City of Victoria cancels Canada Day broadcast as First Nations mourn residential school deaths

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Victoria is cancelling its Canada Day broadcast, instead planning to work with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations to create an alternative event at a later date, amid calls nationwide to cancel July 1 celebrations.

Councillors voted unanimously to cancel a planned one-hour Canada Day broadcast after long-standing Lekwungen participants told city staff last week they would not take part this year in light of the discovery of an unmarked grave at a former Kamloops residential school.

The discovery has reopened trauma for residential school survivors who suffered physical and sexual abuse, malnourishment and sometimes starvation at the government-sponsored institutions, which took generations of Indigenous children from their families in an effort to strip them of their language and culture.

It has also renewed focus on reconciliation across the country, and has led to the toppling or removal of statues commemorating historical figures in other cities who shaped the residential school system, creating the inter-generational trauma that continues to impact Indigenous communities.

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Mayor Lisa Helps said members of the City Family — the city’s reconciliation “advisory body” — told her it would be difficult to proceed with a regular celebration of the country this year but it would also feel strange to do nothing. They suggested council ask for feedback from the chiefs of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations and from the Lək̓ʷəŋən Traditional Dancers, which have participated in the city’s Canada Day events for years.

As a result of those informal conversations, Helps and Coun. Marianne Alto proposed either cancelling the broadcast entirely or working with the First Nations to explore using the broadcast as an educational opportunity.

“Right now, the Lekwungen nations are grieving. And so it’s very difficult for them to come and sing and dance and celebrate in the middle of the grief. That’s really what we’re grappling with,” Helps told reporters.

To respect that grieving process and given the small time frame before Canada Day, Coun. Ben Isitt proposed cancelling the July 1 broadcast in favour of working with the First Nations on a future event to be held by Sept. 6, when funding would expire.

Helps stressed that while the city is no longer planning a virtual Canada Day event, residents can still hold their own celebrations.

“Neighbours can still gather in COVID -friendly block parties, put out Canadian flags. People in Victoria and across the country can obviously do whatever they want on July the 1st,” the mayor said.

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