B.C. Supreme Court allows schools to hold mandatory Indigenous smudging ceremonies
The B.C. Supreme Court has handed down a decision that comes as a great disappointment to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (on whose board I sit). The Court ruled that obliging schoolchildren to take part in an Indigenous smudging ceremony whose purpose is to “cleanse” the spirits of participants does not implicate them in a religious ceremony, but rather a “cultural” experience.
The JCCF was acting for plaintiff Candice Servatius, who was informed in Sept 2015 by the principal of John Howitt Elementary School in Port Alberni, B.C. that the school would be sponsoring a “cleansing” of students and their classroom, which would be performed by a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation of Vancouver Island. As described by JCCF president John Carpay in a November column in these pages,
The letter claimed that without cleansing, the classroom and even the furniture would harbour negative “energy” and would not be safe until the “energy” was “released.” Smoke from sage was fanned over the bodies of children, including Mrs. Servatius’ daughter, who was required to participate in this ritual against her will. Several months later, an aboriginal prayer was offered to a “god” at a school assembly that children were required to attend.
The Servatius family’s suit was not vexatious or motivated by antipathy to Indigenous rituals per se. They had no objection to their children learning about the smudging ceremony via texts, video or a visitor’s explanation. They objected to their children being compelled to take part in a spiritual ceremony.
Students can, after all, learn about Yom Kippur without fasting for 24 hours; they can learn about Catholic repentance without smudging ash on their forehead; girls can learn about the principle of sexual modesty without wearing the hijab (a quasi-religious cultural custom that has generated numerous controversies in law). Why should students have to engage in an actual ceremony to learn the aboriginal concept of “energy” and spiritual cleansing?
Everyone is aware that Canadian law has established that religious freedom does not include the right to impose one’s faith or affirmations of faith on children. Nor should children be forced to single themselves out by making use of an exemption, which necessarily requires an expression of non-belief.
Ah, but according to this judgment, if the ceremony is definitively cultural and not religious in nature, well then, there is no problem. That at least is the gist of what the Court has ruled. From which I infer the thinking was: How could anyone possibly object to taking part in a benign cultural ceremony that does no harm and is educational to boot (and who knows, may even cleanse the school of bad juju)?
The question is: Where does religion end and culture begin? Culture is downstream from religious belief. The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, an Intervenor in the case, declared that aboriginal spirituality is not religion, and that First Nations’ languages have no word meaning “religion.” But as Carpay points out here, that won’t wash, because the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, in the case of Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia (2016), that aboriginal spiritual beliefs qualify as “religion” for the purposes of being protected by the Charter’s section 2(a).
I am troubled by this judgment, and it took me a while to work out why. What follows is inference and interpretation on my part. I do not accuse the judges of any conscious wish to patronize or condescend to First Nations in their judgment. Any conjectures as to what is going on below the level of consciousness are mine alone.
The plaintiffs then, it seems to me, are treating Indigenous spirituality as they would treat any other form of spirituality or religion that does not accord with their own or their children’s beliefs. That is to say, they are treating the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth First Nation as civic peers, as Canadians with the same rights they are entitled to and the same limitations they are constrained by. In objecting to their children’s participation in Indigenous spiritual rituals, they are therefore demonstrating respect for the spiritual beliefs of the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth as equivalent in stature and potential influence to their own beliefs.
The Court, it seems to me, sees the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth as children, their beliefs fairy tales and their rituals as charming aesthetic gestures. The burning and smudging are nothing more than cultural theatre, like a Japanese tea ceremony. So parents should not worry that they rise to the same significance as Christian prayers and practices which, naturally, may not be imposed on other students, because they might offend or be perceived as proselytism. That is, Christian beliefs and rituals aren’t theatre; they are real; they have potential influence.
To me, this judgment bespeaks the same kind of virtue-signalling embodied in the now-prescriptive land-acknowledgement mantras that begin meetings and talks all over the nation. They are spoken and received with deep piety of voice and expression, but they are not taken seriously, because they are purely ornamental. Nobody who parrots them is afraid the land will actually be taken back by the original owners. It’s theatre.
Likewise with the smudging ceremony.
The culture and the beliefs of Indigenous people are not accorded real respect. They are vehicles for the performance of “reconciliation”—feel-good gestures without any real meaning attached to them. This case should be reviewed at a higher level. If we are content to let it stand, then we are assenting to the principle that with regard to compelled participation in spiritual rituals, some Canadians are more equal than others. I have too much respect for Indigenous peoples to infantilize them, and so should the courts.
Criminals are using the latest technology to innovate their unlawful ways. A bag of crystal meth was discovered inside the prison walls of Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution on Jan. 9 around 11 am.
The bag of narcotics was attached to a carbon-fibre sporting arrow which was used to launch the package over prison walls according to the Campbell River Mirror.
The package contained nine grams of drugs with a total institutional value (what it’s worth inside the prison) of $7,200 according to Correctional Service Canada. The B.C. prison has since tightened up their security and an investigation is underway with local police.
There has been a recent spike in criminal innovation when it comes to smuggling things into prisons, mostly due to the use of drones. In the Fraser Valley region alone last year, more than $86,000 in contraband was seized from Agassiz’s Kent Institution. One such item seized was a drone used for such activity.
While it was widely reported that Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle visited Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on Tuesday, it turns out she didn’t meet any of the women currently housed there. In fact, she only met with staff in their off-site administrative offices.
The feeling was that it would have been too hard to deal with the logistics of Markle visiting the centre. The trip to “boost the staff’s spirits” and “offer support” was Markle’s first public sighting since she announced that she was stepping down as a senior royal.
The meeting was intended to be low-profile, planned with only 24 hours notice. The reasons given for her not meeting any of the women in the Centre were security concerns since her Royal Protection Officers would not be allowed inside. Only women and those who identify as women are allowed within the centre.
Speaking in an exclusive to The Daily Mail, acting executive director Kate Gibson said: “It would have been a way bigger deal for her to have actually met our clients in a trip to the centre.” She was reportedly with staff for about an hour, and Gibson didn’t reveal to select staff who was coming in until the meeting was upon them.
Markle also visited Justice for Girls (JFG), a group that “promotes social justice and an end to violence, poverty and racism in the lives of teenage girls who live in poverty.” In speaking to Harper’s Bazaar, co-director of JFG said “We were struck by how engaged and informed she was on the issues we discussed, and how quickly and gracefully she put us at ease.”
The visits were arranged quickly, and Markle was widely praised for taking the time to meet with and boost morale for these groups. Gibson hopes that Markle will take further interest in the work she and her staff are doing.
Markle and her son have been staying in a mansion on North Saanich on Vancouver Island, and made the trip out Tuesday despite harsh weather conditions.
The Supreme Court has dismissed B.C.’s appeal of the Trans Mountain pipeline project.
The province was asking for jurisdiction over the project, but the Supreme Court deemed that the natural energy project was completely a federal jurisdiction.
According to CTV, “If B.C. had been successful they could have been in a position to block heavy oil from moving through the pipeline, throwing into jeopardy the multi-billion dollar project and expansion that the federal government bought from Kinder Morgan in 2018.”
The federal government successfully argued that giving B.C. jurisdiction would lead to the province basically having a veto over projects that span over provinces.
An annual snowball fight held at the University of British Columbia has been postponed due to a bombardment of snow, according to CTV. Unfortunately, a snowstorm has forced the organizers to move the event to Thursday at 12:30 p.m., according to a recent Facebook post.
UBC’s Point Grey campus had classes cancelled as well as other post-secondary schools in the area as a result of the storm.
The snowball fight known at the “Serious Snowy Showdown” will take place at the Main Mall between the Sauder and chemistry buildings on Thursday.
“Whether you breezed through syllabus week, took an extended vacation or are already submitting papers—we think it’s time for a break between classes. What better way to celebrate an early snowfall than one of our favourite campus traditions!”
Organizers are expecting thousands to show up for the “ultimate battle,” and joked on their Facebook event that this will be the perfect opportunity to “rally against that person in lecture who states things in the form of questions, provide some payback for the friend that ‘forgot’ your secret Santa gift or stand up to the roommates that stole your leftovers from the fridge.”
Tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. all who want to partake are asked to line-up on either side of the Mall. The next 15 minutes are for making your ammunition, and the first snowballs fly at 12:30.