British Columbia

First Nation removes its flag from Nanaimo city hall

A flag flown at Nanaimo City Hall is the latest flashpoint in a long-running imbroglio that has consumed the city's government the last two years.

The Snuneymuxw want an apology for an alleged physical confrontation between a councillor and the city manager

The Snuneymuxw First Nation flag, seen here on the far right of three flags that flew at Nanaimo's City Hall, has been removed by the First Nation. (CHEK News)

A flag flown at Nanaimo City Hall is the latest flashpoint in a long-running imbroglio that has consumed the city's government the last two years.

The chief and council of the Snuneymuxw First Nation have taken down the Snuneymuxw flag, which they gave to the city in 2015. They did so to protest the lack of an apology from Mayor Bill McKay over a February 2017 incident between a city councillor and the city manager, who is Indigenous. 

"The Snuneymuxw First Nation is committed to working collectively with the citizens of Nanaimo and their government to build new patterns premised on recognition, respect, reciprocity, justice and reconciliation," said Snuneymuxw councillor Doug White III in a statement.

"However, we cannot sit idly by in the face of violence against an Indigenous woman. We are compelled to rise to speak out against this."

A video was released earlier this summer — from what is allegedly a city council meeting in February — that shows councillor Wendy Pratt standing up, moving towards city manager Tracy Samra and striking her phone. 

The Snuneymuxw say there has not been an apology from Pratt or city council. 

McKay told the Nanaimo News Bulletin he hadn't "seen anything that suggested Ms. Samra has experienced violence in the workplace."

Since the video was released, Pratt has resigned and Samra has gone on leave. 

'It's hugely frustrating'

The removal of the flag comes less than a year after the City of Nanaimo filed a lawsuit against McKay, and a special prosecutor was appointed to help police investigate a Nanaimo city council member in an unconnected matter. 

City council has also asked RCMP to investigate allegations of improper behaviour by McKay. Several city staff have resigned and an independent investigator released a report into the city's work environment in August.

None of the allegations against McKay or Pratt, who did not respond to a request for comment, have been proven in court. With a population of 90,000, Nanaimo is the second largest municipality on Vancouver Island. 

"I think they're fully within their rights to remove their flag," said Coun. Gord Fuller. "It makes a statement from their part and shows the reality out there in full."

Fuller, who got into hot water last year for telling McKay to "bite me" during a council meeting, says there has been unfair treatment of Samra since she was hired in 2015. 

"It's been sad to watch. The biggest problem for me is our community charter which governs municipalities. It's so weak for ramifications of breaching your duties. It's frustrating. It's hugely frustrating," said Fuller.  

He and six other councillors passed a motion asking McKay to resign in 2016. The mayor has waffled on whether or not he will run for re-election next year. 

"All you can do ... unless they don't report gifts of a certain amount, is censure someone. And the censuring you can do is minimal. You can't remove a person from their position," said Fuller.  

"I would love to be able to say more ... but if I say too much, it could jeopardize ongoing investigations."