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

Work has started on Malahat Skywalk, expected completion in 2021

$15-million project expected to open in spring, 2021

Baby Bear statue returned to be reunited with Mama and Papa

Culprit left it near the Henry Road roundabout in Chemainus with a note attached

Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre launches new project

The Nature Centre’s goal is to continue to engage the local community

Isles offence picks up against Peninsula

Kerry Park better at both ends of the ice in winless weekend

Water levels in Cowichan Lake high after recent wet weather

Snow pack in local mountains also looking good

VIDEO: Kenney wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Landowner hearings begin for Trans Mountain expansion in Alberta

Detailed route talks start in Spruce Grove, in B.C. communities soon

VIDEO: Canada looking to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Alessia Cara to host and perform at 2020 Juno Awards

Multi-platinum Canadian singer-songwriter also up for six awards, including Artist of the Year

Watch out for scams, clickbait in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death: Better Business Bureau

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles

‘Very disrespectful’: Headstones at Okanagan cemetery damaged by excavation crew

Headstones at Enderby’s Cliffside Cemetery mistakenly driven over by excavation crew

Despite reports of decline, birds flocking to national parks in Canadian Rockies

Recent studies suggest overall bird population has slid by three billion since 1970

Former UN committee member defends stance on B.C.’s Coastal GasLink pipeline

First Nations LNG Alliance accused UN committee, human rights watchdog of not doing their research

Most Read