Kenney resists calls to fire speechwriter who said residential schools were a 'bogus genocide story'

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that he "fundamentally disagrees" with the contents of an article written in 2013 by his speechwriter that dismissed the 'bogus genocide story' of Canada's residential school system.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the article 'profoundly racist' on Thursday

Premier Jason Kenney, left, wouldn't commit to firing speechwriter Paul Bunner for a 2013 column that called residential schools a 'bogus genocide story.' NDP Leader Rachel Notley, right, called the piece 'profoundly racist' on Thursday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that he "fundamentally disagrees" with the contents of an article written in 2013 by his speechwriter that dismissed the "bogus genocide story" of Canada's residential school system.

But Kenney did not commit to firing speechwriter Paul Bunner for the article, titled "The 'Genocide' That Failed," written for the online magazine C2C Journal.

"Somebody who was a journalist for 40 years undoubtedly wrote things with which I disagree," Kenney said. "That does not reflect or change the policy of the government of Alberta."

He said his government had worked to solidify the relationship between the province and Indigenous communities, investing in projects like the Indigenous Opportunities Corporation.

In the article, Bunner wrote that Indigenous youth could be "ripe recruits for radical segregationist movements, perhaps even violent insurgencies," and criticized the public education system for "uncritically regurgitating the genocide story as if it were fact."

Speaking Thursday, provincial NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the article was painful and profoundly racist, and she called on Kenney to fire Bunner and issue an apology to residential school survivors in the province.

"This essay is racist. And it is not a poorly worded tweet or document of the distant past. It was written deliberately and recently," Notley said. "I'm deeply troubled that Jason Kenney selected someone who holds these views to be one of his closest collaborators in the premier's office.

"It is disturbing to think how many of the premier's public statements over the past year have been composed by someone who harbours such hatred toward Indigenous people."

Kenney hired Bunner in early 2019. Bunner worked as a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2009.

The premier also cited Chief Willie Littlechild's comments to CBC News about the article, remarking that it would "serve [us] much greater if we walk [the path toward a solution] together."

"I think that's important for all of us to learn and to listen in humility," Kenney said.

Anti-racism action plan

Gabrielle Lindstrom, who is from the Kainaiwa First Nation in southern Alberta and teaches Indigenous studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University, said Bunner's article indicated a great deal about those who hold power in government.

"That story is really based in a lot of, I would say, forgetting about the history of the Indian residential schools and that impact that it's had," Lindstrom said. 

"It's about maintaining the image of Alberta, the image of Canada, as this friendly, polite society when in fact Canada is guilty of crimes against humanity."

Lindstrom said she hoped those in power would implement an anti-racism action plan in government and in the province's education systems, developed collaboratively with Indigenous people.

The last federally run residential school closed in the late 1990s, but many of the more than 150,000 Indigenous children removed from their families have since told told stories of physical abuse, sexual assault and emotional anguish.

With files from Elise von Scheel and Erin Collins