B.C. court to rule on forcing children to participate in religious rituals
Disclosure: Lawyer John Carpay is President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which represents Candice Servatius in her court action against School District 70.
Public schools in British Columbia are not complying with court rulings, because children are required to participate in religious rituals and spiritual practices in the classroom.
For most of Canada’s history, children in public schools have recited the Lord’s Prayer, while children in Catholic schools recited the Our Father, the same prayer. The “public” schools were, in fact, Protestant schools, inculcating the general principles of non-Catholic Christianity. In recent decades, following trends in Canadian culture, public schools have gradually ceased to be Christian.
Starting in the 1980s, a number of Jews, atheists and others launched successful court challenges to the practice of requiring children in public schools (formerly Protestant schools) to say the Lord’s Prayer. Courts accepted the argument that public schools should be neutral in regard to religion, and should not teach any one faith or creed. Requiring children to recite the Lord’s Prayer in public schools is government imposition of Christianity, and this imposition violates the Charter. The courts also ruled that exempting the children of atheists, Jews and other non-Christians from saying the Lord’s Prayer was not an adequate compromise: no child should be required to announce or declare his or her non-belief in Christianity. The courts reasoned that for a child to make use of the exemption would effectively force that child to express his or her unwillingness to say the Lord’s Prayer. This could result in unacceptable stigma or ostracism; a person has the right not to disclose his or her religious belief or non-belief to other people.
In spite of clear court rulings, John Howitt Elementary School (JHES) in Port Alberni, B.C., forces children to participate in aboriginal smudging ceremonies, in which the smoke of burning sage is waived over children to “cleanse” their “spirits” of “negative energy”. As JHES explained in a note to parents in September of 2015: without this cleansing ritual the classroom and even the furniture would harbour negative “energy” and would not be safe until the “energy” was “released”. The letter stated that each student would participate in the cleansing ritual by holding onto a cedar branch while having “smoke from Sage fanned over [their] body and spirit.”
This “Traditional Classroom/Student Cleansing” was performed by a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth, the term used to describe fifteen related First Nation tribes who live on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The school’s letter to parents also described Nuu-chah-nulth religious and
spiritual beliefs: “everything has a spirit” and “everything is one, all is connected”.
Concerned about the explicitly supernatural and religious nature of the cleansing ritual, and how it conflicted with her own family’s religious beliefs, Candice Servatius immediately went to the school to learn more, after receiving the JHES letter in September of 2015. But when this Port Alberni mother arrived at the school, she was shocked to find out that the ritual had already been imposed on her nine-year-old daughter.
The daughter explained that she had been coerced or pressured by the teacher to participate in the ritual against her will. When the nine-year-old girl told her teacher that she did not want to participate, the teacher told the girl that it would be “rude” not to participate in the ritual and that “all” the students were “required” to participate.
In January of 2016, Mrs. Servatius learned that a prayer based on First Nations spirituality had been performed at a JHES student assembly, with explicit references to an unspecified “god”.
JHES did not notify parents.
Mrs. Servatius’ daughter has recounted her experience in the classroom to her mother, and has also sworn an Affidavit, filed with the court action against School District 70 (Port Alberni).
School District 70 claims that the ceremonies and prayers that children are required to participate in are merely “cultural” and therefore not religious or spiritual. This assertion is contradicted by what the School District itself told parents in the letter in September of 2015.
School District 70 has offered to exempt children from these rituals, when a parent or child requests such exemption. But courts have explained why exemptions from spiritual or religious practices are not an acceptable solution: no child should have to face stigma or ostracism by needing to signal her disagreement with an aboriginal cleansing ritual. Further, consistent with clear court rulings, section 76 of the B.C. School Act requires public schools to be conducted on “strictly secular and non-sectarian principles”.
Witnesses for the Attorney General of B.C. and the Nuu-chul-nuth Tribal Council, both of whom are intervening in the case, have already stated that it is contrary to First Nations practice to compel anyone to be smudged against their will, and that it is “unnecessary” to hold smudging
ceremonies in classrooms in order to teach about First Nations culture.
The Charter exists to protect the right of Canadians to live and participate in public life in accordance with their own conscience and beliefs. This includes the right to live free from government-imposed religion.
The state should not enforce or impose any sectarian creed or ideology on children, by requiring children to say a prayer or participate in a religious or spiritual ceremony. It’s one thing to teach children about Islam, but quite another to require children to kneel on prayer rugs and recite Islamic prayers while facing in the direction of Mecca. Public schools can teach children about Christianity’s central prayer, but cannot ask children to recite that prayer.
Likewise, it’s possible to teach children about aboriginal spiritual rituals without requiring children to participate in them.
The Supreme Court of B.C. will hear this case in Nanaimo from Nov. 18 to 22, 2019.
British Columbia has recorded its seventh case of coronavirus, according to CTV News. This brings the total number of cases to 11 in Canada.
The patient is reportedly under isolation at their home in the Fraser Health region of BC. The patient is around 40-years-old and had close contact with the patient who was the sixth case of coronavirus in the province.
The sixth case in British Columbia was revealed on Thursday. The patient, who is in their 30s, also lives in the Fraser Health region. They recently arrived in Canada from Iran.
The BC government has said that they are attempting to reach out to everyone who has been in contact with the two known patients, whilst keeping their privacy intact.
Having said this, the number of coronavirus patients outside of the Wuhan region in China is continuing to rise, even spreading to countries as far away as Europe—potentially necessitating tougher containment measures.
Vancouver Island Extinction Rebellion appeared outside the home of British Columbia Premier John Horgan claiming they would be attempting a citizen’s arrest on the premier.
Protestors said they were attempting to prevent Horgan’s attendance of the provincial budget announcement at the BC legislature Tuesday.
RCMP vehicles were on scene, as well as members of Horgan’s security personnel.
Protestors have been spotted holding signs outside of Horgan’s home, with others laying down across Horgan’s residence.
The premier was seen arriving at his home at around 8 a.m. PST, getting in a verbal argument with protestors there to arrest him.
According to CTV News, the RCMP created an “exclusion zone” and threatened to arrest anyone who remained on the premise. Protestors were then arrested, while others remained outside the street.
Horgan reportedly left his home with his security detail at 8:30 a.m.
The action outside the premier’s home Tuesday comes after numerous displays by the eco group that have disrupted Canada.
On Feb. 11, hundreds of activists blocked the entrances to the B.C. legislature as the government was set to deliver its throne speech.
The Extinction Rebellion demonstration were in solidarity with anti-pipeline Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.
“The events of the past week on Wet’suwet’en territories have been an extreme demonstration of colonial violence, approved by the Trudeau and Horgan governments in contravention of Wet’suwet’en, Canadian and international law,” said a statement released Monday night by the group.
“We join the Wet’suwet’en in urging the Horgan government to stop privileging corporate interests over indigenous sovereign rights and the integrity of the Yintah.”
Extinction Rebellion has garnered negative attention recently, as the group has participated in railway blockades that have inconvenienced the travel of an estimated 90,000 VIA Rail travellers and countless CN Rail cargo shipments.
A review of complaints has been ordered by the Federal Court of Appeal for a Department of Environment workplace in Nanaimo, British Columbia. The conditions of the workplace were so bad that a bulletproof vest was being taken to work by a manager because she feared being shot by another employee according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
Justice Mary Gleason wrote, “The Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board did not address the issue of whether the applicant was motivated by a genuine fear. It was precisely its role to consider whether the applicant had a genuine fear for her safety.”
The manager at the office was Angela Walker, and she was fired for the harassment of a male employee at the office in 2015. An appeal by Walker was dismissed by the Employee Board in 2019. Walker said that she “protected the environment and made it safer for everyone” at the office and felt like “nothing” when the dismissal occurred.
The Board wrote, “Every witness who testified spoke to a poisoned atmosphere at the Coastal District team and the Nanaimo office.” One of the office employees mentioned that the behaviour by management was “akin to a form of water torture.”
During the Board hearings, Walker was called “highly emotional.” Walker said that she “carried a map showing the route to the hospital” while wearing her bulletproof vest because one of the employees scared her so much.
According to Walker, the male employee said that she “should be burned at the stake” and would call her names like “the devil,” “Miss Piggy” and a “f—king bitch.” Other employees at the office said that they never heard this language being used by the man.
The Board’s reason for Walker’s firing was an “ongoing pattern of behaviour” towards the man. Some of the things she did to the man included revoking his security pass, making him go to Quebec for a management seminar and keeping an eye on his Access to Information records.
The board described the man, Ken Russell, as “highly credible” and “a very sympathetic witness.” In fact, Russell was so highly thought of by fellow employees that he was given a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee award.
The Board wrote, “The harassment allegations for which she was disciplined taken individually are very minor, but taken as a package, their impact on Mr. Russell was in my opinion akin to a form of water torture.”
“Each minor incident ate away at Mr. Russell and further alienated him from his coworkers and his team.”
According to the board, Russell was seen searching through ceiling tiles to see if security cameras had been placed there by his manager.
“This was a case of an ongoing pattern of behaviour demonstrated by a manager against one of her employees,” said the Board.
Police have arrested 33 anti-pipeline activists who have blockaded the Port of Vancouver over the development of a pipeline in Northern British Columbia, according to the CBC.
Protestors blocked Hastings and Clark so that no workers or vehicles could get through.
The police were enforcing an injunction that granted the officers to clear the site. This follows 21 arrests made by the police over the weekend who were blocking workers from accessing the site.
Before the police made these arrests, they made it clear over a loudspeaker that they had an injunction and would arrest protestors who continued to break it.
After this, police began to remove the barriers that the protestors had constructed. The port is now open to workers and vehicles.
Demonstrators blocked two other port entrances in Vancouver. They also blocked the Delta Port, where fourteen protestors were arrested by the police.
The protest remained broadly peaceful, although some bottles were thrown into the crowd. The protestors are allowed to continue, so long that they remain on the sidewalk.
There have been numerous protests across Canada in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en protestors. In Belleville, Ontario, for example, protestors blocked the rail lines forcing all trains and freights between Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal to be cancelled.
The police also have an injunction to clear protestors from the tracks in Belleville.