Apparently Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, doesn’t know the difference between a mass grave, as in the former Yugoslavia, and a cemetery here in Canada, like the one in Kamloops, B.C. In the former 215 people were lined up, shot, their bodies tossed into a pit, and then the pit summarily bulldozed over. In the latter there were 215 children who died of natural causes – months, years, even decades apart – and were interred each in his or her own wooden coffin. 

This is why Jagmeet Singh will never be our Prime Minister. Like any politician, he can only think and talk in sound bites. But he won’t draw on party coffers to hire a research staff to make sure he doesn’t say something so utterly ignorant and stupid.

Ignorance and stupidity hasn’t been an impediment to political success south of the border. In fact there researchers are hired to help the leader feign ignorance and stupidity. That distinction has always marked our two political cultures. But I think we’re closing the gap. So maybe some day Singh will be Prime Minister after all. As Shakespeare wrote, “Oh brave new world that has such people in ’t.”      

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17 replies

  1. Singh isn’t alone in his conceptual confusion. Much of the media is also twaddled.

    Some might find nitpicking about the term “mass grave” a tad unseemly, particularly when the location of the Kamloops Residential School burial site is so freshly revealed. However, not-nitpicking the term is worse than unseemly, it’s unethical. Hence, I contribute to this discussion the following 3 articles for your consideration:

    1) A short paper: Jægera, Jonas Holm. “Mass grave or communal burial? A discussion of terminology.” (2013) https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jonas-Jaeger-3/publication/259591624_Mass_grave_or_communal_burial_A_discussion_of_terminology/links/02e7e52cd3466d652d000000/Mass-grave-or-communal-burial-A-discussion-of-terminology.pdf

    Abstract: Browsing through the scientific literature on forensic archaeology, one of the first things one might notice is the complete lack of a single general definition of the term, “mass grave”. The ones used in the literature prove problematic or vague when applied “in the world” (i.e. the world outside of the theoretical world from which the definitions have been concocted). The purpose of this short article is to discuss the three most popular definitions and ultimately propose a new one that should prove less problematic and vague, as well as being applicable in both forensic science and archaeological science.

    Says Jaegera, “The contents of the mass grave are characterized by an unorganized or chaotic placement of the bodies as a result of them having been thrown or knocked down in the grave. This underlines the lack of respect and compassion for the dead by the people responsible for the killings, which again underlines the nature of mass graves: a place synonymous with war crimes and the like to store away the bodies of what those responsible only see as vermin or pests. Not human beings.

    The chaos of the mass grave contrasts the communal burials in which the bodies are placed systematically and with apparent respect for the dead.”

    2) Terry O’Neill, “’Mass grave’ narrative misses need for answers and action: researcher”, The BC Catholic, June 3, 2021. https://bccatholic.ca/news/catholic-van/mass-grave-narrative-misses-need-for-answers-and-action-researcher

    “The TRC report drew on the labours of many investigators and consultants, including Dr. Scott Hamilton, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, who worked from 2013-15 identifying Residential-School-related gravesites across Canada….

    Of particular concern to [Hamilton] is the fact that many news reports described the Kamloops gravesite as a mass grave, a term most often used to describe sites associated with war crimes or massacres in which people all killed at one time are buried en masse in a site that is then hidden….

    Hamilton said the “mass grave” description “misses the point with the Residential-School story,” a story that unfolded over more than a century and in which appalling conditions led to high death rates due to disease, the most devastating of which was tuberculosis….

    His report found no evidence that school officials intended to hide the graves.”

    3) Hamilton’s 44 page report as indexed in (2), “Where are the children buried?”

    Hamilton’s report is an accessible and informative read.

    Click to access AAA-Hamilton-cemetery-FInal.pdf

    Liked by 1 person

    • A Mass Grave? Ground penetrating radar found what is believed to be disturbances in the earth that are consistent with graves – apparently 215 of them. This technology cannot verify too much else. Confirmation would have to by digging up the site, which could take months to years if done properly.

      Distressing though this discovery is, it seems consistent with the scarce financial resources and poor record keeping for burials at that time in general. UofA’s project to document Alberta’s historic cemeteries noted that “many of Alberta’s 2000+ burial grounds are unregistered, poorly maintained, and inadequately documented.” In addition, there are an unknown number of early settler burials on farms throughout the Province.


      • Exactly, Margy.

        I hope some people will take the time to read Scott Hamilton’s report via the link I provided in my earlier comment to this blog entry.

        Hamilton’s thorough-going report includes a description of the technologies used to find lost cemeteries, including: ground penetrating radar, electrical conductivity and resistivity surveys, and magnetic gradiometer surveys.

        Hamilton notes,

        “All of these approaches require specialized expertise to design the survey, operate the equipment, and differentiate between natural versus human-induced patterns. Applying these methods to archaeological enquiry requires specialized expertise to design the survey at a scale consistent with the nature and magnitude of the features being sought, with attention to natural and cultural factors that might impede interpretation, and with sufficient experience to credibly identify and interpret localized and subtle subsurface features. Experience with geophysical prospection at the scale required to detect graves might not be found in geological exploration or engineering firms. Instead, archaeologists with the appropriate experience might be required, particularly to do the ground-truthing necessary to interpret the detected anomalies. Archaeological investigation using such techniques is not yet common in North America, and the necessary equipment and expertise is not widely available. (37)

        As to your point about the disturbances in the earth being consistent with graves, apparently 215 of them, as well as the months to years required to do a proper exhumation:

        An assumption is being made that all 215 of the people buried in these graves are indigenous children. As Hamilton notes in his report, nuns, priests, and non-indigenous children have also been buried in these cemeteries. In fact, non-indigenous children have attended and even lived at residential schools. I’ve met one. If non-indigenous people have lived at residential schools during times of disease epidemics such as TB, surely some have died there. Seems a duh.

        So, while I think it likely that most of the 215 are indigenous children, it’s unlikely that ALL of the 215 are indigenous children. This admission would not diminish the loss to indigenous communities, but it would diminish some of the rhetoric used by parties that exploit this loss. Such as politicians trying to capitalize on virtue points.

        You’ve also noted, “there are an unknown number of early settler burials on farms throughout the Province.”

        Hamilton says,
        “It was not uncommon for hospitals to have cemeteries into which indigent patients were buried, while workhouses for the poor also had cemeteries. Many Canadians ended up in unmarked paupers’ graves. (23 & 24)”

        Some Canadians still end up in unmarked pauper’s graves,


        Hamilton notes that the RS graves had been marked with wooden crosses, some with picket fences. Wood deteriorates. And, given my childhood village was swallowed in a matter of short years by the forest when abandoned, I know how quickly nature reclaims unused land.

        Hamilton reports that some residential school cemeteries are still kept up, others have deteriorated but are recognizable, and still others are lost to the land. The lost cemeteries haven’t been kept hidden, they’ve succumbed to time and neglect. But it’s no surprise when people search areas where they’re likely to exist that they’ll probably be located. Hence I really cringe at the notion of the Kamloops cemetery being a “discovery”. The expensive and specialised radar technology was employed in a place with a high likelihood that the cemetery would be located. Else it wouldn’t have been used. Maybe that the Kamloops residential school cemetery has been located is an more apt description. Perhaps you’ll disagree, but I find the word discovery connotes something surprising. A construction crew that accidentally disturbed a few graves which were unbeknownst to anyone hitherto would make a discovery.

        Anyway, I have a bit more to say. But it’s late. So, I’ll save that bit for tomorrow.



      • Do you have a link for the second document that summarizes each school’s location and construction sequence, duration of operation, and reported cemeteries? Would be interesting to see what is said about a cemetery on a site that has been under the admin of the Secewpemc people since at least 1982.


      • I’m sorry Margy, but I don’t have that link.


      • Perhaps here? https://nctr.ca/records/reports/
        I haven’t dug into any of the contents here, but it seems to be a comprehensive list.


      • Excellent! Really adds a lot of valuable information to the report.


      • Hoping Pam will have more to say about the neglected cemeteries on indigenous lands, the numerous “reveals” having been skillfully orchestrated in the weeks leading up to Canada Day. Meantime, in celebration of Canada Day I offer the following “flag-at-full-staff” effort at Truth as it applies to tuberculosis….

        Did the Canadian government seek to kill off indigenous children and is that why there are so many children buried in the schools’ cemeteries?

        Hamilton correctly cites tuberculosis as the major cause of high death rates in the schools over a prolonged period (and not just as a single event as a mass grave would imply.) However, the unsubstantiated claim has been made by others (not Hamilton so far as I know) that the Canadian government sought to accelerate the extermination of the Indians by deliberately infecting them with the disease, viz.,…

        Pamela Palmeter (2014) states, “In the early 1900s, Dr. Peter Bryce exposed the genocidal practices of government-sanctioned residential schools, where healthy Indigenous children were purposefully exposed to children with TB, spreading disease through the school population.”

        https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?journal=Aboriginal+policy+studies&title=Genocide,+Indian+policy,+and+legislated+elimination+of+Indians+in+Canada&author=P+Palmater&volume=3&publication_year=2014&pages=31-2& The link attaches a PDF full text where the claim appears as quoted, pp.32-3.

        Her cited source, which she has misread, is the pamphlet, “The Story of a National Crime”, published by Dr. Bryce in 1922 after he was forced out of the federal civil service as the medical inspector responsible for Indian health. Nowhere in his monograph does he make such an accusation. Indeed he states that overt, clinically apparent tuberculosis was rife in the schools at all grade levels and further, all the children he examined who were waiting to be admitted to a school already showed evidence of tubercular infection (usually scrofula which is not contagious unless the affected person also has pulmonary disease.) He concluded, correctly as we understand it today, that infection had invariably occurred in the home, (acquired from tubercular parents or older siblings) before school age. There would be precious few uninfected children in the schools at any age to be deliberately infected.

        This is a remarkable finding in itself. Clearly there were not only very high rates of infection with TB among native children (and adults) but the risk that overt disease would develop after infection was much higher than in settled urban populations of European origin. Making sense of this required more scientific advances than were then available. To his credit, Bryce avoided the easy answer that indigenous people suffered the “genetic taint” that led them to get sick in large numbers from it, the same “taint” that caused poor Europeans in slums to get sick.. But to reiterate, he makes no claim that tubercular infection was being deliberately spread in the schools.


        Dr. Bryce’s 1907 Report on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and the North-West Territories submitted to the Dept. of Indian Affairs should be taken as the original source document as it was written comtemporaneously with events and contains more comprehensive numerical data than his “J’accuse” 15 years later, which drew on data from this report.


        This claim of “deliberate infection” was repeated, uncritically, last year by Hay, Blackstock, and Kirlew, Dr. Peter Bryce (1853–1932): whistleblower on residential schools, CMAJ 2020 Mar 2; 192(9): E223–E224.


        They quote Palmeter’s assertion verbatim and, like her, attribute it baselessly to Dr.Bryce’s 1922 publication.

        So what was the “National Crime” that Dr. Bryce was blowing the whistle about? The crime that his boss, Duncan Campbell Scott, told him to stop sending reports about because the Dept. had no intention of implementing his recommendations anyway?

        Dr. Bryce was a passionate adherent of the sanitarian movement, which held that the cure of tuberculosis lay in providing fresh, healthful air, and lots of sunshine (ideally in a mountain setting), a combination believed to be lethal to the tubercle bacilli. Clean sheets, regular baths, light exercise, three squares a day (and avoiding alcohol, but this had to be euphemized because Temperance was politically divisive) formed part of the “air cure” as well. “Cures” often required years of residence in a sanitarium; since TB carried great stigma,– it was, after all, normally a disease of the poor and dissolute,– wealthy families were happy to spend large sums to keep their tubercular relations locked up in the mountains for decades. For patients without means, (the majority) this could only be accomplished before Medicare by building provincially funded sanitaria. In those days there was little concept of the idea of testing treatments of any kind to see if they worked. We relied on testimonials from survivors and from the expert opinions of those heavily invested (professionally and often financially) in the movement. (Unlike today, of course….)

        Advising the Ontario government on the control of TB was Dr. Bryce’s job before he signed on with the feds. He was, I think, sincerely motivated in applying his sanitarian zeal to the much greater challenge of improving control of the disease in both the schools and amongst those living on the Reserves. He was appalled at disease and death rates that made those in grimy industrial Hamilton, Ontario, seem trivial by comparison. His 1907 report was published (not suppressed as sometimes claimed) and created a scandal in the newspapers. “Schools Aid White Plague” is a headline from an Ottawa newspaper that yields multiple Google hits but none contain text from the article.

        Realistically, though, the Department was never going to remodel the physical layout or the mission of residential schools to turn them into TB sanitaria. Non-medical bean-counters were skeptical about expensive medical fads; pleas to spend that kind of “off-mission” money fell on hostilely deaf ears. What makes this different from modern Covid or climate skepticism is that we know today that the “air cure” for tuberculosis was bunk. We think “the science” is more trustworthy today, but enthusiasts like Bryce believed in their science as passionately as we believe in ours.

        The sanitaria did have an important role in removing contagious people from the community and preventing infection of very young children in their households. (Children have a high risk of getting the rapidly fatal forms of TB like meningitis, especially when they would get measles, and so delaying their inevitable (in those days) infections to middle or high school age went a long way toward reducing the death toll from TB.) But this is a separate argument unrelated to the purported benefit of effecting a “cure” for the person confined in the san.

        To our modern understanding of TB bacteria hitching a ride down into the lungs on airborne aerosol particles of mucus, it seems a no-brainer that the poorly ventilated and sometimes crowded sleeping conditions in the schools would spread TB like wildfire. And this would be true in our modern lives where most people do not have tuberculous infection: the introduction of a contagious case would lead to infections, and does when it happens today. But that doesn’t apply when most people are already infected and immune to re-infection. The danger to them is that their immunity will break down and the infection will become consumptive. (TB is not obviously a “catching” disease the way measles is. There was great skepticism about Robert Koch’s claim to have discovered the bacteria that cause it.) This was the situation in the residential schools during Dr. Bryce’s tenure. He wasn’t trying to prevent TB from spreading. He believed that the conditions in the schools were making it impossible to cure the TB that was there. His bosses back in Ottawa didn’t think it mattered enough to spend the money (which they didn’t have, which was why they got the churches to run them) and likely wouldn’t have produced much benefit for the expenditure even if they did.

        Now there is much to be said about why TB was (and remains today) so much more aggressive among indigenous people than among populations, like Europeans, who have lived with TB for centuries and who had (and have) better material and social living conditions. My only goal here was to rebut as baseless the activist claim that there was deliberate, genocidal or otherwise, intent to infect indigenous children with TB by placing them in residential schools. I also wanted to show how the claim is founded in dishonest scholarship, in citing as evidence a published source that does not in fact say what the activists say it does.


      • Very nice job, Leslie. Thank you.


      • Hi Margy,

        Have you seen the following article?

        Michael Potestio, “Number of probable graves near former residential school pegged at 200”, Toronto Star, July 16, 2021.


        The probable graves have been downgraded, so far, from 215 to 200. There is still a lot of ground to cover at the Kamloops site.

        In this article, Beaulieu explains ground penetrating radar technology and the describes the search in Kamloops using this technology.

        The residential school gravesites might, in some cases, be better documented than some other historic cemeteries. As Beaulieu notes, “Remote sensing such as GPR isn’t necessary to know Indigenous children went missing from residential schools as the evidence has existed in government and church archives and in testimony from survivors. In addition, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation report identified between 4,000 and 6,000 missing children.”


      • No, I hadn’t seen it. Thanks for the link. I think the positive side of these finds is that the First Nations involved are initiating the searches. Maybe a positive step forward and away from a history of victimhood?


  2. This whole story illustrates the truth of the adage (from Mark Twain?) that a lie runs half way around the world while the truth is still getting its boots laced up. The elected Chief of the First Nation herself has corrected initial media reports that it was a mass grave. It’s a cemetery. Since the radar-wielding archeologist has been forbidden by the band to talk to media, this initial mis/disinformation can have come only from the Chief and she has said nothing further since the walk-back, letting the Internet outrage machine take over. The B.C. Coroner’s Office and the RCMP are involved but they seem to be waiting for the First Nation to tell them how or whether to proceed. (If I find the suggestion of human remains on my property, do you think the authorities will allow me to define the limits of how they investigate?). So this is political theatre, agit-prop to ensure that a large sum of public money changes hands. Maybe I’m a bad person but I don’t find the discovery distressing in the slightest. Some mild sadness that some other people’s children whom I never met seem to have died before their time. There are a lot of those lying in dense formations around the world.

    And why the clamour about the Catholic Church again? Everyone knows children died in residential schools and the high death rate from tuberculosis, a disease of poverty essentially untreatable until the 1960s is an amply documented fact. What do these graves have to do with sexual abuse perpetrated by school staff? The Church is perfectly justified in declining to apologize preemptively for the deaths by whatever cause of whomever it might be who are buried in that schoolyard. Is the Left just hoping we will all jump from the insinuation to the conclusion that these are the bodies of children strangled by clerics to silence them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I found the suggestion of human remains on my property (rural and was, I believe, a homestead at one time), I would consider part of the advice of Ralph Klein – shovel and shut up…


      • Well, yes, if you’re the only one who knows and you can keep a secret, why open a can of worms that will cost you, the landowner, a great deal of money to have a legally mandated archeological dig conducted on your property? And lead to nothing but resentment on all sides.



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