Source: Frances Widdowson

One of the authors of a book discussing Canada’s residential school system will be attending an upcoming city council meeting in Quesnel, B.C., following a unanimous decision to denounce the book last month.

Frances Widdowson, a professor and contributor to Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), will attend Quesnel’s council meeting Tuesday meeting on April 2 to ask questions. 

The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 pm Tuesday at City Hall, 410 Kinchant St. in Quesnel. 

Widdowson’s appearance is in response to a city council motion brought forth Mar. 19 to denounce the book as harmful. The motion passed unanimously.

The book is a collection of essays edited by C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan and published by True North.

The motion followed news that Mayor Ron Paull’s wife, Pat Morton, had purchased several copies and distributed them in the community.

The Lhtako Dene Nation accused the book of downplaying 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 said 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,” wrote the editors in a press release. 

Widdowson said that she doubts any members of the city council have even read the book.

“The major issue discussed in Grave Error,” said Widdowson in a press release, “is the fact that it has been falsely claimed that there were over 200 clandestine burials at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. There is no evidence that this is the case, and it is highly unlikely as not one parent has claimed that their child went missing there.” 

“It’s very, very, very traumatizing, it’s very, very, very disrespectful to an Indigenous community… to receive this book,” said Coun. Tony Goulet in a statement to city council about the book, which his mother received a copy of. “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 claim of the 215 missing Indigenous children came from an indigenous group in Kamloops in 2021, after they issued a press release on May 27.

The release alleged “the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School” buried in an apple orchard beside what was the residential school. 

However, in July 2021, Sarah Beaulieu, the anthropologist who scanned the site with ground penetrating radar would later clarify that all that was found were “targets of interest” and not evidence of human remains. 

The authors of Grave Error 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.”

Widdowson formerly worked as a political scientist for Mount Royal University until she was fired for saying that residential schools provided benefits that children might not have otherwise received.  

While speaking about Grave Error, Widdowson said that “no author is denying that abuse occurred at the schools or that many people were harmed.” 

It’s her contention that, “the schools were often underfunded and insensitive to the social dislocation indigenous people were experiencing.”

One of the book’s editors Tom Flanagan said that he knows Widdowson personally and thinks that she is one of the best people to question Quesnel city councillors regarding their decision to denounce the book. 

“Widdowson is a principled defender of free speech and she knows what is at stake,” he said.