Snuneymuxw councillor wants SFN flag removed from Nanaimo City Hall

By Dominic Abassi
August 11, 2017 - 6:14pm Updated: August 11, 2017 - 9:32pm

The Snuneymuxw flag was flying over Nanaimo City Hall Friday. It's unclear if it will remain there.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — A Snuneymuxw councillor wants to see his nation's flag removed from Nanaimo City Hall.

Doug White said he will bring forward a resolution calling on the City to take down and return the flag. The decision was sparked by what White called mayor Bill McKay's denial of the alleged assault of chief administrative officer Tracy Samra and Nanaimo council's failure to address the situation.

"He's (McKay) effectively saying this did not happen and seeking to erase this violence against an Aboriginal woman as if it never happened. To me, that is profoundly troubling and gravely concerning and absolutely unacceptable," White told NanaimoNewsNOW. "While the mayor of Nanaimo is in a position of denying this kind of reality, I can not be in a position where we can have the Snuneymuxw flag flying over City Hall."

The First Nation's flag was raised at Nanaimo City Hall in June 2015 by McKay and Chief John Wesley, a move described at the time as a sign of unity between the two councils.

White, who wasn't on Snuneymuxw council at the time, said he has always been "confused" about why the flag was there. "The fact the flag of Snuneymuxw is flying at City Hall would indicate in some way there's been a major shift in the relationship and a real achievement of some kind of reconciliation that would merit that kind of a step."

White said he's not speculating racism motivated the alleged attack on Samra, but the incident needs to be denounced.

"I want to be clear about this, I'm not necessarily saying it was racially motivated, but what I am saying is it did occur, it has happened, there has been violence against an Aboriginal woman and that has to be acknowledged and dealt with and grappled with."

He said there has been progress in certain areas between Snuneymuxw and the City and while there's a lot of promise for the future, "the turmoil that we've seen in council obviously gets in the way of that progress and opportunity.

"It's good for no one in the region for chaos to prevail at City Hall," White said, adding it's the responsibility of mayor and council to set a respectful tone with their leadership.

McKay said the Snuneymuxw flag was raised to acknowledge the City operates in the First Nation's traditional territory and the two councils govern collectively. He said he's disappointed by White's call for it to be removed.

He said he's reached out to Chief Wesley on the issue and has yet to hear back.

In response to a video Samra alleged showed former coun. Wendy Pratt assaulting her during a closed meeting, McKay said it's "inconclusive."

"It's seven seconds of a two hour meeting and I certainly can't conclude anything based on that video," McKay said, adding he wasn't at the meeting.

Samra filed complaints claiming harassment and violence in the workplace and council has received a report from Vancouver labour lawyer Roslyn Goldner. However the exact findings of the report remain unclear. In a recent article, the Globe and Mail claimed a copy of it was provided to them. It said the report stopped short of finding bullying and harassment had occurred, saying the behaviour that resulted in those allegations "is more aptly characterized as uncivil workplace conduct."

The City denied a Freedom of Information request filed by NanaimoNewsNOW asking for a copy of the report.

McKay said Goldner's findings have been discussed by council twice in-camera and will again be on the table during a meeting on Monday. "I certainly agree with the recommendations that are within the report...While I won't agree with every individual point within it, I will accept it simply so we can move on to the next step and remedy the current relationship issues we have," McKay said.

A statement issued by Samra on July 31 claimed coun. Pratt, who resigned in April, went to diversion — a program to remove people from the formal criminal justice stream and allow them to deal with their situation in a less formal fashion. However, the Criminal Justice Branch has repeatedly declined to confirm any conclusion of their investigation into Nanaimo's council, which councillor was arrested and if any charges were laid.

Pratt declined to comment.

An online petition has also been launched calling for action in support of Samra. "It is time for an official apology to be issued by municipal leadership for the violence against Ms. Samra, and it is time for Mayor McKay to resign," the petition stated. It had 1,300 supporters by Friday evening.


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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