Remember last summer when a mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of children was found on the grounds of a former government boarding school for indigenous children in British Columbia, Canada?
In the seven months since this shocking news broke, not one body has been found, and not a single shovel-full of dirt has been excavated from the site in question. Contrary to the worldwide media coverage last summer, nothing, in fact, has been “discovered” on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
In a healthy society, this would be a scandal. A story that grabbed headlines for a week and inspired arson attacks that destroyed dozens of churches in Canada turns out to be based on flimsy, unexamined evidence at best, and an outright, pernicious lie at worst.
You might remember the overblown coverage. CNN breathlessly reported on what it called the “gruesome discovery.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation appended a warning label to its coverage, saying “this story contains details some readers may find distressing.” The Washington Post declared that news of the mass grave had “dragged the horror of Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people back into the spotlight.” Every corporate outlet took it for granted that a mass grave containing hundreds of corpses had indeed been discovered—corpses of children, no less. They reported it as fact.
Politicians quickly fell in line. Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau tweeted that the discovery “is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.” British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he was “horrified and heartbroken.” The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called it “a large scale human rights violation,” and called on Canada and the Vatican to investigate.
Tribal leaders in Canada went further and said the discovery was evidence of “mass murder of indigenous people,” that it was an “attempted genocide.” Some of them compared the priests and nuns who ran the boarding schools to Nazis, implying that, like the Nazis, these people should answer for their crimes.
Flags were lowered to half-mast. Calls were issued for an inquiry. Important and serious people said there must be a reckoning with Canada’s racist past. Lamentations poured forth from Catholic bishops for the church’s role in running these government boarding schools.
And then came the arson. In June, dozens of churches across Canada, most of them Catholic and some of them more than a century old, were burned to the ground. No church was safe. As my colleague Chris Bedford reported at the time, “In Calgary, 10 churches of various denominations were vandalized in a single night. A few days later, a Vietnamese church was set on fire — just hours after it held its first full service in more than a year.”