Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer
Content warning: mentions of the residential school system, colonialism, and genocide.
President Gabe Liosis presented a motion asking Council to support the ongoing #CancelCanadaDay campaign. It was created by vice president (VP) events and student affairs Jess Dela Cruz. The motion asked Council to refrain from the idealization or celebration of Canada, instead amplifying the hashtag on their social media.
It also asked for SFU flags to be lowered indefinitely and for a campaign to stop the Canadian national anthem from playing at any SFU events. On June 24, president Joy Johnson said in an email statement, “SFU’s flags will stay lowered indefinitely to honour the lives and mourn the loss of these discoveries,” in reference to the former Marieval Indian Residential School. The motion stated it aimed to hold Johnson accountable.
Dela Cruz noted First Nations Student Association member Audrey Heath’s said, “We don’t necessarily think Canada Day should be cancelled altogether, but the meaning of it should be changed. Instead of just celebrating this romanticized version of Canada, people should take the time to educate themselves on the colonial history.”
Discounting settler colonial narratives while “highlighting Indigenous knowledge systems” is important as society continues to educate themselves on Canadian history, said Dela Cruz. She continued, “We have a lot of work to do as an institution named after a colonizer.”
Councillors questioned the ethics of having less than 24 hours notice to pass a motion this large without time to consult their membership.
“This motion would, in essence, be asking for an environment at SFU in which it’s permissible to burn a flag, but not to raise it,” said Computing Science Student Society representative Ryan Vansickle. While he noted he was personally in favour of the motion and welcomed the radical social change, he questioned the integrity of not allowing councillors appropriate time to consider.
Vansickle commented that, while they have responsibilities to act as allies to Indigenous communities, Councillors’ primary responsibility is to represent their membership.
“I guarantee that there has not been adequate discussion between Council, the Board, our student constituents, departmental student unions, and our executive teams because it simply was not possible to have done so,” said Vansickle.
Sustainable Energy Engineering Student Society representative Mohamed Al-Sheboul called on Council members to consider that Canada Day is also a time for international students and immigrants to celebrate all they have achieved because of Canada. “We should at least recognize that there is some good, and we can move towards something better,” said Al-Sheboul.
“To not celebrate the fact that we’ve come so far into this country — it just doesn’t seem fair,” said international student representative Kirtana Menon.
Dela Cruz asked Councillors to consider their place in the conversation. “We need to take ourselves out of this narrative, and we need to centre Indigenous peoples — and that’s not what we’re doing in this conversation.”
Warren Ho Kin, Data Science Student Union representative, attempted to amend the agenda to remove items disregarding celebrations of Canada, flags being lowered indefinitely, and the anthem not being played at events. He asked for the SFSS to participate in the hashtag trend and amplify the hashtag on social media only. These amendments were not passed.
VP external and community affairs Matthew Provost said, “This is stuff that elders have been saying for years — this is stuff that our communities have been advocating for for years with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
“I always say that this one has to be done with an open mind and an open heart for it to be done in a good way.”
Gender, sexuality, and women’s studies student representative Devynn Butterworth said, “For white settlers, it’s easy to celebrate Canada Day, because it continues to perpetrate the colonial white supremacist values that the state of Canada was founded — and continues to operate — on [ . . . ] I ask my fellow settlers to reflect on how they can change their inherent biases to be more equitable.”
The motion was carried. 24 Councillors voted in favour, 2 Councillors voted against, and 12 Councillors abstained from the vote.
The Council’s Commitments to Reconciliation
Provost brought forth a motion to Council asking them to stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities after the finding of over 1,300 unmarked graves. The motion tasks the SFSS with drafting Calls to Action in alignment with the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
The motion also asked Council to share resources, educate themselves and others, and donate $6,000 to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
Provost noted the finding of unmarked grave sites under residential schools is not an “isolated incident, and these numbers will continue to grow and they will continue to impact Indigenous communities.”
Provost explained that, along with his younger brother, he is the first generation of his family to not attend residential schools. Regarding SFU, he noted, “It’s a privilege to be an institution, to be able to learn and unpack these things in a good way, but we have to make sure that we’re not perpetuating the same narratives of colonial violence and ignoring the history that has been here.”
Menon noted, “I don’t think the Indigenous community wants thoughts and prayers, I think they want policy and change.”
Provost said, “The work isn’t done and it’s not going to be done for a long time.”
The motion passed unanimously.