Courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)

Courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)

Smudging in B.C. classroom had ‘trivial’ impact on Christian family’s faith, says school district’s lawyer

Lawyers lay out arguments in case regarding indigenous cultural practice in Port Alberni classroom

Lawyers involved in a Supreme Court case around smudging in the classroom argued the credibility of a student’s account and the impacts of the cultural ceremony.

On Nov. 21, lawyers from both sides presented their arguments to Justice Douglas Thompson in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo.

Port Alberni mother Candice Servatius, an evangelical Christian, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, arguing 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. Servatius has accused Alberni School District 70 of breaching its duty of neutrality and is seeking a court-ordered ban on the cultural practice in schools across B.C.

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

Jay Cameron, a lawyer with Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms who is representing the Servatius family, told the courtroom the evidence presented during cross-examination shows that the Nuu-chah-nulth smudging ceremony is supposed to be a voluntary experience but wasn’t and that “non-secular practices” should occur outside of the classroom.

“I think that this is an exceedingly important point because if the experience is not entered into on a voluntary basis, it changes the experience,” he said.

Cameron said the smudging ceremony resulted in “heavy” smoke in the classroom and that Servatius’s daughter had a negative experience as a result of being forced to participate.

“Certainly from [Servatius’ daughter’s] perspective, there was confusion, there was a loss of trust,” he said.

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

The ceremony wasn’t a demonstration but an event the students participated in, Cameron said, adding that the school district may argue that it was merely a demonstration, but evidence during cross-examination suggests otherwise.

“It is one thing to say these are the accoutrements of the ceremony, this is the sage, this is the shell. It’s entirely different to actually do the ceremony. It’s no longer just a demonstration,” he said. “That means in a classroom where the smoke is moving around the classroom, where people are required to be respectful, especially young children, the intention of the people performing the ceremony is to cleanse the energy of the room and the students were in the room, it’s not just a demonstration.”

Cameron also said the smudging ceremony is no different than if the school district were to have a priest come in and perform an “exorcism” and then say “this is just a demonstration” because those who perform a ceremony of that nature, have “deeply held beliefs” that something is “actually happening.”

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

Throughout the week, Cameron cross-examined people associated with the ceremony, often questioning them about the wording of a letter that the school sent to students. That letter, which informed students and parents about the smudging ceremony, did not provide a date for when the ceremony was to occur. It also didn’t specifically include wording that instructed parents what to do if they wished to opt out of the ceremony but did provide a contact for parents if they had any questions.

The school district’s legal counsel presented their rebuttal arguments later in the day Thursday. Keith Mitchell of Harris and Company told the court that the letter is a “complete red herring” because the case isn’t about was said in the letter but what “actually” happened.

Mitchell said there is more “reliable” evidence from the teachers than from Servatius or her daughter. He said Servatius is relying what her daughter told her and that her daughter does not remember the events accurately.

“Her evidence is not credible,” Mitchell said.

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

Children, according to Mitchell, don’t have a “knee-jerk reaction” to “things that are different,” but do care about how their parents or authority figures feel.

“Children are very much concerned whether their parents are upset, or whether the authority figures of their lives, particularly their parents or pastor, tell them something is wrong and that they should have felt a certain way,” he said.

Mitchell said the Servatius family members are part of the most “prevalent” faith group in Canada and any “interference” in the family’s ability to observe and practice their beliefs is “trivial.” He added that evidence suggests that Servatius’s religious beliefs were not reasonably impacted, Mitchell said.

“It didn’t change the way the Servatius family lives their lives,” he said.

The hearing is expected to conclude tomorrow, Nov. 22 at the Nanaimo Courthouse.







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 Nanaimo Rona location. (News Bulletin photo)
Rona home improvement store in Nanaimo advises customers that worker has COVID-19

Store re-opened Sunday after being closed for cleaning Saturday

Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus released their first joint album, <em>The Invasion</em>. (Photo courtesy Raymond Knight)
Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus release first joint album

Duo plan elaborate live-streamed CD release for ‘The Invasion’

Revelstoke-based potter Kaisa Lindfors presents <em>How to Feel Full: An Exploration of Drawing and Journaling on Clay</em> at Nanaimo Ceramic Arts Studio and Gallery from Dec. 3 to 17. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Artist combines ceramics and journaling in first Nanaimo exhibition

Revelstoke’s Kaisa Lindfors presents ‘How to Feel Full’ at Nanaimo Ceramic Arts

Two drivers were taken to hospital with unknown injuries after a hatchback and a convertible collided on the old Island Highway at Oliver Road on Saturday afternoon. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Drivers taken to hospital after T-bone crash on the old Island Highway in Nanaimo

Convertible and hatchback collided at Oliver Road on Saturday afternoon, impacting traffic

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

A rendering of a restaurant building making up part of a development permit application for 113 and 161 Island Highway in Parksville. (IAG Developments image)
Development application delayed for high-profile Parksville property

Council refers restaurant/RV campground application to staff for further improvements

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ board approved a recommendation for Franklyn Street gym demolition. Pictured here, Nanaimo Fire Rescue staff on scene after a gym fire in October 2018. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustees decide to demolish Franklyn Street gym

SD68 board votes to demolish heritage building, damaged by fire in October 2018

Most Read