Writing It Into Law
On June 3, 2021, Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation), received Royal Assent. This allowed for the designation of September 30th as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, marking a new public holiday for the country under Canada’s Labour Code.
Traditionally, September 30th is a day of commemoration, Orange Shirt Day. A day where global conversations take place surrounding all aspects of residential schools, providing an opportunity to create and participate in meaningful discussions on the effects of residential schools and the legacy they have left behind. This is a day for survivors to be reminded that they matter in addition to any of those who have been affected.
According to the Government of Canada, “The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation seeks to honour First Nations, Inuit and Métis survivors, their families and communities, and to ensure that public commemoration of their history and the legacy of residential schools remain a vital component of the reconciliation process.” The Bill officially came into effect on August 3, 2021, meaning that the holiday will be celebrated for the first time on September 30, 2021.
A number of other statutes required amending to enforce this change, including the Interpretation Act and the Bills of Exchange Act. Most importantly, for employers, the definition of “general holiday” in the Labour Code has been amended to include the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is important to note that this new holiday only applies to federally regulated employers, which are subject to the Labour Code. As such, this new holiday does not apply to provincially regulated employers unless amendments are made on the provincial level.
While some provinces have chosen to implement the new holiday, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario governments have chosen not to.
The Province of Ontario
On September 9th, the province stated it would not be making National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a provincial holiday. Curtis Lindsay, the press secretary for Indigenous Affairs Minister says, “While the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not a provincial public holiday this year, employers and employees may agree to treat this day as such, and some may be required to do so if it has been negotiated into collective agreements or employee contracts.” This holiday was 1 of 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as a way to honour Canada’s residential school survivors, their families and communities, and to publicly confront the damage done by its implementation (see figure 5).
It is critical to our country’s reconciliation efforts that all provinces and all leaders take these calls to action seriously. By choosing to pass on making the 2021 date a public statutory holiday, our province’s leaders are essentially dismissing the importance of truth and reconciliation, and the pain and suffering endured by a considerable portion of our nation’s population. Not only that but while only 3% of Ontario’s population is Indigenous, the province also holds the largest Indigenous population in the country (374,395).
Due to the high concentration of Indigenous peoples in Ontario, it is important for the province to get on board with the rest of the country’s reconciliation efforts. Without their participation, it will be difficult to make any real progress when it comes to reconciliation and the Calls to Action.
Ontario is not the only province that needs to step up; Quebec, New Brunswick, Alberta, and Saskatchewan should all reconsider their position for 2022. These decisions to abstain are particularly disappointing after the tragic discoveries at residential school sites across the country in 2021.