The editors of a book about residential schools and the Kamloops unmarked grave claim are calling a recent city council vote to denounce the book an act of censorship by busybody politicians.

City council in the British Columbia city of Quesnel unanimously voted to condemn Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), a collection of essays edited by C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan and published by True North, last week after the Lhtako Dene Nation said it downplayed the harms of residential schools. 

“It has come to our attention that a person related to a member of the City’s elected [council] has been distributing a book entitled Grave Error,” wrote the Lhtako Dene Nation in a letter to the Mayor and Council last Tuesday.

The Indigenous group claimed that the book was “basically questioning the existence of Indian Residential Schools.”

Champion and Flanagan say this simply isn’t true.

“Despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing in Grave Error that questions the existence of Indian residential schools, Council members voted unanimously to denounce the book.” 

The controversy first began after Quesnel mayor Ron Paull’s wife, Pat Morton, had been circulating copies of the book to other members of the community, including to the mother of Quesnel Coun. Tony Goulet. 

Goulet is Métis and his father is a residential school survivor.  

“It’s very, very, very traumatizing, it’s very, very, very disrespectful to an Indigenous community… to receive this book,” said Goulet in a statement to city council. “And especially with my dad going through residential school … it brought up a lot of stuff.”

However, the book’s co-authors believe that city council and the Lhtako Dene Nation are censoring debate and “impeding Canadians from accessing authoritative analysis based on solid historical evidence.”

The authors maintain that the book is not opinion based, but rather a collection of numerous articles by other academics, journalists and retired officials who “refute the false claim that the remains of 215 children were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

“I did receive the book through a third party, and through my mom actually, who went to a business in town, and the book was given to her with my dad sitting right next to them. And as you all know my dad did go to residential school and was an attendee in residential school. So it came from my Mom. She took it, she read it, she called me, and she said, “I can’t read it anymore,” reads a statement from Giulet. 

“She read the first maybe 100 pages or so and just put it down. She gave it to me to have a look at and read. I did read it from the beginning.  I too had to put it down. . . .I continued to read the book. I read it from cover to cover. It is very one-sided. It is an opinion of somebody who wrote the book, so we have to take that into consideration.”

Champion and Flanagan took issue with Goulet’s statement however, saying that council members were not aware that his father had gone to a residential school and furthermore, no one has been able to provide them with which residential school he may have attended following their request for more information, including Goulet himself. 

“Moreover, despite claiming he had read the entire book, Goulet erroneously asserted that

Grave Error denies the existence of Indian residential schools, which it clearly does not,” Champion and Flanagan said.

Flanagan also questioned why it was a city council matter in the first place given the mayor’s wife has no official role and distributed the books on her own.

Flanagan argues that private citizens should be allowed to share books with others and not be chastised because they may be related to a member of the council. 

Champion argued that the actions of the councillors reveal that “they are hostile” to the truth.  

“In order to understand history, citizens need access to different points of view, and the evidence that underpins them. The councillors for the City of Quesnel are fearful and may not realize they are suppressing the disputational process, preventing the truth from coming out,” said Champion. 

“Elected officials, news reporters and influencers should have the integrity to read Grave Error

For themselves, and make up their own minds. Canadians at large have a right to question false narratives.”

In addition to the Quesnel City Council denouncing the book, at least two libraries in BC have now refused patron requests to purchase Grave Error.