Nanaimo Courthouse, where B.C. Supreme Court is hearing the case of a Port Alberni mother who says her daughter’s religious freedoms were infringed on when she was forced to participate in an indigenous smudging ceremony. (NEWS BULLETIN file photo)

Nanaimo Courthouse, where B.C. Supreme Court is hearing the case of a Port Alberni mother who says her daughter’s religious freedoms were infringed on when she was forced to participate in an indigenous smudging ceremony. (NEWS BULLETIN file photo)

Student tells B.C. Supreme Court she wasn’t allowed to leave indigenous smudging ceremony

Girl cross-examined Monday in Nanaimo courtroom, case continues Tuesday

A Vancouver Island student told B.C. Supreme Court on Monday that she was forced to remain in her elementary school classroom during an indigenous smudging ceremony, despite her wishes to leave.

The student gave evidence in a Nanaimo courtroom as part of a lawsuit filed by Candice Servatius against Alberni School District 70.

According to court documents, Servatius claims the school district breached its duty of neutrality and that her daughter’s rights to religious freedom were infringed on when she was forced to participate in a Nuu-chah-nulth smudging ceremony at John Howitt Elementary School in September 2015. The mother, who is described by her legal counsel as an evangelical Christian, claims her daughter experienced “anxiety, shame and confusion as a result” of the ceremony and that it conflicted with her own religious convictions. She is seeking a court-ordered ban on the cultural practice in schools across British Columbia.

RELATED: Port Alberni mom takes school district to court over Indigenous smudging, prayer in class

Servatius’s daughter cannot be named due to a publication ban.

According to an affidavit from the girl who spoke in court Monday, the school provided students with a letter informing them that a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation would be visiting to talk with students about their culture and history. A day later, the ceremony took place. In her affidavit, the girl claims she was confused, uncomfortable, and wanted to talk to her parents before the ceremony took place, but couldn’t.

On Nov. 18, the student was cross-examined by the school district’s legal counsel, Keith Mitchell of Harris and Company.

“I was forced to be in that classroom,” the girl told the courtroom.

The student told the court about the smudging ceremony, explaining how smoke fanned onto students’ backpacks and that it filled the classroom.

“It got too smoky inside the classroom. It was getting harder to breathe,” she said, later adding that there was “a lot of coughing.”

The girl also said the elder performing the ceremony told the students that the “classroom was dirty.” She said she asked to leave the classroom because she was uncomfortable with what was happening but that her teacher wouldn’t let her.

“I wasn’t allowed to leave the classroom,” she said.

However, Mitchell informed her that her teacher, who has yet to be cross-examined, disputes her account of what happened during the smudging ceremony and that despite her claims, she never asked to leave the classroom.

“She is going to say that you didn’t ask and she is going to say that other students did, in fact, leave the classroom,” Mitchell said.

ALSO READ: Nuu-chah-Nulth Tribal Council hopes for resolution in SD70 court case

Asked by Mitchell whether the ceremony made it “more difficult” for her to be a Christian, she responded by saying it did not.

The girl’s lawyers attempted to have her explain why she “had an issue with” the smudging ceremony but were denied by Justice Douglas Thompson, who said the affidavit explains her reasons for being upset with the ceremony.

The school district disputes the claims made by Servatius. The case is scheduled to continue at the Nanaimo Courthouse Tuesday, Nov. 19.



nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria Police Department looks to identify a person of interest after a Friday night stabbing. (VicPD handout)
Police seek person of interest after Victoria stabbing

Friday night assault leaves one with potentially life-altering injuries

Daniel Foster, last seen in downtown Parksville on Saturday, May 1. (submitted photo)
RCMP seek help locating missing Victoria man, last spotted in Parksville

Daniel Foster, 43, seen via surveillance camera using an ATM

Police stopped, then let go this man and his large collection of cans during a stop Monday morning on Resthaven Drive. Police had received a report of a possible theft, but let him go after he had returned the property, which he believed was his to take after being left out in public. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Report of theft, balancing act on Sidney street draws curious onlookers

Incident happened just before 8:30 a.m. opposite of Vancouver Island Regional Library branch

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Search continues for Saanich man Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

Support from community, police keeps his mother hopeful

Victoria Police continue to investigate a stabbing in downtown Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Passerby calls police after finding man stabbed, sobbing on Victoria street

One man was sent to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Most Read