Courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)

Courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)

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

Hearing for case regarding indigenous cultural practice in classroom concluded Friday in Nanaimo

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

The site of the former Arrowview Hotel, on Second Avenue and Athol Street, as of Jan. 14, 2020. (Elena Rardon/Black Press)
Port Alberni pressures owner of demolished hotel, Lantzville’s Pottie, for final cleanup

Demolition finished in June 2020 but site still full of construction material

Letter writers weigh in on the City of Nanaimo adopting ‘doughnut’ economics as a guiding principle for decision-making.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: City of Nanaimo’s ‘doughnut’ has to be more than empty calories

Letter writers react to city council’s recent decision to adopt ‘doughnut’ economic model

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a car and a minivan Saturday afternoon at the old Island Highway and Mary Ellen Drive. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
One person taken to hospital after crash in north Nanaimo

Car and minivan collided Saturday at the intersection of the old Island Highway and Mary Ellen Drive

Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization, a non-profit, seeks to raise $8,000 for a play structure to help children remain active during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization asking for help fundraising for play structure

Physical activities have been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, says non-profit

Police in Nanaimo hope to find the owner of a Giant Reign mountain bike that was seized after a man was spotted riding it without a helmet on the wrong side of the road on Christmas Eve. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP suspicious to find expensive bike covered in layer of duct tape

Police looking for owner of Giant Reign mountain bike that they believe was stolen

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a car and a minivan Saturday afternoon at the old Island Highway and Mary Ellen Drive. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
One person taken to hospital after crash in north Nanaimo

Car and minivan collided Saturday at the intersection of the old Island Highway and Mary Ellen Drive

Cyclists pick up swag and cycling trail maps at city Bike to Work Week ‘celebration station’ a few years ago. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo’s active transportation plan will be about more than infrastructure

City working on goals to double walking trips and quintuple cycling and busing trips

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam at a press conference last year. (Canadian Press photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Better federal vaccine planning badly needed

Why hasn’t Parliament done more to protect seniors and care homes, asks letter writer

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Kinsmen Participark in Beban Park will be closed next week so city workers can remove dangerous trees and invasive plant species. The work is the start of an improvement project that includes replacing signs and fitness stations in the spring. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo fitness park to close for removal of hazard trees and invasive plants

Tree cutting to start in Beban Park’s Kinsmen Participark as part of improvement project

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Most Read