Portions of North Saanich council officially oppose plans for a new statutory holiday that would recognize First Nations including the residential school system, but at least one councillor says he would have changed his vote if he had all of the information.
Couns. Jack McClintock and Murray Weisenberger were in opposition as council voted 4-2 to write a letter of support for recognizing Sept. 30 as a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
The issue came before North Saanich council after Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes wrote a letter urging them to support federal legislation for such a holiday.
Saanich expressed its support in November 2020. Saanich council had earlier heard from two residential school survivors before declaring Sept. 30 Orange Shirt Day. One survivor subsequently approached Saanich council requesting a letter of support.
“The information provided by the District of Saanich speaks of two survivors of residential schools,” said McClintock. “With of all of the respect I have for them and their journey, it is two people,” said McClintock on Jan. 11. “This didn’t come as a request from a national assembly or a council of First Nations.”
McClintock acknowledged that Haynes’ letter quotes Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who describes the residential school system as “an attempt at genocide” in calling on Canada to “right this wrong and help the former students and our nations recover and heal.”
“I don’t see in Chief Bellegarde’s statement as a request for setting aside a statutory holiday on Sept. 30,” said McClintock, adding he would support it if there were a “whole-hearted, collaborative group” in favour of such a holiday. “I don’t see the First Nations even supporting this. I see this as Mayor Haynes’ recommendation to create a statutory holiday. It’s not far off the colonial way of thinking that without consultation, we will do this and call it reconciliation.”
Mayor Geoff Orr then pointed out that the initiative originated with the federal government.
Weisenberger said on Jan. 11 that he would support working through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities or other methods.
Comments received during the legislative process around Bill C-5 shows support from the Assembly of First Nations for the holiday.
Chief Norman Yakeleya of the Dene Nation told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Nov. 20, 2020 that a national holiday could combat prejudice, eliminate racism and promote tolerance, serving as annual act of reconciliation.
“The Assembly of First Nations has been calling for this legislation since 1982,” he said. Yakeleya later said AFN’s executive committee recently passed a motion to make Sept. 30 a statutory holiday in calling on Ottawa to make it so.
“That information was not available to us at the time, when it (Saanich’s letter) was presented to us at council,” said McClintock, when shown AFN’s position.
That information would have been a “game-changer,” said McClintock. “I would have supported it had I known and had I been provided with the information that has come subsequent to the vote.”
Weisenberger said later that knowledge of AFN’s support would not have changed his vote, but echoed McClintock’s call for good relations with First Nations, especially on the personal level. “We are all on the same piece of land here.”
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