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

Annual bird count thrills organizer

Count took place over 48 hours

B.C. government eyes antlerless moose harvest increase in bid to save caribou

Antlerless moose hunts reduce predation for threatened mountain caribou, says ministry

Major paving projects announced

Extends west of Smithers to east of Houston

Hatchery expansion project gets underway

Goal is to get structure to ‘lock up’ stage

With wildfire season approaching, here are some tips to be ‘FireSmart’ this year

Q & A with Lindsay King, FireSmart Educator for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

B.C. ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

Tsilhqot’in jurisdiction affects grazing, access to private property

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Greater Victoria drive-thru window smashed after man receives burger without mustard

Greater Victoria Wendy’s staff call police after man allegedly rips Plexiglas barrier off window

Murder charge upgraded in George Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit was en route as whale broke free from prawn trap line

Racist incident shocks Vancouver Island First Nation

Port Alberni RCMP investigating after video shows truck wheeling through Tseshaht territory

Vancouver Island school principal mourns brother, cousin killed during U.S. protests

Jelks says he’s grateful for the outpouring of support from the community in the wake of this tragedy

Most Read