A B.C. mother has filed a court petition alleging a B.C. school district violated her charter rights by forcing her kids to participate in indigenous religious ceremonies.
Port Alberni mother Candice Servatius is asking B.C.’s Supreme Court to ban school district 70 from allowing any religious exercises in public schools.
“It is fine to teach kids about religion, but it is not acceptable to impose religious practices on kids,” says lawyer John Carpay with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, who have taken the case.
LISTEN: CKNW’s Shelby Thom explains the controversy
Servatius claims she received a letter from the principal of John Howitt Elementary School informing parents it would be hosting a “Traditional Nuu-chah-nulth Classroom/Student Cleansing” performed by a First Nations member in the school’s classrooms.
She claims the letter described specific beliefs of the Nuu-chah-nulth: “everything is one, all is connected” and “everything has a spirit,” and said without cleansing, the classroom and even the furniture would harbor negative “energy” and would not be safe until the “energy” was “released.”
Each student would participate in the cleansing ritual by holding onto a cedar branch while having “smoke from Sage fanned over [their] body and spirit,” a practice identified as “smudging.”
Sevartius claims she was concerned about the explicitly religious nature of the ritual and went to the school to learn more, only to find out it had already taken place.
She claims her daughter told her teacher she didn’t want to participate, but was told it would be “rude” not to participate and that “all” the students were “required” to participate.
Sevartius also claims her kids were also exposed to a prayer based on Aboriginal spirituality at a student assembly, with explicit references to an unspecified “god”.
First Nations learning
In a statement, the School district says it’s reviewing the petition with its lawyers and will respond to the allegations in court.
But it says that B.C. schools have put an important focus on teaching First Nations culture, history, and traditions.
“All schools in SD70 operate on a secular, inclusive and non-discriminatory basis but there is teaching and learning that occurs about different cultures and traditions and that is an important part of learning.”
B.C.’s new elementary school curriculum has laid out Aboriginal issues as a core component, with the directive to interweave aboriginal perspectives in all areas of learning.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.