Editorial: Truth should reign supreme

By  Catholic Register Staff
  • May 7, 2024

In its April budget this year, the federal government pledged a $5-million fund to “combat residential school denialism.”

At the same time, Ottawa reportedly spends more than $360 million a year to support Canadian journalism through a dizzying mix of public dollar delivery methods for the nation’s broadcast, print and digital  media.

With Google’s $100-million payment of dane geld so it can continue including Canadian journalism in its search engine, about half the salaries of journalists earning $85,000 a year will be paid via an enhanced federal tax credit, according to The Hub online publication.

So, what happens when the tax-funded irresistible media scoop runs afoul of the federally subsidized combat team enforcing its “anti-denialism” mandate? Further complication: How will the reporter earning half-pay from Ottawa know when the journalistic pursuit of truth must end and the, shall we say, shimmering definition of “denialism” be accorded supremacy?

Is it when the inevitable Committee actually garnishees the scoopster’s moola through the powers granted it by an Act of Parliament? Or will compliance rely on a more  internalized resistance factor: a kind of Peter Parker spidey sense that, just this once, it’s better to pocket the cash rather than clash with the central paying powers that be?

The questions are not abstract. They are not only real but immediate. Worse, they comprise the very conundrum that voices within the Ottawa bureaucracy warned would consequentially emerge if politicians barged into the nations newsrooms and began doling our cash while simultaneously pursuing policies that the media, by its nature, is bound to report on, expose, and, dare it still be said, criticize.

The best live example at the moment is one that happens to directly implicate our Holy Mother Church in Canada. The Archdiocese of Edmonton is the subject of a class action lawsuit that alleges one of its priests made “defamatory” statements against all residential school survivors — many of whom are long dead — by his alleged “denial” of claims surrounding the Kamloops Indian Residential School story in 2021.

How, curious minds might ask, did Edmonton get embroiled three years later in the famous events at Kamloops, which is 806.5 kilometres away?

Did we mention further complication? The suit was brought in the name of Sphenia Jones, who is from the Haida Nation on the archipelago off Canada’s northern Pacific Coast. But about 65 years ago, Ms. Jones attended — or in her recounting was forcibly taken to — the Edmonton Indian Residential School, which was then run by the United Church of Canada.

The researcher Nina Green has made available published comments from Jones in which she expands on her experience at, and observations of, the residential school system, which no attentive, compos mentis person would deny was a historic abomination. Among other things, Jones says Indigenous children were taken to Edmonton from the islands of Haida Gwaii in boxcars. She says 1,000 children were fed in the school cafeteria. She says she witnessed an uninvestigated murder at the school in which a child’s head was crushed.

The legal process, not a Catholic Register editorial, will judge the fullness of the reliability of her claims. In a late April ruling, Justice James Farrington ruled her suit has the necessary “reasonable chance of success and completes the basics” needed to proceed. That doesn’t mean it will succeed, of course. Indeed, the Archdiocese of Edmonton’s argument that nothing shows Jones was defamed by the remarks of Oblate priest Fr. Marcin Mironiuk might ultimately prevail.

Whatever the legal to-and-fro, though, should it not be the axiomatic role of Canadian journalism to investigate such claims, not to discredit, demean or undermine 79-year-old Sphenia Jones but to find out what is, well, most likely true and most likely not?

Anticipating the clever query from the back of the room, yes, Register reporter Anna Farrow has a story in this issue surfacing a key document that challenges one of Jones’ most disturbing claims involving the alleged murder of a nine-year-old girl at a residential school.

Alas, we have no confidence, because we have seen no evidence, that our counterparts in the so-called mainstream media, who thanks to government largesse still far outstrip us in resources, are doing the same. Enter the questions above.

They truly are questions that matter. They matter for the abstraction of “saving democracy.” They matter, much more, for the absolute necessity of having a country where the truth, or at least its pursuit, is the principle that precedes all others. They matter most of all to sustain the conviction that we must speak out when transient governments deem it perfectly acceptable for their own pursuit of power to play both ends against the media.

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