional body of scholars. This turn is unacceptable to us.

The issue represents a lively debate amongst scholars, many of whom differ in their assessments of this question. Differing interpretations are to be expected in a vibrant scholarly community that welcomes open debate, viewpoint diversity, and a commitment to assessing the past based on primary evidence. 

By pretending that there is only one interpretation, the directors of the CHA are insulting and dismissing the scholars who have arrived at a different assessment. They are presenting the Canadian public with a purported “consensus” that does not exist.

They also are insulting the basic standards of good scholarly conduct and violating the expectations that Canadians have of academia to engage in substantive, evidence-based debate. No matter the good intentions of those who have made this statement, it is especially important that scholarly organizations remain committed to viewpoint diversity and open debate especially on issues where many feel a moral impulse to insist on a particular historical interpretation. It is precisely in situations like this that our intellectual principles are tested and must be upheld. 

We demand that the CHA Council retract its statement and commit itself instead to its real mission of upholding the values of viewpoint diversity and open scholarly debate. Its job is not to promote a single “consensus” history of Canada. 

We know we speak also for a multitude who fear to support this open letter for fear of endangering their tenure and promotions or who occupy official positions that prevent them from speaking out.

As the CHA celebrates its hundredth anniversary, it should honour its best traditions and act as a truly professional organization that stands unreservedly for the protection of objectivity, doubt, debate and unfettered access to the resources that will help historians shine a light on even the darkest corners of Canada’s past. 

 

Frédéric Bastien - Collège Dawson

Éric Bédard - Université TELUQ

David J. Bercuson - University of Calgary

John Bonnett - Brock University

Robert Bothwell - University of Toronto 

Félix Bouvier - Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Gerry Bowler - Frontier Centre for Public Policy 

Patrick H. Brennan - University of Calgary

Phillip Buckner - University of London

C. P. Champion - Editor, The Dorchester Review

Marie-Aimée Cliche - Université du Québec à Montréal 

Rodney Clifton - University of Manitoba

Robert Comeau - l’Université du Québec à Montreal 

Terry Copp - Wilfrid Laurier University

Jack Cunningham - University of Toronto

Kenneth Dewar - Mount Saint Vincent University

Christopher Dummitt - Trent University

Patrice Dutil - Ryerson University

Lucia Ferretti - Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Dany Fougères - Université du Québec à Montréal 

Yves Gingras - Université du Québec à Montréal 

J. L. Granatstein - York University 

Roger Hall - University of Western Ontario

René Hardy - Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Geoffrey Hayes - University of Waterloo

Michiel Horn - York University

P. Whitney Lackenbauer - Trent University

Gilles  Laporte - Cégep du Vieux Montréal et l’Université du Québec à Montreal 

Margaret Macmillan - University of Oxford

Susan Mann - York University

David B. Marshall - University of Calgary

Joe Martin - University of Toronto

Kathleen E. McCrone - University of Windsor

Ken McLaughlin - St. Jerome's University

Barbara Messamore - University of the Fraser Valley

J. R. Miller - University of Saskatchewan

Allen Mills - University of Winnipeg

Toby Morantz - McGill University

Doug Owram - University of British Columbia

John Pepall - Historian

Isabelle Perrault - sociologue

Stephen J. Randall - University of Calgary

John Robson - Historian

Jacques Rouillard - Université de Montréal 

Jean Roy - Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Donald B. Smith - University of Calgary

Arthur Silver - University of Toronto

J. D. M. Stewart - Teacher and Author

Mark Theriault - Collège Dawson

Ryan Touhey - St. Jerome's University

Jonathan F. Vance - University of Western Ontario

Jean-François Veilleux - Historien

Robert J. Young  - University of Winnipeg

 


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  • Francine Michaud on

    I wholly endorse this letter in the name intellectual integrity and academic freedom.
    Francine Michaud,
    Medievalist
    University of Calgary

  • David Warrick on

    The Council of the Canadian Historical Association should withdraw the unprofessional declaration known as the Canada Day statement.
    I ask you to consider Professor Jacob Bronowski’s description of a visit to Auschwitz, where he had lost many of his family during the Holocaust. “There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy.” The Canada Day statement is grossly misleading and represents political certainty rather than rational, disciplined analysis. It’s a polemical view of history that has no place in an association representing historians across Canada. Please add my name to the list. David Warrick, Humber College.

  • Duncan McDowall on

    Please add my name to your worthy petition. Duncan McDowall – Carleton and Queen’s

  • Gilbert Reid on

    I support the letter. Canada certainly has had its tragedies and its crimes like every other nation ever created on earth – but to describe what happened in Canada as genocide is a flagrant misuse of the word, a willful misinterpretation of Canadian history, and an insult to the many generations – of all races – who built and are building this country.

  • David Warrick on

    Here’s an important principle in the study of history. We’ve all heard it many times before: “Believe those who search for truth. Doubt those who find it.” Who said it? And what does it mean for our search for “truth” in our research? Well, even the search for the author requires investigation. You may think it was Andre Gide and you may be right. But there are other pretenders. My point is that historians must not fall into the trap of truth telling. History, like science, is a discipline, not a belief system. Just as Newton stood on the shoulders of giants and created a compelling, practical and comprehensive scientific discipline— that is until Einstein came along with an entirely new theory that was more accurate, viz., the Theory or Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, so too should historians yield to those whose research is better, more comprehensive and more accurate. “Certainty” as Professor Jacob Bronovski reminded us in his BBC The Ascent of Man is an impediment to knowledge. See his quotes from Auschwitz. https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2069408-the-ascent-of-man



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