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
Historians are respected for their knowledge, research and opinions on past and present history but their search for truth can sometimes bring more darkness and pain to both older and younger generations.
The words used to explain their opinions should be scrutinized very carefully. The word “genocide” is a word that keeps on destroying
I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to endorse this letter. As a CHA member, I consider the association’s declaration an emotive, extravagant, unscholarly gesture more calculated to give the authors a warm glow of moral rectitude than to explain the circumstances that gave rise to the residential schools. CHA president’s riposte, describing the protesters as “mainly retired” and “white” smacks as ageism and racial profiling. They are mature scholars free of the many constraints that steer one into mental conformity.
I wholly endorse this letter in the name intellectual integrity and academic freedom.
University of Calgary
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.
Please add my name to your worthy petition. Duncan McDowall – Carleton and Queen’s