Sudbury

Ontario offers alternate municipal oath of office for Indigenous people

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.

Change came after elected Indigenous councillor in Hearst refused to pledge allegiance to the Crown

Gaetan Baillargeon will be officially sworn in as a new town councillor in Hearst, Ont., on Tuesday. He will be using an alternate oath for Indigenous people. (Radio-Canada)

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 Hearst, Ont., 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 is also a member of the nearby Constance Lake First Nation, was elected to council in Hearst in October. He had said he would not pledge allegiance to the Queen because the Crown represents residential schools, the reserve system and broken treaties.

"I pledge allegiance to the Indigenous peoples. [The Queen] doesn't represent me [and] nor does the Crown," he said.

"I represent the people that I work for and that's the people of Hearst and the Indigenous peoples of Canada."

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

According to the Town of Hearst, Baillargeon will be officially sworn in at a special meeting of council on Tuesday.

More Indigenous municipal politicians?

The deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Derek Fox, calls the change a good step forward. He says having access to an alternate oath could result in more Indigenous people running for municipal office.

"It sets a precedent for future city councillors who may enter municipal politics," he said.

"I believe that we're going to have more First Nations leaders within … the municipal system."

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox. (Derek Fox/Facebook)

Fox says not wanting to pledge allegiance to the Queen shouldn't hold people back in their careers.

"Being a lawyer, I've had law students or aspiring law students who did not want to go to law school for the sake of [having] to swear and oath to the Queen when you get your call to the bar," he explained.

"That should not be any reason for anyone to not want to enter a field of professionalism or political leadership."

Change denied for Francophone politician in 2011

Baillargeon is praising 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."

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.

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.

With files from Kirthana Sasitharan

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