CANADA DAY STATEMENT
In the open letter below a group of historians has openly responded to - and rejected - the Canada Day Statement put out by the Canadian Historical Review.
The open letter is being published in various venues most notably in the Literary Review of Canada and Le Journal de Montreal.
to the Council of the Canadian Historical Association and the Canadian public
We write to express our grave disappointment with the Canadian Historical Association’s “Canada Day Statement”. The Council of the CHA claims that “the existing historical scholarship” makes it “abundantly clear” that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples was genocidal and that there was “broad scholarly consensus” as to the evidence of “genocidal intent.” The CHA Council also attacks the profession in stating that historians have turned a blind eye to the tragedies that have marked Canadian history.
There are no grounds for such a claim that purports to represent the views of all of Canada’s professional historians.
The recent discovery of graves near former Indigenous residential schools is tragic evidence of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) documented in Volume 4 of its final report - a report that we encourage all Canadians to read. We also encourage further research into gravesites across Canada and support the completion of a register of children who died at these schools. Our commitment to interrogate the historical and ongoing legacies of residential schools and other forms of attempted assimilation is unshaken.
However, the CHA exists to represent professional historians and, as such, has a duty to represent the ethics and values of historical scholarship. In making an announcement in support of a particular interpretation of history, and in insisting that there is only one valid interpretation, the CHA’s current leadership has fundamentally broken the norms and expectations of professional scholarship.
With this coercive tactic, the CHA Council is acting as an activist organization and not as a professional body of scholars. This turn is unacceptable to us.
The issue represents a lively debate amongst scholars, many of whom differ in their assessments of this question. Differing interpretations are to be expected in a vibrant scholarly community that welcomes open debate, viewpoint diversity, and a commitment to assessing the past based on primary evidence.
By pretending that there is only one interpretation, the directors of the CHA are insulting and dismissing the scholars who have arrived at a different assessment. They are presenting the Canadian public with a purported “consensus” that does not exist.
They also are insulting the basic standards of good scholarly conduct and violating the expectations that Canadians have of academia to engage in substantive, evidence-based debate. No matter the good intentions of those who have made this statement, it is especially important that scholarly organizations remain committed to viewpoint diversity and open debate especially on issues where many feel a moral impulse to insist on a particular historical interpretation. It is precisely in situations like this that our intellectual principles are tested and must be upheld.
We demand that the CHA Council retract its statement and commit itself instead to its real mission of upholding the values of viewpoint diversity and open scholarly debate. Its job is not to promote a single “consensus” history of Canada.
We know we speak also for a multitude who fear to support this open letter for fear of endangering their tenure and promotions or who occupy official positions that prevent them from speaking out.
As the CHA celebrates its hundredth anniversary, it should honour its best traditions and act as a truly professional organization that stands unreservedly for the protection of objectivity, doubt, debate and unfettered access to the resources that will help historians shine a light on even the darkest corners of Canada’s past.