1986’d Pt 3: The Harris Conservatives’ attack on Indigenous people; Government secrecy in textbook evaluation harms education



Privatization is one serious problem, but there are others. Canada continued to be plagued by ideologues who sought to erase the vast majority of the country’s history and cultural identity. Retired Education officer Keith Lickers characterized the late 1990s Conservative government as having set the clock back fifty years. “All the gains that had been made in native education with the Liberals and with the NDP were all taken away under Mike Harris.”[1] Lickers referred to the experiences of Queen’s University Professor John Fielding as he managed a rewrite of the secondary school curriculum for Canadian and world studies. Fielding received a memo declaring that the histories of aboriginal people, women and labour were not to be used in association with the term “contribution.”[2] Instead of labour history, writers were told to feature the Canadian Manufacturing Association and its contributions to the Canadian economy. To Fielding’s enormous credit, he won the right to include some aboriginal and women’s content by threatening to go to the media.

The Harris government was in a severely conflicted position in designing Canada’s Indigenous history curriculum, given its role in creating some of it. Shortly after the Progressive Conservatives won the June 1995 election, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) launched another shooting conflict between Canada’s armed forces and its original inhabitants. At Ipperwash Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron, the OPP shot and killed Anthony O’Brien “Dudley” George as he participated in an occupation to reclaim land seized fifty years earlier. Attorney General Charles Harnick (who said he has “nothing but admiration for the premier”) testified in 2005 that he heard Harris rant, “I want the fucking Indians out of the park.” [3]   Others claimed not to have remembered the slur but the premier’s intent was clear. Police marched on the park that night.

Peter Edwards’ 2001 book One Dead Indian: The Premier, the Police and the Ipperwash Crisis explains that “Aboriginal people [had] lived and died for some ten thousand years in the area along Lake Huron” prior to the Canadian military’s 1942 expropriation of the Stoney Point Reserve for a training base.[4]  This forced Stoney Pointers to move to the nearby Kettle Point Reserve and cost them grazing, hunting and gathering rights. A supposed wartime arrangement became a permanent land grab after World War II when the Department of National Defence created a base.

Following a public inquiry after the Conservatives lost the 2003 election, the Ipperwash report described ignorance of First Nations land claims as a potentially explosive issue:

I believe that public education is necessary both throughout the province and in areas where contentious or ongoing Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal disputes exist, such as Ipperwash, the Bruce Peninsula, Caledonia, and in Northern Ontario. The need for localized or regional public education is particularly important to help diffuse or mitigate local conflicts. The risk of violence at an Aboriginal occupation or protest increases when the local non-Aboriginal population, especially those immediately affected by the direct action, have little knowledge or understanding of the rights at issue.[5]

Archived education communications between Lambton County (which includes both reserves and the park) and the province reveals historical coincidence. In 1978 the local board of education had written the Ministry of Education seeking assurances that “text and reference material presently appearing in Circular 14 is free from racially inappropriate statements,” and asking that “appropriate bodies of native persons themselves” check the content.[6] The request had originated with the county’s Native Advisory Committee. The Textbooks Branch’s J.C. Fraser replied with assurances that “especially since 1970 we have been working very diligently on this problem.”[7] Fraser mentioned the Nelson Report’s examination of the province’s textbook selections conducted that year. He didn’t disclose that the province had chosen to shelve the report’s recommendations and allow offensive books to continue circulating.

Officer Fraser admitted that “(w)e do not consider that we have reached perfection since the problem is a very complex one and when corrected in one area seems to arise in another.” But he was confident that “before long the whole educational community will become more aware of, and sensitive to, bias. With such awareness, even a ‘bad’ book in the hands of a good teacher – Mike Harris had been both ski instructor at his dad’s ski hill and a schoolteacher before he was premier – could be used to advantage in teaching children how to detect bias and promote critical thinking.”

Some retrenching followed the election of Doug Ford’s Conservatives in 2018. The province’s sex education curriculum, implemented under its first openly gay premier three years earlier, was allowed to survive following backlash, but updates to Indigenous studies for history and social studies were canceled. New elective courses became available to students who chose them, but the government refused to accept that all students should learn about Indigenous perspectives. 

An Alberta education ministry leak in October 2020 revealed proposed curriculum as regressive, racist and incorrect updates. Subject to public and academic scrutiny, Jason Kenney government realized that it threatened to turn the province into a laughing stock.[8] Fourth graders were to learn that most non-white Albertans were Christian. All references to residential schools and “equity” would have been eliminated. In this task, the Kenney Conservatives were assisted by education consultants C.P. (Chris) Champion and Paul Bennett. Champion, a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and editor of The Dorchester Review, claiming Indigenous perspectives were “fashionable.” Champion thought Albertans should get back to rote memorization and that children “have a right to know our stories, and by heart.”[9] Like other neo-conservatives, Champion was trying to present Canada as just derivative of Europe, ignoring the evidence.


The ways of our people are ancient but they are not rigid. They bend and turn to reflect changes in our culture. We expect our young people to have a different interpretation of their culture and different ways of expressing it. This is how the culture grows and how we grow as a people.

Ojibway Statement on Education[10]

Close to half of Canada’s English-speaking students were immediately robbed of the fair and honest education that those who drafted Canada’s constitutional protections and international agreements suggested was due. Ontario’s outsized influence on educational publishing also means that the rest of Canada didn’t escape. Girls, Indigenous students, Franco-Canadians and other identities were submerged in formulaic presentation of macho WASP historical and social archetypes. A collection of subjects the Education Ministry considered sensitive, as gleaned from the sample of covertly censored textbooks discovered via archived textbook evaluations, demonstrates intentional government efforts to push the Canadian public toward docility and compliance, toward corporate servitude over individualism and entrepreneurialism.

Public education can act as a sort of slow-boil brainwash to prepare students to accept a lesser future programmed by administrators. With legal chattel slavery ending, the British Empire wanted to continue extracting labour for profit. Public school was the answer: teach children to be content and happy in low-wage servitude. For North America’s Indigenous people, an additional tragic motive was to destroy cultural self-reliance that tens of thousands of years of cultural evolution had established. This cultural genocide was core to Europe’s genocidal program for the Americas.

This Canadian tragedy happened because the chauvinists running public education held aristocratic and pathological worldviews that provincially aped captains of British imperialism and American industrialism. A small, privileged class of private school students were carried along to leadership and the good life without competition from greater society. With public school competitors held back, actually engineered to know less, Ontario’s more fortunate sons had an easier road to success.

Ontario’s unacknowledged censorship violated Canada’s international obligations to the United Nations, and obligations under constitutional documents such as the 1960 Bill of Rights and the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Arguments could once be made that a homogenized educational curriculum was appropriate for a heavy industrial economy. But with Western corporations now having offshored much manufacturing to cheaper labour markets, how can the inheritors of a rusting and rotting economic shell renew their world? Freedom of thought appears essential for that task. The Ojibway statement on education likewise suggests that knowledge need not be so hierarchical. “[Y]oung people … [must] … have a different interpretation of their culture and different ways of expressing it.” New generations have no choice but to carry on.

Government abuse of educational media in Ontario can be overcome with increased public oversight,  forbearance, or a combination of the two. For oversight, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has already been involved in educational monitoring and reform. Ontario is fortunate to have that documentary history to review and help it shape the future. Ontario can re-energize its educational publishing industry by eliminating secrecy from curriculum development and textbook selection, and by increasing public oversight. Refreshing Canadian educational publishing can happen with independence and intellectual property guarantees. Lobbyist registries notify the public of special interests’ presence. An additional step would see public representation at meetings where educational programming is discussed with non-government interests such as industry, industry associations and labour.

Oversight could mean an investigative agency with rights. But how can such an agency be made answerable to the people of Ontario and Canada, and governed by their charter, rather than a corporate entity, foreign power or conflicted cabinet? Perhaps an office like the Ontario’s Human Rights or Information Privacy Unit Commission. Government is aware of the importance of the “free market of ideas” that free speech advocates promote, even if it chooses to ignore the concern.[11] When the Textbooks Branch received questions about textbook choice, it has quoted similar reasons for its existence.

Bureaucrats and some publishers both knew the dangers of unacknowledged censorship but said little. The Government of Ontario should act as an empowered advocate guaranteeing that quality Canadian educational media is rewarded even when short-term political administrations don’t like the message.

Greater legal forbearance from censorship with funding for peer evaluation is an opportunity to liberate textbooks. As far back as the 1970s, Director of Curriculum Development J.K. Crossley described file secrecy as largely unnecessary, except for reviewers’ identities:

In my opinion, files which have traditionally been confidential, should remain so only in relation to the names of the evaluators. The essentially subjective nature of decisions will likely always generate controversy, but

    • The list is the Minister’s list and petitioners who seek to have books put on the list must abide by the policies surrounding it.
    • Individual authors and publishers have always had a right to appeal decisions and have done so in the past. The use of the press and other public media for such appeals is valid, but a fairly new channel.[12]


Government’s obsession with manipulative powers over curriculum and the educational press prevented Canadians from embracing their culture, becoming more involved in the telling of their history, and from engineering their own futures. This is branch plant ideology. As Canada’s largest province, Ontario can serve an important national role by seeding the country’s educational publishing industry. Government regulation of textbooks has allowed its biases to impede selection. Before the state took selection powers away from parents in the 19th century, Indigenous people and Canadians had forbearance and self-determination.

*Canadian Mockingbird is a newly available story on textbook censorship.





[1] Interview.

[2] Fielding, John. “Tales from the Crypt, or Writing the Ontario Canadian and World Studies Curriculum,” Our Schools/Our Selves 11, no. 3 (2002).

[3] Harries, Kate. (2005, November 29, A1). “Harris uttered slur, Ipperwash inquiry told.” The Globe and Mail.

[4] Edwards, Peter. One Dead Indian: The Premier, the Police and the Ipperwash Crisis.  Toronto: Stoddart, 2001, p. 28.

[5] Linden, Sidney B. Report of the Ipperwash Commission, Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General (Toronto: Government of Ontario, 2007), 156.

[6] Wells, Allen R. Lambton County Board of Education to Curriculum Branch, Ministry of Education, April 4, 1978, B285106, RG 2-243-1, AO.

[7] Fraser, JC. Letter to Allen R. Wells, Lambton County. July 31, 1978. B285106, RG 2-243-1, AO.

[8] French, Janet. “Education Experts Slam Leaked Alberta Curriculum Proposals; Lessons Would Make Alberta a ‘Laughingstock,’ Education Professor Says.” CBC News (2020). Published electronically October 21. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/education-experts-slam-leaked-alberta-curriculum-proposals-1.5766570.

[9] Champion, C.P. “Alberta’s Little History War.” The Dorchester Review, Spring/Summer (2019): 104-05. Emphasis added.

[10] Peterborough Petroglyphs Learning Centre (Woodview, Ontario), “Ojibway Statement on Education” . Visited summer of 2013.

[11] Christian-Smith, Michael W. Apple and Linda K. “The Politics of the Textbook.” Chap. 1 In The Politics of the Textbook, edited by Michael W. Apple and Linda K. Christian-Smith, 1-21. New York: Routledge, 1991.

[12] Crossley, JK memo to Assistant Deputy Minister JF Kinlin re “The Confidentiality of Circular 14 Files.” July 26, 1973, B285118, RG-2-243-4, AO. Because evaluation files continued to be restricted to researchers until the late 1980s, I assume cabinet did not agree with the suggestion of increased transparency. Typically, “appeals” worked by publishers resubmitting their rejected books, sometimes having eliminated what the Ministry found offensive.