A Trust Betrayed: The Keegstra Affair
Joan McGrath is a Toronto Board of Education library consultant.
On May 2, 1983, CBC television’s “The journal” brought before the eyes of a horrified nation the Keegstra affair. A local scandal had become public property. Jim Keegstra, a teacher in Eckville High School in rural Alberta, a respected man held in high esteem by his community, was accused of poisoning the minds of his students with hatred and bigotry. He deeply believed — and still believes — in the far-fetched theory of an international Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity, and he denied that the atrocities of the Holocaust even really took place. Keegstra indoctrinated his students with a steady stream of biased statements principally about Catholics, Blacks, and others. This dangerous and tainted stuff provided Keegstra with the material for his social studies classes; he felt no compulsion to follow prescribed curricula. His students received high marks for regurgitating what they had heard from him, none for doing independent research or presenting any opposing point of view. Keegstra himself was the only authority.
What is most horrifying in this account is the undeniable fact that the man was allowed to go unchecked for 14 years, doing who knows what incalculable damage to receptive young minds. At last some alert and concerned community members had him dismissed from the trust he had so abused. His trial filled headlines across the nation. This study of a problem no one thought existed in Canada in the twentieth century is a warning all should heed. The lasting significance “does not lie in his trial.... In the end, what was important about the Keegstra affair was that there were those in the community who recognized the danger which Keegstra posed to Canadian society and were determined to do something about it.”