October 2019

Contents Related Letters

Re: “Referendum Trudeau,” by Jeff Costen

Interesting review by a former press secretary to three Ontario Liberal cabinet ministers.
@IvisonJ
Via Twitter

Interesting? Your book largely examines and critiques the litany of promises Trudeau broke during his first term. The review avoids this entirely, choosing instead to justify Trudeau’s progressivism. What is this partisan advocacy doing in a literary journal?
@NigelBeale
In Response to @IvisonJ


Re: “Comedy of Errors,” by J.D.M. Stewart

I have just read J. D. M. Stewart’s lengthy review of A Leader Must Be a Leader: Encounters with Eleven Prime Ministers. I appreciate the chronological, geographical, and other errors he correctly points out. Other friends have pointed out these and other issues. Obviously, I am solely responsible for all errors.

I am gratified that Stewart agrees the significant place of the federal national caucus in our political system is not adequately explored. Yet I am not a historian. I do not seek to be compared to those distinguished historians he mentions, or to other political journalists and authors, such as Peter Newman and Doug Fisher.

My book is political memoir. All memoirs, as a genre, are memories retold through personal and, at times, self-serving lenses. History is made up of a collage of observations, from historians, journalists, close participants, and other observers. In this sense, I hope I have made a minor contribution to Canada’s political history.

Of course, I have substantive disagreements with Stewart’s views. We come at politics from different biases. Time has not dulled Stewart’s acerbic wit nor his viewpoints. But the good news is the book selling well. And I have just signed an option for a ­documentary — thanks in part to Stewart’s review.

My next book, The Fragmented 20th Century, is due for publication in 2020. Hopefully, the Literary Review of Canada will see fit to review it as well, with its different perspectives — possible errors and all.

The Hon. Jerry S. Grafstein, QC
Toronto


Re: “No Genocide,” by Donald B. Smith and J.R. Miller

While I am flattered that Donald B. Smith and J. R. Miller reviewed my book, they have made numerous errors which suggest a cursory reading of The Sleeping Giant Awakens.

First, genocide as defined by Raphael Lemkin has always included far more than mass killing, as I note from the onset: “Lemkin was clear that ‘the machine gun’ was often ‘a last resort’ instead of the primary means of destruction.” The UN definition from 1948 identifies five aspects of genocide, including forcible transfer, which constitutes my book’s central focus. Kidnapping children, Lemkin averred, was a form of biological genocide, in that “there is little difference between direct killings and such techniques which, like a time-bomb, destroy by delayed action.”

Second, Miller and Smith are simply wrong when they suggest that I am “depreciating” the legalist or legal definition of genocide. My book is based primarily on understanding and then applying the legal definition, and I devote a technical and potentially dry chapter to precisely this issue. The reviewers argue that the legalist definition is “the only definition that permits productive debate,” and then ironically proceed to deny that this was genocide, presumably in the interests of “productive debate.”

Third, I am at a loss as to what Miller and Smith’s scattergun approach is critiquing. Is it my book or claims of cultural genocide and genocide by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? The acceptance of these terms by the Trudeau government? Why not address the larger movement toward reinterpreting Canadian history as a history of genocide?

Fourth, the review’s lengthy discussion of John A. Macdonald seems gratuitous. Miller and Smith don’t deny his crimes but relativize them with personal details about the prime minister’s friendly relations with select Indigenous leaders. I struggle to see the relevance of (presumably) Smith’s intervention. Does the fact that a Haudenosaunee physician named a child after the prime minister tell us anything about Macdonald’s role in clearing the plains of Indigenous peoples, deploying starvation tactics, or other ­machinations?

Fifth, while I am not a historian, I extensively consulted archives in Saskatchewan and Ottawa, and had a cordial time with Miller during one such visit. I made ample use of the TRC’s Library and Archives Canada databases when I worked for them, and I worked closely with the TRC’s official historian, who helped shape my analysis. An overwhelming amount of information exists on the Indian Residential School system and the intentions behind it. Smoking guns pointing to both genocidal crimes and intentions behind them can be found throughout histories, survivor memoirs, and historical documentation.

Sixth, I highlighted several errors in fact and interpretation in Miller’s 2017 book, Residential Schools and Reconciliation, and was disappointed that these were not addressed. Miller argued that the TRC could have claimed genocide in its final report but chose not to, the implication being that the evidence was not sufficient. He also suggested that Senator Murray Sinclair vacillated over whether genocide had occurred in the IRS system. Interviews with Sinclair, TRC commissioner Marie Wilson, and other staff suggest otherwise: the commission’s post-judicial mandate prevented any ­official conclusion of genocide, and as a private person Sinclair has consistently interpreted the IRS system as genocide.

Seventh, all books of political science are ahistorical, because we invariably judge the past by present standards. I don’t understand the philosophical or moral objection. When it comes to politics, the past is constantly being reinterpreted. Of the seven genocides officially recognized by the Canadian government, for example, three happened before the UN convention came into effect (the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, and the Holocaust). Are we judging Stalin or Mehmed Talaat anachronistically if we name their actions as genocide?

Eighth, Miller and Smith certainly have a rosy view of government actions, which they write were “never undertaken with the intent to destroy an Indigenous group.” Government policies were designed to “control Indigenous people but not to eradicate them.” Forcible assimilation proves there was no intention to “destroy them.” Really? Statements such as these could appear to whitewash history, especially if one is situated at the pointy end of ­settler colonialism.

Finally, in 1996, Miller described Indian Residential Schools as “attempted cultural genocide.” Ironically, the more Miller seems to learn of the past and its legacies, the softer his language becomes. What terms, then, would Miller and Smith prefer if “genocide” is off the table? In the interests of reconciliation, perhaps they can go beyond descriptors such as “terribly destructive” and “horrific.” These tepid and imprecise terms are not going to bring about the sort of reconciliation that we are all looking forward to seeing.

David MacDonald
Guelph, Ontario


Thank you for publishing this. It should not be forgotten by anyone today how life for people worldwide is improving and that living was harder and harder the farther one looks back in history. The leaders of Canadian governments are not the only ones who have made wrong decisions about how to run their countries and treat their populations. I am not wanting to excuse them, but one has to face reality.

Joyce Janzen
Nanaimo, BC


It would try readers’ patience to reply to all nine points in David MacDonald’s December 2019 letter to the editor, about the review of his book, The Sleeping Giant Awakens, that Donald B. Smith and I wrote for the October issue. However, a few of his arguments and questions require a response.

MacDonald describes our comments on John A. Macdonald’s relations with individual First Nations people as a “lengthy discussion” and “gratuitous.” Since intent — specifically intent to destroy a group — is a key element of genocide, an alleged perpetrator’s attitude toward that group is highly relevant. The prime minister, as illustrated by the examples we provided, was not hostile to First Nations people.

MacDonald says he “is at a loss as to what Miller and Smith’s scattergun approach is critiquing.” The explanation is simple: the review criticized the lack of evidence in MacDonald’s book that our first prime minister possessed the intent to destroy First Nations.

Finally, we pointed out that, while MacDonald appears not to accept the United Nations definition of genocide, his book fails to provide an alternative. There is no statement of the criteria MacDonald used to come to the conclusions he did about genocide in Canadian “Indian policy.” His letter to the editor does not do so either.

Jim Miller
Saskatoon


The Literary Review of Canada welcomes your comments and feedback, which we may edit for length, clarity, and accuracy. Write to letters@reviewcanada.ca.

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