Censorship, Canadian Style
schaffer at SPAMoptonline.net
Wed Mar 7 17:44:12 MST 2001
[ bounced HTML from "Roland Chrisjohn, Ph. D." <rchrisjo at StThomasU.ca>,
reformatted and dealt with Windows encoding oddities]
I'm circulating this in hopes that you'll pass it along as you see fit
(or not). Overall, I think it's less interesting than the story that
goes with it. I was approached late last year by Cantilevers, a
Montreal-based peace organization that publishes a small-circulation
journal, to do a short (3-4 pager) on the theme on Indigenous Peoples
in Canada and the recent Conference on War-Affected Children. With
the help of some of the more engaged students in the Native Studies
department, I put together the piece you see below.
Shortly after the piece was submitted, Eric Abitbol, Cantilevers'
editors, was informed by the Canadian International Development
Agency, a governmental office that partly sponsored the issue of
Cantilevers for which "Darkness Visible" commissioned, that my article
was NOT TO APPEAR in Cantilevers, and if it did, CIDA would withdraw
for all time any CIDA funding Cantilever's might ever obtain.
Eric contacted me to ask my opinion on what might be done. As editor,
he found this attempt at censorship intolerable, but as a member of an
organization, the possibility of losing a funding source would be
disastrous. I certainly didn't feel it was a good idea for
Cantilevers to commit suicide over me (and I still can't see what CIDA
finds so damned offensive about the article), so we agreed he would
try to bargain so kind of compromise while I altered the article
somewhat to address some of the excuses CIDA had cited to demand its
removal. The section in the 2nd paragraph, where I comment on
Canada's denial of National status to indigenous nations, is the only
substantial adjustment I made.
Meanwhile, on the negotiation front, Eric quickly found out that CIDA
was unwilling to make ANY COMPROMISE WHATSOEVER. This, regardless of
any content changes I might make to address their concerns. They even
stipulated that "Darkness Visible" could not even be included as a
separate pamphlet in the same envelope used to mail out the
CIDA-sponsored issue of Cantilevers. I suppose they want to kill my
Anyway, Eric is still trying to find some way to circulate this piece.
I'm more interested in using it to expose the "Canadian Way" of
censorship, which is, NOT to tell you NOT to say it, just make it a
life and death decision for you as to whether or not you WILL say it.
And if Canada is willing to impose such high stakes for such a piddley
little thing as my article, what would they be willing to impose for
something that really mattered?
Roland Chrisjohn, Ph. D.
Cantilevers home page:
DARKNESS VISIBLE: CANADA'S WAR AGAINST INDIGENOUS CHILDREN
Roland Chrisjohn,1 Pierre Loiselle,2 Lisa Nussey,2 Andrea Smith,2 & Tara
The World Conference on War-Affected Children (Winnipeg, September,
2000) seemed to promise winners all around. After all, who but the
obvious bullies and outlaws of the world could possibly be in favor of
the impressments of children as combatants, deadly and disfiguring
land mines, waging war on civilian populations, and the like? Not
only would the victims of such abuses be provided with a forum
allowing them to detail publicly their circumstances, measured steps
towards redress, remedy, and prevention (like the formation of an
International Criminal Court to try offenders) could be promoted or
even taken. Groups, governmental and non-governmental alike, already
engaged in program planning and service delivery to war-affected
civilian populations, would get a chance to network and take a
much-deserved international bow. And Canada, the Good (if not Great)
World Citizen, could award itself another row of gold stars for their
variety of jobs well done. Who could complain?
About 100 or so indigenous peoples and their supporters outside the
conference, that's who. Though numerically small, they stood in place
of thousands more, absent for a variety of reasons which included
being defined as outside the terms of reference of the conference.
Specifically, by unilaterally declaring indigenous peoples "citizens"
in 1960, Canada, like many colonial powers at the time, obviated any
move by indigenous peoples to bring grievances under the forthcoming
UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights before the International
Court of Justice, since only countries (and not "internal minorities")
would be recognized. This "enforced citizenship" evasion, touted as
an act of humanity by Canadian press and politicians at the time,
would itself have been included as an act of genocide had not Canada
and the other major colonial powers removed it from the draft UN
Genocide Convention during the post-WWII deliberations. "Enforced
citizenship," a fundamental denial of the human right to
self-determination, is a Canadian "gift that keeps on giving," since,
among other things, according to this dodge First Nations are not
"really" nations, Indian Treaties are not "really" treaties, and
Aboriginal Peoples have no right to expose the injustices done to them
in international fora.
Whether the delegates from other countries listened to and heard these
protests is not determinable from the press or web coverage; that the
Canadian delegates heard nothing can be taken for granted. For in
order for Canada to appropriate credit for a World Conference about
children and warfare, its appointed representatives must ignore one of
the protester's points: that Canada has and does in fact conduct war
against children, and probably will for the foreseeable future.
It all hinges on what you're willing or unwilling to call "war."
Canada characterizes what it does and has done to indigenous peoples
"building a renewed partnership" at best and "assimilation" at
worst. To us, "low-intensity warfare" seems to us an over-
complimentary description of Canadian policy and practice; "genocide"
is the correct term.3 However, whatever you wish to call it, Canada
has found and continues to find the children of indigenous people easy
targets for its machinations.
The most infamous attack on indigenous children was perhaps the system
of residential/boarding schools, operated by Canadian governments in
partnership with major churches from Confederation until 1986.4 Under
the guise of fulfilling treaty obligations to educate, and with the
Canadian variation of the "White Man's Burden" firmly in mind, untold
thousands of indigenous children were removed, under force of law,
from their parents, families, and communities and placed under the
absolute control of church officials, some for as long as 13 years.
Many of these officials had no qualifications whatsoever as educators.
However, this merely serves to emphasize the fact that "education" was
not the mandate of these institutions; rather, "assimilation" was the
agenda explicitly agreed upon by church and federal officials. Thus,
a treaty responsibility to educate indigenous people was metastasized
into an opportunity to eliminate a federal moral and financial burden
by obliterating those peoples' identities.
Since governments and churches both recognized the difficulty of their
task, a great deal of leeway was permitted the churches in carrying
out this assault. This lack of accountability gave rise to an
enormous number of specific abuses carried out by people in various
positions of responsibility, including rape, impregnation, and other
actions that were nothing short of torture. Incidents of flagrant
abuses were either ignored or covered up.5 During the past few years
it has also been revealed that children in residential schools were
used as unwitting experimental subjects, with dental and dietary
mistreatment documented (deliberate non- treatment of tooth decay and
intentionally supplying non-pasteurized milk) and darker deeds being
hinted at. Sterilization of native women is also known to have
occurred, although a systematic study of the extent of this crime
still needs to be done.
While some have argued these abuses may have been infrequent, what is
not confronted by such suggestions is that, after November 28, 1949,
removal of indigenous children from their families constituted
genocide.6 Thus, for more than 30 years, Canada knowingly operated a
genocide machine targeting indigenous children. That Canada did so
knowingly is apparent from the fact that, when the federal government
incorporated the "crime of genocide" into its civil code of laws (thus
making it a charge which could be brought and decided upon in Canadian
courts), it failed to incorporate into the code 60% of the specific
actions constituting genocide, including the forced removal of
Nor was residential schooling a unique assault on indigenous children.
State intrusion into indigenous family life gained strength with the
rise of provincial family and children services in the early 20th
century. Not only were massive numbers of aboriginal children removed
and placed within non-indigenous foster and adoptive placements,7
thousands of aboriginal children were shipped overseas, where,
presumably, the children would never learn of their ways, their
families, or their rights, or of Canada's legal responsibilities to
them. Like the Home Children institutions they developed from,8
family and children services institutions had no mandate to deal with
the economic and legal bases of aboriginal family difficulties, and
regarded their incursions into Indian families as unquestionably
Here and Now
While much more could be written in a purely historical vein, the
current circumstance of indigenous children in Canada is nothing short
of a calamity. The January, 2001, issue of Windspeaker9 documents the
range of disasters lining up against Indian children:
§ Record levels of suicide;10
§ Epidemics levels of gas-sniffing and solvent abuse;11
§ Rampant sexual exploitation;12
§ High rates of AIDS prevalence.13
And, as if these circumstances were not enough, readers must bear in
mind that they are grafted onto an already existing framework of high
infant mortality rates,14 sudden infant deaths,15 dropout rates
approaching 50% in some locals,16 over-representation of indigenous
children in youth correctional systems,17 and widespread misdiagnosis
of "learning deficiencies" accompanied with forced medication,18 all
embedded in a dominant culture of overweening racism.19
Canada's willingness to ignore those provisions of international law
it finds inconvenient,20 apparent from their earlier contraventions in
residential schooling and social services, manifests itself in present
day policies and legislative initiatives affecting both "normal" and
"abnormal" indigenous children. For example, Aboriginal children are
denied the funding necessary for schooling in indigenous languages,
despite the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons
Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic
Minorities;21 provincial governments introduce legislation for young
offenders that violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child;22
and toxic dump sites, obviously impacting the quality of health of
children,23 are mysteriously situated on the borders of First Nations
reservations. As these and other mainstream abuses occur, the
mainstream shows no hesitancy in blaming the victims for their
economic and human rights-based misery.24
Were more space available, we would argue the past and present
circumstances noted here (and many other circumstances as well) are
manifestations of Canada's enduring war against indigenous peoples,
often carried out directly or indirectly on indigenous children. The
Canadian initiative on the World Conference Against Racism, for
example, explicitly defines racism as the problem that some Canadians
(the "racists") are not helping to assimilate indigenous peoples fast
enough!25 Thus, in the near future our daughters and sons can look
forward to a renewed battery of programs that will remove impediments
to their assimilation.
The aim of this prolonged conflict, across years, parties, and
policies, has been consistent: "to take the Indian out of the Indian,"
in the words of Duncan Campbell Scott. Whether you wish to call this
"assimilation" or "genocide," it still has been, in our opinion, war.
If it has not been universally recognized as such, this is due more to
who owns and controls the "spin machines" than a matter of
What alternative "spin" can be placed on this pattern of consequences
seen in indigenous children? As hinted just above, mainstream Canada
does have a ready explanation, encourage by politician, media, and
other arms of economic power, for the degradation all too commonly
observable in Aboriginal communities: something is wrong with those
Indians! Whether one is a hard-nosed racist (and attributes these
problems to some kind of genetic defect or problem in our
"hard-wiring") or a bleeding heart (and attributes these problems to
"cultural deprivations," "bad parenting," "dependency," or some
similar pattern of experiences), the mainstream tends to propose
"cures" on a limited range of themes: change those indigenous people.
Indians need therapy, or drugs, or confinement, or to be thrown into
the deep end of the pool and forced to sink or swim. The difference
between a "liberal" and "conservative" approach to the problems of
Aboriginal peoples in Canada involves the severity of the program of
changing us, and does not involve a fundamental critique of the
structure of mainstream Canadian society.26 The "cures" for programs
like residential schooling and incarcerations are more of the same.
Outside the mainstream, however, it is considerably easier to relate
the misery of Aboriginal children and adults to the material
conditions of our existence. For example, the Windspeaker issue
mentioned earlier contains article after article identifying the
failure of successive Canadian governments to deal squarely with
Aboriginal, Status, non-Status, Innu, Innuit, and Metis geopolitical
grievances as the source of past and present degradations. Similar
conclusions apply to nearly every other critical resource we have
The problem, then, is ultimately the existing power relations in
Canada. And, as history knows no instances of the wealthy and
powerful voluntarily ceding hegemony, Aboriginal Peoples can
anticipate a continuation of subtle and blatant attacks on who they
are, how they are, and why they are, unless and until people of
conscious stand up and understand what is being done in their names to
1. Director of Native Studies, St. Thomas University, Fredericton,
2. Research Associate with The Praxis Collective, Fredericton, New
3. Chapter 4, R. Chrisjohn & S. Young, The Circle Game: Shadows and
Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada.
Penticton: Theytus Press, 1997.
4. J. Milloy, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the
Residential School System, 1897 to 1986. Winnipeg: University of
Manitoba Press, 1998.
5. E. Furniss, Victims of Benevolence: Discipline and Death at the
Williams Lake Residential School. Toronto: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1995;
I. Knockwood, Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi'kmaw Children
at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia.
Lockeport: Roseway Publishing, 1992. Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation News, Former Nun Says Church Covered Up Labrador Abuse.
February 21, 2001.
6. United Nations Genocide Convention, Article IIe, named "Forcibly
transferring children of the group to another group" a specific act of
7. A. McGillivray, Therapies of Freedom: The Colonization of
Aboriginal Childhood. Vancouver: UBC Legal History Papers, 1995;
Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, Stevenato and Associates,
& J. Budgell, Repatriation of Aboriginal Families: Issues, Models, and
a Workplan. Toronto: 1995.
8. P. Rooke & R. Schnell, Discarding the Asylum: From Child Rescue to
the Welfare State, 1800 1950. New York: University Press of America,
9. This special issue of Windspeaker is available on-line at:
10. "Suicides Plague Northern Ontario Reserves," Winnipeg Free Press,
Sept. 16, 2000; "Aboriginal Girls Taking Their Lives in Record
Numbers Across Ontario's North, Canadian Press, Dec. 6, 2000; "Ottawa
Wants Labrador Innu to Kill Themselves, Lobby Group Says," National
Post, Nov. 8, 1999; "Suicides Stagger Reserve," Calgary Herald,
Dec. 8, 2000.
11. Of numerous print and audiovisual prints, "Innu Urge Tobin to Get
Involved in Finding Help for Labrador's Gas Sniffers," Calgary Herald,
Dec. 8, 2000; and "Davis Inlet Children Flown to St. John's for
Treatment," CBC News, Jan. 9, 2001, are typical.
12. C. Kingsley & M. Mark, Sacred Lives: Canadian Aboriginal Children
and Youth Speak Out About Sexual Exploitation. Toronto: Save the
Children, Canada, 2000.
13. "Aids Battle Reaches Natives," Health Canada Fact Sheet, Dec. 1,
2000; C. Kingsley & M. Mark, footnote 12.
14. "Fact Sheet on Infant Mortality," Canadian Perinatal Surveillance
System, Health Canada, 1995.
15. "Fact Sheet on SIDS," Canadian Perinatal Surveillance System,
Health Canada, 1995.
16. A. Bear-Nicholas, Canada's Colonial Mission: The Great White Bird.
Brandon University Press, 2001.
17. "Youth Custody and Community Services," The Daily, Sept. 29, 2000;
"Aboriginal youth continue to be over-represented in the youth
correctional system relative to their population. In the reporting
jurisdictions where Aboriginal status was known, Aboriginal admissions
accounted for 26% of the total admissions to custody and 18% of
admissions to probation. However, in those jurisdictions Aboriginal
youth made up only 5% of the total youth population."
18. R. Chrisjohn, You Have to Be Carefully Taught: Special Needs and
First Nations Children. Assembly of First Nations, 1999. P. Breggin,
Reclaiming Our Children: A Healing Plan for a Nation in Crisis.
Cambridge: Perseus Books, 2000.
19. R. Chrisjohn, Racism as an Institutional Phenomenon: The Canadian
Experience. Available on-line at
20. Lloyd Axworthy, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, obviously
ignored or was ignorant of Canada's failures to live up to the spirit
and intent of international law with regard to indigenous peoples when
he stated at the Conference on War-Affected Children: "
been violated and vital societies enfeebled. To bring this to an end
we must first abide by and enforce the ample law and conventions
already on the books." We agree, and call his successor's attention to
the issues raised here and by the Aboriginal protestors at the
21. See, especially, Article 4.
22. "Statement of Opposition to the Secure Care Act," Vancouver,
Justice for Girls, 2000: "Looking at the implementation of the Alberta
legislation, it is clearly discriminatory in terms of gender (over 99%
of youth apprehended were girls). The Secure Care Act violates young
women's rights to equality before and under the law in that it will
almost exclusively be used to detain you women, and especially First
23. Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, In Harm's
Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development. Cambridge: 2000.
24. "It's Time for Native People to Help Themselves," Ottawa Citizen,
Dec. 10, 2000; "Money Won't Help' Innu People," Ottawa Citizen,
Dec. 3, 2000.
25. From the Draft Discussion Paper, Canada's Consultations for the
World Conference Against Racism, September, 2000, p. 4: "This broad
we hope, will produce consensus on what we need to do at
home to ensure that no Canadian is denied the opportunity to
contribute fully to society because of intolerance, discrimination, or
racism." P. 5: "
many Canadians remain conspicuously absent from the
cultural, social and economic mainstream. Individuals are prevented
from reaching their full potential and making their unique
contribution to society because of racism and intolerance."
26. R. Chrisjohn & S. Young, The Circle Game, footnote 3, above.
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