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19 June, 2017


I have written extensively about the injustices suffered by our First Canadian brothers and sisters in residential schools over the years and the subsequent apologies and reconciliation efforts initiated by the church organizations that operated the institutions.

It was with a great deal of interest recently that I learned of native-born Canadian and historical expert Baron Alexander Deschauer’s new, Concentration Camps of Canada book that examines the little-known fact that long before Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the Canadian residential school system aimed to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples by taking children from their parents. Abuse and exploitation were rife, and many children died during this time.

I had never before considered the Hitler concentration camp connection, or similarity. 
Unknown to most, and utilizing techniques that inspired Hitler’s concentration camps of  Nazi-era Germany, in the 1880s Canada waged a genocidal war against its Indigenous people. In his new book, Deschauer tells the fictional story of Migizi Baswenaazhi, a young Indigenous boy, who is taken from his home and placed into one of these harsh schools, where he’s assigned the name David Bass.

The inspiration for the book’s title is from Supreme Court Justice Beverly McLachlin’s 2015 lecture to the Global Centre for Pluralism, during which she stated that Canada attempted to commit “cultural genocide” against Indigenous Canadians. “Many individuals, Canadian or not, have no clue of the injustices visited upon the Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government,” says Deschauer. “I was one of those Canadians until very recently and hope that through Concentration Camps of Canada, I can further inform others of the injustices Indigenous people have endured and continue to endure.”
In an eye-opening and thought-provoking interview around the release of Concentration Camps of Canada, Deschauer discusses:

• The Canadian residential school system, which aimed to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples by taking children from their parents.

• What life was like for the wards inside these school systems.

• The Canadian government’s recent efforts to apologize to the victims of these residential schools of the past.

• How these institutions may have acted as a model for Hitler’s own concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

ABOUT BARON: Basic training with the Canadian Reserves, entering a monastery, and sleeping on the sides of roads while hitch-hiking through Europe are just a few of the moments from the life of Baron Alexander Deschauer. Sanity, university, and the need to earn a living led him to a B.Ed., BA, and LLB before embarking on an entrepreneurial life in London, England. Although he can order food, look for a toilet, and find directions in German, Mandarin, French, and Hebrew, he follows the wise words of Clint Eastwood — “A man should know his limitations.” — and now only writes in English.​ In his quest to better understand the world around him, he has written a number of books exploring existence (Revelation and Faust), capital (The Art of Wealth) and the complex interplay of will, luck, fate, and hope (his Man on the Run series).

AN UPDATE ON GOVERNMENT ACTION: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently asked Pope Francis to apologise for the Catholic Church’s role in what has been described as an act of “cultural genocide”.  Pope Francis is reported to be considering the possibility of an apology. The request for an apology is a significant landmark in a long campaign fought by One Young World Counsellor and human rights campaigner Senator Murray Sinclair over the damage caused by the infamous residential schools system.

The request for a papal apology came as Amnesty International announced that its prestigious Ambassador of Conscience award for 2017 was being given to Canada’s Indigenous Rights Movement, shared with the singer and refugee rights campaigner Alicia Keys.
Senator Murray Sinclair

Senator Sinclair was named as one of six individual indigenous rights activists chosen to accept the award. The One Young World Counsellor, who attended last year’s Summit in Ottawa and addressed a Special Session on peace and reconciliation, was chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which gathered stories of residential school survivors. The Commission produced a 2015 report which recommended ways for the country to come to terms with the legacy of the schools system.

“The evidence is mounting that the government did try to eliminate the culture and language of Indigenous people for well over a hundred years,” Senator Sinclair told Canadian broadcaster CBC, prior to the Vatican meeting. “As commissioners we have concluded that cultural genocide is probably the best description of what went on here…they did it by forcibly removing children from their families and placing them within institutions that were cultural indoctrination centres.”

Senator Sinclair told the Globe & Mail newspaper in 2015 that it was crucial that the Prime Minister personally secured the apology from the Pope. “That is a request that, we think, has got to come from the highest official in the country because it is almost a nation-to-nation request,” he said. “So I would hope that that request would be communicated at that level.”

In its 2015 report, the commission recommended that the Catholic Church issue a formal apology for its part in the residential school system. Similar apologies have been issued by Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches, who along with the Catholic Church helped run the schools as joint ventures with the Canadian government.  In the early going I sat on a Presbyterian Church in Canada "Truth and Reconciliation" committee.

In 2008, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of Canadians, calling it “a sad chapter in our history”. A year later, Pope Benedict offered a personal apology to the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, Phil Fontaine, expressing his “sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church”.  But the apology was not accepted by the TRC as the meeting was private and the apology was not offered to the survivors of the school system.

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