Media’s reporting incredibly biased on B.C. Indigenous rituals in public schools case
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.
A&W is once again leading the charge when it comes to plant-based foods.
Following the success of its Beyond Meat Burger, A&W is set to test out plant-based chicken nuggets in Canada starting today.
While plant-based, A&W does note on its website that the Nuggets will be cooked with vegetable oil using the same fryers as it’s chicken items’
The nuggets will be provided through a partnership with Lightlife, a meatless product producer, for a limited in stores across Ontario and British Columbia. Should sales go well; A&W has said it would be happy to retain the item after its promotional period.
“We can’t resist our new Plant-Based Nuggets and we can’t wait for guests to taste our delicious new nuggets for themselves,” Susan Senecal, President, and CEO at A&W Canada, said, according to VegNews.
“Nuggets are fun to eat and fun to share and we think Canadians will be very impressed with our new plant-based nuggets for lunch, dinner, or any time in between.”
The nuggets will be made from peas, wheat flour, and fava beans. They will be sold for $5.99 for a six-piece or $8.99 for a 10-piece.
Richard Lee, a veteran Liberal MLA from British Columbia, has spoken out about the Chinese government, saying that they detained him, and that they are actively interfering in Canadian democracy, according to Global News.
Lee stated that upon arriving in Shanghai airport in 2015, the Chinese police improperly detained him, separated him from his family, stole and searched his B.C government phone before forcing him to go back to Canada.
Since this incident, Lee said that China’s interference in Canadian democracy has only gotten worse. They are, according to Lee, attempting to control Chinese-Canadian politicians and immigrants, so to protect Beijing from foreign dissent.
Richard Lee was the Liberal MLA for the riding of Burnaby between 2001 and 2017. Lee sent a letter to both Trudeau and Freeland, detailing his detention and subsequent allegations. Lee did not hear back from the Liberal government for a year.
At the time, however, Lee chose not to alert the public to the Chinese government’s actions due to his fear that it would damage an already frayed relationship between the two countries.
Lee cited consular warnings that stop Canadian politicians from speaking out against China, as well as the continued detention of Canadian citizens, as evidence that China is undermining Canada’s sovereignty.
Ravi Kahlon, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in British Columbia, wants to crackdown on “racist and hateful behaviour” in the province.
How might this crackdown look in respect to public policy? Ticketing.
“I understand that some jurisdictions have implemented new, non-criminal sanctions to deter this behavior such as ticketing,” writes Kahlon in a letter to Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. “I would be grateful if your ministry could determine what options might be available to better deter perpetrators.”
Throughout the month of November, there have been a number of articles written on the topic of stopping racism in British Columbia due to the province launching the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network. This network is the result of Kahlon’s work on dealing with racism within the province.
What is this network exactly? The BC government explains its purpose and goals on their website.
The Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network will offer a multi-faceted, province wide approach with greater focus and leadership in identifying and challenging racism. The program will connect communities with information, supports and training they need to respond to, and prevent future incidents of, racism and hate.
This all sounds de rigueur of left-leaning governments in Canada in the current year as they embark on a neverending quest to defeat racism and hate in our provinces and, more broadly, our country.
However, the proposal of a non-criminal sanction — a ticket — for committing acts of racism is something new and without definition.
Of the three articles I read on the idea of ticketing racists, it wasn’t clear what misconduct would result in someone being ticketed.
In a Global News article, Kahlon is quoted as saying, “People are afraid in their communities. They know that these hate groups are organizing in communities.”
In a Star Vancouver article, he told the reporter, “What we heard was quite disturbing; lots of incidents of racism, hate, and hate groups starting to organized in communities throughout the province.”
Even the news release by the BC government on the anti-racism network cited a rise in hate crimes in Metro Vancouver but didn’t go into specifics about statistics.
What constitutes racism in Canada has been a hot topic since March of 2017 when Iqra Khalid, the Liberal MP representing Mississauga — Erin Mills introduced Motion-103 Parliament.
M-103 called on the government to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” and asked the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.”
Opposition to M-103 was strong among the conservative opposition. There were nation-wide protests sparked by the vagueness of what defined “hate and fear”, and the singling out of Islam as a target group of said ill-defined hate and fear.
Why definitions are important
Being called a racist can have massive social and economic ramifications. These ramifications would undoubtedly be exacerbated with the addition of a ticket.
Without knowing what constitutes an act worth ticketing, it’s irresponsible of Kahlon, his fellow politicians, or the media to even consider supporting his proposal no matter how virtuous its proponents make it seem.
Beyond (and more important than) the details of the Kahlon’s inquiry into ticketing racist behaviour is the clear encroachment on Canadians’ civil liberties — namely our right to free expression and free assembly.
It’s become fashionable in Canada to deny certain groups their right to conscious and expression.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals tried to block pro-life groups from accessing federal funding for summer camp programmes. Granted, this decision was eventually overturned because of the backlash the Liberals received. But for a while, it was a reality.
Then there was the French-Canadian comedian, Mike Ward, who was fined $42,000 by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal for a joke that offended a mother and her son.
And don’t forget the de-platforming of people like Jordan Peterson, Faith Goldy, Maxime Bernier, and just about everyone who works at The Rebel.
Sure, de-platforming isn’t a government directive, but it is a tactic being used by left-wing groups that’s made its way into the mainstream. Politicians are now looking to capitalise on the growing distaste some loud segments of the public have for free expression.
Just last month, hundreds protested the decision of the Toronto Public Library to allow “transexclusionary radical feminist” Meghan Murphy the right to speak at one of their locations.
The mayor of Toronto, John Tory, publically decried the event. Other councilors followed suit.
If we don’t clearly define what is allowable speech in Canada — or more poignant to this discussion, what defines racism and hate speech — we’re going to continue to see this tete-a-tete happening between the public, media and politicians.
We’re going to continue to see poorly defined concepts used to dictate public policy.
We’re going to see distrust build among and between cultural, religious, and racial groups.
Look no further than the anti-Israel protests that occurred at York University this week. Protesters screamed at Jewish students to “Go back to the ovens”, according to witness accounts, among other antisemitic chants.
If its Muslims directing that hateful language at Jews, is it in violation of M-103? Is it hate speech? Is it a ticketable offense in BC if Kahlon’s idea becomes a reality?
And if we answer yes to all of those questions, what will that do to relations between the Jewish and Islamic communities?
We can look globally to the Middle East and even parts of Europe to answer those questions.
To be clear, I am not saying direct calls to violence shouldn’t be punishable. I’m not suggesting there are no limitations to one’s freedom of expression. I am simply asking for these concepts to be better defined.
Definitions are of the utmost importance when it comes to law and public policy. Given the rather fragile state of Canada’s societal cohesion right now, there ought to be extraordinary caution taken when drafting policy that may curtail one’s expression.
No one in Canada wants what happened at York University to be seen as acceptable. On the other hand, no one wants undefined terms legislating what speech is acceptable and what speech ticketable.
The recent uproar over the recipient of an Indigenous scholarship has yet to die down, and for good reason, seeing as much of this happened around Metis week and there are plenty of other cases like this that haven’t been called out.
Without any identifiable outward appearance of being Indigenous, 18-year-old Ainsley Whynacht claimed to be Metis and was accepted for The National Union of Public and General Employees (NSGEU) scholarship, which was intended for Indigenous youth.
Right away, it should have been suspicious to the NSGEU that Whynacht claimed to be Metis because Metis people are from the midwest of Canada, not the Maritimes. This doesn’t make her declared heritage an impossibility, but it definitely should have raised questions for the NSGEU.
Whynacht’s mother did not get back to TPM with proof of her daughter’s Indigenous heritage. Two weeks ago she claimed the family has documentation from the Universite de Ste. Anne demonstrating their Indigenous heritage from the Mi’kmaq nation.
It’s odd that when presented with someone that does not appear overly Indigenous the NSGEU would hand her the award without any proper vetting of her heritage. The fact that it never crossed their minds that an actual Indigenous student could be sidelined because an invalid candidate applied is negligence.
It looks like NSGEU knows this themselves. When TPM called them to speak to Les Bush, the person in charge of their scholarship program, we were first told he was out of the office, and when we asked if it was at all possible to get into contact with him, we were flatly told no.
Conservative MP David Yurdiga, when asked for comment by The Post Millennial on the topic of standards for Metis identification, said, “So this is an enormous challenge for the Canadian government obviously when there is funding coming along. And, you know, when you have some groups that don’t have a clear, concise standard, it causes a lot of challenges with distributing grants and funding, which groups get it, which groups don’t.”
Either way the NSGEU fumbled this, awarding the scholarship by merely looking at the application unquestioningly. The form comically asks the applicant to check off whether they are Indigenous or not and nothing more on the subject.
This is equivalent to a police report having a checkbox for whether the report was filed falsely or not. The NSGEU has seemingly never been made aware of the concept of lying and whether or not people like to do that sort of thing for money. The applicant should provide at least some information that would make them plausibly Indigenous.
The lack of verification that goes along with the scholarship meant for Indigenous youth makes it seem as if it was meant more for virtue signalling than a genuine effort to make more educational opportunities open for those who tend not to be given equal opportunities.
The Post Millennial interviewed Robyn Lawson, a Metis activist who has been deeply involved in the Metis community and knows about the lax standards around Indigenous identification.
In the interview, she highlighted the backwards way in which so many people claim to be Metis without any clear evidence confirming their heritage.
“I happened to know that there are several, especially on the Atlantic seaboard, along the maritime region, they have a lot of their departments actively still trying to find Metis settlements in proof of Metis identity out there,” Lawson said. “They’ve never been able to find it. But it doesn’t stop them from first claiming to be Metis and then looking for the proof… that’s probably their busiest fraudulent act; to claim to be a member of a nation that they’re still searching for evidence to substantiate that claim.”
Lawson pointed out that the rise in Metis identification, which has risen in places like Nova Scotia by 125 percent in the last decade, is connected to a 2003 Supreme Court decision, R vs Powley, that outlined five specific steps to identify as Metis. Those steps include aligning with the only officially recognized provincial Metis affiliates under the umbrella of the Metis National Council (MNC).
Her point about identification was further illustrated at her son’s university orientation week.
“In my son’s University Indigenous orientation meeting… there were six kids in that meeting, we parents and the Indigenous justice department staff. So, I’m not shy about asking people: ‘Whose family?’ And, ‘What’s your community?’ There were three answers [that day]. First one, ‘I don’t know, I was told I was Indigenous, so I assumed it’s Metis.’ The second one was similar to that, ‘Yeah. I know my mom or my dad is Metis, but I don’t know from where.’ And the third one said her answer was Mi’kmaq. I said, ‘Oh, Mi’kmaq. My brother married a Mi’kmaq woman out east. What community are you from?’ And she had to look to her dad for the answer. So she looked up at him, and he looked at her, and he turned back to me, and he said New Brunswick, and then I knew what I was dealing with right there… I’m telling you 48 hours later there was a story in the paper about the scholarship she had won, a significant Indigenous scholarship, for Metis leadership. She claimed Mi’kmaq when directly confronted in that meeting,” said Lawson.
Ainsley Whynacht, the NSGEU scholarship recipient, presented a Metis identification card online following the uproar to her Instagram posts joking about how white she is, but the card only raised more questions. It comes from the unrecognized Eastern Woodland Metis community and is not considered legitimate by real Metis.
Regarding the operations of “eastern Metis” groups, Lawson said, “The eastern groups, looking at their actual meeting minutes, which I’ve been privy to through various channels, in every single one of their meetings, the discussion is around, ‘How do we get this government to recognize that we are Indigenous and that we are Metis, and then next on the agenda is, what kind of goodies are we going to get for these cards? So, I can get my gas tax free, and I can go to this store and pay for my groceries tax free with this card.’ Those are the kind of conversations they have. They are never to be seen on the front lines of any Indigenous issue ever.”
Communities like the Eastern Woodland Metis seem to not care that their pursuit of recognition on faulty grounds only goes to watering down Metis culture. The belief that any native blood makes someone a Metis ruins the actual definition of what Metis heritage and culture means. If anyone can claim Metis heritage then it makes a mockery of the special classification for a group of people whose families were wronged in the past.
Despite how it sounds, an Indigenous scholarship is not fundamentally ethnic only, but also cultural. The point of these scholarships should be to reward those who work hard and achieve, despite inadequate educational resources, because it’s Canada’s duty to Indigenous people.
“The bottom line is these awards, whether they’re scholarships, or bursaries or a job opportunity, these awards are meant to lend a hand up, and some of these institutions play a crucial role in their efforts to act on reconciliation. You know, reconciliation requires genuine acts of reparation and supplying the education for Indigenous people. Not only is it an act of reparation and reconciliation, but it’s also an actual obligation in the Indian Act. If any group is going to go to the effort of supporting Indigenous endeavours, it’s incumbent upon them to make sure those awards are going to where they’re intended,” said Lawson.
Many scholarships for Indigenous people turn out to be poorly made affirmative action programs where those who have worked hard to pull themselves up from tough circumstances are skipped over for those who have every advantage and privilege.
Author and associate professor of Social Justice and Community Studies at Saint Mary’s University, Darryl Leroux, made a note of the “raceshifting” trend amongst Nova Scotia’s population.
Mr. Leroux argues that ridiculous, lax standards can undermine the preservation of a unique culture. Despite Metis traditionally living in the midwest of Canada, somehow Nova Scotia has the highest percentage of Metis residence, despite one official settlement.
Much of the background of fake Metis communities are documented on the website Raceshifting, and much of the information is taken out of Mr. Leroux’s book, Distorted Decent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity, which tracked the legal creation and activities of each community.
If the NSGEU wants to host an indigenous scholarship program, indeed, there should be far more transparent and stricter standards around Indigenous identification. In the case of Ainsley Whynacht, it seems likely an actual Indigenous/Metis student was deprived of a scholarship because of selfish self-identification.