Ontario government offers alternate municipal oath of office for Indigenous people

Gaetan Baillargeon, the Liberal candidate for the new riding of Mushkegowuk-James Bay in northern Ontario, is seen in Hearst, Ont., on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

TORONTO – Indigenous people will no longer have to swear allegiance to the Queen when they’re elected to civic office after the Ontario government created a new municipal oath.

The change comes after an Indigenous councillor-elect in a northern Ontario town was nearly forced to vacate his recently won seat because he wouldn’t pledge allegiance to the Crown.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said in a statement Tuesday he was made aware of Gaetan Baillargeon’s case and asked ministry staff to create an alternate oath that would better reflect the views of Indigenous people.

Baillargeon, who was elected to council in Hearst, Ont., had said he would not pledge allegiance to the Queen because the Crown represents residential schools, the reserve system, and broken treaties.

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“I pledge allegiance to the Indigenous peoples.(The Queen), she doesn’t represent me,” he said. “Nor does the Crown. I represent the people that I work for and that’s the people of Hearst, and the Indigenous peoples of Canada.”

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He said some initially suggested he take the original oath nonetheless but he felt that would be dishonest.

“A lot of people said, ‘Why don’t you just cross your fingers, why don’t you just lie or say it through your teeth?”‘ Baillargeon said.

“People say (politicians) always lie. They never hold their word. I wanted to show people that it’s part of me and hopefully people respect what I did.”

The new oath acknowledges pledging allegiance to the Crown would not be consistent with an Indigenous person’s views.

Baillargeon, who is expected to be sworn in Tuesday afternoon, praised the Ontario government for taking action. He said others have expressed frustration with the pledge in the past, adding the change will send a positive message to Indigenous youth.

“Younger generations that are going to come after us are going to be able to say, this is something I want to do,” he said. “They can look at other Indigenous peoples across Ontario and in Canada, taking office and are willing to fight for their own rights and represent their own people.”

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In January 2011, the town of Hearst formally appealed to then-Liberal municipal affairs minister Rick Bartolucci to drop the requirement after a francophone councillor raised the issue. Bartolucci refused, saying it was not a priority for the government.

Other Indigenous politicians have been allowed to bend the rules in other situations by using Cree for a pledge or changing the wording, Baillargeon said.

The oath issue also surfaced a few years ago in a failed challenge to Canadian citizenship rules, which requires a pledge of allegiance to the Queen.

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