A Canadian court has again dismissed claims by a mother that Indigenous cultural events at her children’s school violated her religious freedom and ordered her to pay the costs after it was revealed her lawsuit was secretly funded by a Christian activist organization.
Candice Servatius, an evangelical Protestant, complained in 2016 after an elder staged a stain demonstration at her children’s school in the western British Columbia town of Port Alberni. A hoop dancer also said a prayer while performing at a school assembly.
Before the event, parents received a letter telling them the students would participate by holding a cedar branch to “feel the bristles… to remind them that they are alive and well.” and that sage smoke would be fanned out to “purify” them. students and classrooms. When Servatius went to school, she learned that the ceremony had already taken place.
Despite Servatius’ claim that “her children were forced to attend a religious ceremony,” the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled against her in 2020. Judge Douglas Thompson concluded that the events were designed to teach students about Indigenous culture and that attendance was not compulsory.
In his ruling, Thompson also noted that while the students observed an incense ceremony and hoop dance, “they did not hold cedar branches and were not soiled or otherwise cleaned.”
This week, an appeals court agreed with the lower court, calling it “uncontroversial” that public educational institutions such as schools should be involved in reconciliation efforts with indigenous communities. The school is located in traditional Nuu-chah-nulth territory and nearly a third of the students in the school district are Indigenous, according to the British Columbia Court of Appeals.
“Significant efforts have been made to redress the historical legacy of schools as unsafe places for Indigenous children and to help achieve better outcomes for Indigenous students,” wrote Justice Susan Griffin.
She also referred to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the province three years ago, which calls for this indigenous culture and tradition to be reflected in the province’s schools.
When he ruled in 2020, Judge Thompson did not force Servatius to pay the costs, believing her family lacked the funds to compensate the school district for the lawsuit.
But after she appealed the decision, the appeals court learned her case was funded by the Calgary-based Judicial Center for Constitutional Liberties (JCCF).
Judge Griffin wrote that the revelations of the group secretly funding Servatius “emphasize the importance of transparency as to who is the real party funding the litigation” and concluded that the JCCF Servatius’ role differed from costs ” isolated” associated with the “waste of judicial resources on minor complaints” that would not, as a rule, justify a lawsuit”.
The appeals court ordered Servatius to pay the school district’s costs — both for the Supreme Court hearing and for the appeals court hearing.