A B.C. high school teacher was escorted out of his classroom by two staff members after telling students the majority of residential school deaths were caused by illness.
“I was walked out like a criminal. They can’t walk a teacher out of school unless the teacher is a direct harm and immediate harm to children,” Jim McMurtry of Abbotsford, B.C., told The Epoch Times. “I wasn’t a harm to children because I made one comment that was historically true.”
That was in May, 2021 shortly after media reports began circulating that a “mass grave” of 215 indigenous children was found in Kamloops. McMurtry was suspended, and now almost a year later, he has officially been fired. His termination took effect Feb. 21.
McMurtry has a masters degree in history of education and wrote his thesis on indigenous education policy. When the Kamloops announcement was made, McMurtry read through the government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report to update his knowledge and see what may have been behind the deaths.
The report says about 48 percent of residential school deaths for which the cause is known were due to tuberculosis. Most of the rest were due to influenza, pneumonia, other illnesses.
A student in the class McMurtry was supply teaching at the time said the children in Kamloops were tortured by priests and left out in the snow to die, McMurtry said. He hadn’t seen evidence that was true, he told The Epoch Times.
He said to the student that there were things about residential schools that were not good. He also said the majority of deaths were due to illness.
While media at the time reported that the “grave” contained precisely 215 children with some “as young as three” and other details, McMurtry and others have since said there’s no evidence that it’s even a grave.
The site in Kamloops hasn’t been exhumed and the main evidence is a radar gun detection of ground disturbances, McMurtry said. There’s nothing as precise even as childrens’ bodies, he said.
“I’m not defending schools,” McMurtry said. “All I’m saying is that, we live in a society where there’s jurisprudence, where there’s empiricism. … If you’re going to say something, you got to back it up.”
McMurtry said that even if he was wrong about the residential school deaths, he doesn’t agree with how he was treated at the end of a 40-year teaching career.
“It was absolutely horrifying that they would do this to a senior teacher at the end of my career for doing something that I’m an authority on,” he said. “But even if I wasn’t, even if I said the wrong thing, that’s no way to treat a teacher.”
The Abbotsford School District did not reply to The Epoch Times inquiry as of publication. In portions of the board’s disciplinary investigation documents McMurtry posted on Twitter, his comments on the residential schools are called “inflammatory, inappropriate and insensitive.”
“Regardless of his intent he left students with the impression some or all of the deaths could be contributed [sic] to ‘natural causes’ and that the deaths could not be called murder or cultural genocide,” the documents said. His comments were “contrary to the school’s message of condolences and reconciliation.”
The board said McMurtry contravened his duty of loyalty to his employer in talking to school trustees and others about the disciplinary investigation. McMurtry said “Why would I show loyalty to people who are ending my career?” He also said he had never signed any confidentiality agreement with them.
In a Feb. 23 letter the board sent him outlining the reasons he was fired, it brought up incidents prior to the comments about residential schools.
“You made inappropriate sexualized comments to students; you exercised poor judgment by making imprudent comments to a certain student with whom you did not have a positive relationship; you failed to follow COVID-19 protocols,” were some of the other factors the board said it took into consideration in its decision to fire him.
McMurtry said regarding the earlier incidents that he had already settled that with the board. “I can’t talk about that … because it’s settled,” he said.
An older interview with the National Post gave an example of the “sexualized” comments. He was once discussing the history of the Olympics with his class and said ancient Greeks competed naked, “Sort of like women’s beach volleyball today.”
For decades, McMurtry said, he taught at various schools and served as a principal and never had problems with his employers. It was when he started with the Abbotsford School District a few years ago that problems started.
When asked why he thinks that’s so, he said “what’s happening is cancel culture. So in schools, teachers are walking on eggshells.”
Tara MacIsaac is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.