City councillor who wanted to bill military for Remembrance Day events blames conservatives after veterans express outrage
On Thursday, Ben Isitt, the Victoria City Councillor who proposed that the city should recuperate the costs associated with events like Remembrance Day from the military claims that conservatives and the media are responsible for the public backlash against him.
A trial underway in a Nanaimo B.C. courtroom this week is attracting controversy and strong opinions on both sides of the issue, as it forces school officials, the media and the public to reluctantly confront the question of what constitutes “religion” in the public sphere. The case of Candice Servatius v. School District No. 70 (Alberni) is about whether a public school can require children to participate in a spiritual ceremony, or in a ritual that appeals to the supernatural realm.
In September of 2015, Candice Servatius received a letter from the principal of John Howitt Elementary School (JHES) in Port Alberni, B.C., stating that JHES would be hosting a Student/Classroom “Cleansing” performed by a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth, a term used to describe fifteen related First Nation tribes who live on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The school’s letter described in detail how the cleansing ritual would “cleanse” the classroom of “energy” and cleanse the “spirits” of the students. 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.
Skye Ryan, a reporter with CBC affiliate CHEK news, writes that the practice of Nuu-chah-nulth spirituality is “on trial” and implies that Mrs. Servatius is opposed to aboriginal spirituality. Ms. Ryan’s story largely ignores the court documents, which make it abundantly clear that the only issue on trial is whether public schools can impose spiritual rituals on children in the classroom.
If Mrs. Servatius is successful in her court action, the Nuu-chah-nulth will not lose any freedom to practice their spirituality, ceremonies and rituals, nor will public schools cease to teach about aboriginal history, culture and practices, including aboriginal beliefs. If the court rules in favour of Mrs. Servatius, the only difference will be that children are no longer compelled by the state to be present and participate in spiritual ceremonies, prayers or rituals. This is the only just result in a pluralistic society that includes a wide variety of spiritual beliefs and practices, including the complete absence of such beliefs.
In her story, Ms. Ryan quotes Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Judith Sayers complaining about smudging being banned from schools. But Ms. Sayers herself has given evidence that in Nuu-chah-nulth practice, smudging is always entered into by consent. Neither Mrs. Servatius nor her daughter consented to this young girl participating in the ritual in the classroom.
Another aboriginal leader, Harry Cadwallader, testified that learning about smudging is different than being smudged. Mr. Cadwallader agrees that children can learn about smudging in a number of different ways: “You can be shown a demonstration. You can be shown a video. You can be read a description.” Mr. Cadwallader has testified that “the infusion of aboriginal culture, content, language, history, of understanding, as a methodology to improve the success of aboriginal students and raise awareness of all students about aboriginal people” can be accomplished without compelling children to be smudged against their will. This evidence was entirely absent from Ms. Ryan’s story, although it was publicly available in filed court documents.
Ms. Ryan further reports that the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is a “right-wing” organization, perhaps hoping this might somehow make Ms. Servatius’ claim worth dismissing out of hand. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not a “right-wing” document, and the Justice Centre works to uphold the Charter freedoms of all Canadians, regardless of where on the political spectrum they might reside.
If Ms. Ryan believes that defending freedom of religion (which includes the right not to be compelled to participate in spiritual practices) is “right-wing”, she is fully entitled to express that opinion. But Ms. Ryan should do so by way of an opinion editorial, and not insert her personal beliefs into what is supposed to be a straight news story. As the Canadian Association of Journalists Ethics Guidelines puts it: “We clearly identify news and opinion so that the audience knows which is which”.
The two Justice Centre lawyers in court in Nanaimo this week, Jay Cameron and James Kitchen, were not available to be interviewed for Ms. Ryan’s story, and they referred Ms. Ryan to me, also a lawyer. Ms. Ryan did not contact me, yet claims in her story that “Neither Servatius or her lawyers would be interviewed.” I was, and remain, available to be interviewed, but as of this writing Ms. Ryan has declined to contact me for comment.
Court cases, by definition, involve two competing “sides.” It behooves an objective media to remember that.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which represents Mrs. Servatius in her court action against School District 70.
British Columbia politicians are investigating their options in ticketing individuals who engage in racist behaviour.
Delta North NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon submitted a letter to Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth requesting that the province crack down on “racist and hateful behaviour,” by measures that would include financial repercussions.
“I understand that some jurisdictions have implemented new, non-criminal sanctions to deter this behaviour such as ticketing,” reads the letter. “I would be grateful if your ministry could determine what options might be available to better deter perpetrators.”
Kahlon’s letter comes from what he says is a perceived rise in racist groups such as the Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant and white supremacist group founded in Kemi, Finland that has groups across North America—though Canada’s chapter claims they have substantial differences than the original group.
“People are afraid in their communities. They know that these hate groups are organizing in communities,” Kahlon said in an interview with Global News.
“My request to the solicitor general was to do a scan of what other jurisdictions are doing to address public hate speech.”
Kahlon says communities he’s spoken with have expressed concern regarding the rise of new hate groups in B.C.—groups attempting to legitimize themselves by registering as societies under the Societies Act.
Kahlon is turning to CSIS in hopes that the government agency is doing everything possible to stop the growth of these groups.
“We aren’t the only jurisdictions dealing with this, but we have to start,” Kahlon said.
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.
Councillors in Victoria, British Columbia are trying to raise their salary by more than 50 percent. They are also hoping to provide additional benefits, according to the Times Colonist.
In an online survey on Victoria’s budget, the City asked respondents whether they would agree to raise their salary to $70,100. This figure is the same median salary for city employees. Overall, this is an increase of $25,000.
Councillors are currently paid around $45,000 a year, and the mayor of Victoria receives $113,000 a year. There are no plans to alter the mayor’s salary.
Speaking to the Times, a councillor justified their pay raise by saying the city wanted to “attract professionals and others, and not just have very wealthy people serve on the council, I think we do have to set the compensation at a level that [would attract] younger people.”
The current salaries were set in 2009 upon the review of an independent commission.