Lawyer says residential school denialism should be added to Criminal Code


A high-profile Cree lawyer from Saskatchewan is calling for residential school denialism to be added to the Criminal Code alongside Holocaust denialism, in the wake of a recent interim report by Canada's special interlocutor on missing children and unmarked graves.

"It's the same," lawyer Eleanore Sunchild told CBC News.

"If you deny that that happened — if you deny the whole residential school system and its impact on Indigenous people and the trauma that was created from those schools and the deaths — then, of course, it should be seen as hate speech."

Under section 319 of the criminal code, the wilful promotion of hatred or antisemitism, unless in a private conversation, could lead to up to two years in prison. This includes "condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust."

Sunchild — who has represented countless residential school survivors and, most notably, Colton Boushie's family during the controversial Gerald Stanley trial — said interlocutor Kimberly Murray's report made it clear more must to be done to address denialism.

"There needs to be consequences for people who are promoting hatred," Sunchild said.

Murray's interim report detailed denialism and other challenges that remain for Indigenous families and communities trying to search for unmarked graves.

As an example, she listed how residential school deniers tried to dig up suspected unmarked grave sites at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, not believing a May 2021 announcement from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc that as many as 215 Indigenous children had been buried there.

"Denialism is violence. Denialism is calculated. Denialism is harmful. Denialism is hate," Murray said in a news conference last Friday.

"Denialism is a non-Indigenous problem and therefore it's for non-Indigenous people to address it."