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B.C.’s capital cancels scheduled Canada Day programming in wake of Kamloops Residential School discovery

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WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Victoria city council has decided to cancel its scheduled Canada Day programming this year following the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of children’s remains near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

Originally, the city had planned virtual programming to mark the day due to COVID-19 pandemic gathering restrictions. Instead, the city said it will produce something for broadcast later this summer featuring local artists, and guided by local First Nations.

“As First Nations mourn and in light of the challenging moment we are in as a Canadian nation following the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school, council has decided to take the time to explore new possibilities, instead of the previously planned virtual Canada Day broadcast,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said in a media statement.

In an interview on CBC’s On the Island Thursday morning, prior to council’s decision to cancel scheduled programming, Helps said that last Friday she spoke with local Indigenous individuals who generally participate in Canada Day celebrations, who said they didn’t feel they could do so this year. 

“They didn’t feel comfortable participating this year because basically they’re grief-struck and reeling, as are many Indigenous people across the country,” Helps said Thursday morning. 

She acknowledged the lək̓ʷəŋən people, on whose territory the city of Victoria was built, and the importance of ensuring the city’s plans for July 1 reflected the needs of that community. 

Helps said residents can still acknowledge the day in their own way, but the city wants to provide an opportunity for thoughtful reflection and examination of what it truly means to be Canadian. 

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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