Courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)

Province argues in B.C. Supreme Court for smudging in schools, says it relates to curriculum

Hearing concludes in case regarding indigenous cultural practice in Vancouver Island classroom

A five-day hearing for a Supreme Court case that could determine whether indigenous smudging ceremonies can happen in public schools concluded today, Nov. 22, in a Nanaimo courtroom.

Candice Servatius, a Christian mother from Port Alberni, filed a petition against Alberni School District 70, claiming that her daughter’s religious rights were infringed on when forced to participate in a Nuu-chah-nulth smudging ceremony at John Howitt Elementary School in 2015. Servatius is seeking a court-ordered ban on the practice in schools across the province. The Attorney General of B.C. is also named as a respondent in Servatius’s petition.

Throughout the week, lawyers from all sides presented their arguments in front of Justice Douglas Thompson, who will be ruling on the matter.

RELATED: Student tells Nanaimo courtroom she wasn’t allowed to leave indigenous smudging ceremony

During Friday’s session, Katie Webb, legal counsel for the attorney general’s office, told the court that the province takes no position with regards to the accusation that the school board wronged Servatius or her daughter, but opposes any order that would ban smudging ceremonies in schools.

“The proposed order would be in conflict with aspects of the provincial curriculum requiring the incorporation of indigenous knowledge,” she said.

Webb said Canada has a history of assimilationist educational policy towards indigenous children, specifically the residential school system, which has contributed to the disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous students today. She said the court should consider the “broader” historical context when rendering a decision.

“It would be an error for this court to consider [the case] in isolation from that broader context,” she said, adding that evidence suggests that 14 to 15 per cent of students at John Howitt Elementary are indigenous.

RELATED: ‘Our culture is not a religion,’ indigenous educator tells Nanaimo court in case of smudging at school

In order to address the “horrors” of the residential school system and to make the public education system in British Columbia more inclusive for everyone, Webb said the province began integrating a new curriculum with a focus on indigenous learning in 2016. She said the smudging ceremony reflects the efforts made by the school to implement that curriculum.

“The incorporation of indigenous knowledge and world views in the educational program promotes a more inclusive educational experience in a culturally safe space, for indigenous and non-indigenous students alike,” she said.

In this case, according to Webb, there hasn’t been a constitutional challenge of the province’s curriculum and therefore it would be “unfair” for the courts to impose any such ban. She said the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not require the school’s administrators to “achieve a perfect calibration” between charter values and a statutory mandate, but rather a “proportionate” balance.

Webb also said it isn’t clear how such an order would be enforced and that the term “religious practices” – which she said had been debated heavily during the hearing – is vague.

“In my submission, that very vagueness is exemplified by the fact that seven lawyers have spent five days in this room arguing about whether we can characterize these events as religious,” she said.

Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, Jay Cameron, legal counsel representing Servatius, said the province needs a “statutory mandate” in order to permit smudging ceremonies in schools without parental consent, but that it has no such mandate.

“There is no statutory mandate to cleanse small children against their will without their parents’ knowledge or permission,” he said.

Cameron said his client respects indigenous history culture and is supportive of people wanting to learn about it, but that the province went too far.

“The state crossed the line when it imposed a spiritual ceremony on her children without proper notice to her or the ability to consider opting them out,” he said. “Her position is that shouldn’t happen to anyone no matter what they believe.”

RELATED: Teacher says student was ‘happy’ to watch smudging ceremony at Vancouver Island school







nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

 

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

Just Posted

Prince Rupert Regional Airport Manager Rick Leach said on Oct. 29 that small community airports, like YPR, need a government cash infusion to survive COVID-19. (Northern View file photo)
Failure of Government and airlines leave regional and community airports on the brink of financial collapse

Govt. cash infusion is needed for smaller airports, like Prince Rupert, to survive COVID-19 - RCAC

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have affected the Prince Rupert community the week of Oct. 29 with a Shoppers Drug Mart employee and an S.D. 52 staff or student being infected with the virus. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 infects Prince Rupert school district individual

S.D. 52 is prepared for COVID-19 and is working under Northern Health protocols - Sandy Pond

Masks are now compulsory at all Prince Rupert public facilities and the City reminds people to discard used masks in waste bins, a media release on Oct. 29 said. (Photo by K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Mandatory mask-wearing effective immediately at city public facilities

City of Prince Rupert makes masks compulsory to protect community health and safety

North Coast home-grown ice talent Carly Edwards from Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert takes centre ice on TV competition show Battle of the Blades Thursday nights at 8 p.m., with her partner NHL partner Kris Versteeg. (Photo supplied)
Local figure skater spotlights on TV show’s centre ice

Prince Rupert’s Carly Edwards is featured on TV competition show Battle of the Blades

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
PHOTOS: Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

Sooke’s Paul Larouche enjoys gold panning along the Sooke River, looking for small treasures. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Island man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Search and Rescue Technicians carry a stretcher to the CH149 Cormorant during a 442 Squadron Search and Rescue Exercise in Tofino on February 28. (Photo by: Cpl Joey Beaudin, 19 Wing Imaging, Comox)
Father and son found dead after weeklong search near Pemberton

The father and son had set out for a day of mushroom picking last Thursday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A full moon rises over Mt. Cheam on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Rare full moon, Daylight Saving makes for a uniquely spooky Halloween – despite COVID-19

We can’t host costume parties but this weekend is still one for the history books

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A study by SlotsOnlineCanada notes there is at least 88 hours of top-rated horror movies for Canadians to consume this Halloween. (Unsplash)
Spooks and Chill study reveals Canada’s favourite horror flicks

88 hours of top-rated horror movies can fill COVID-19 Halloween

Most Read