Sudbury

Hearst councillor Gaetan Baillargeon says province changing rules on pledging allegiance to the Crown

A newly elected town councillor in Hearst, Ont., says he won't have to give up his seat after refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen.

Province initially said 'no exception' to swearing allegiance to the Queen

Gaetan Baillargeon had renounced his seat on Hearst town council by refusing to pledge allegiance to the Queen, but says since then, the province has agreed to change the rules. (Erik White/CBC )

A newly elected town councillor in Hearst, Ont., says he won't have to give up his seat after refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen.

Last week, Gaetan Baillargeon, a member of the Constance Lake First Nation, was scheduled to be sworn in with the rest of the elected town council.

However, he didn't want to pledge allegiance to the Crown, as he said that conflicted with his views as an Indigenous person.

"They were responsible for everything that was put in place," he told CBC News.

"The treaties that were broken, the residential schools which my mother had to attend, the reservations and I said that's something I cannot pledge allegiance to."

Baillargeon says he was told by the town clerk that under the provincial law, councillors are required to make the pledge to the Crown or renounce their seat.

Initially, Steve Clark, Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing told CBC Sudbury there "is no exception to the requirement to take the declaration of office prior to taking your seat as a local councillor."

But Baillargeon says Clark has changed his mind. He says Clark phoned him last Friday night and told him the province will provide an alternate declaration which will allow publicly elected officials to be sworn in without pledging allegiance to the Crown.

"I was really glad to hear that," he said.

"I'll be looking forward to taking back my seat in the Town of Hearst."

Baillargeon says he will be officially sworn in at a meeting on Tuesday. He says he glad he spoke up about the issue.

"I think a lot of times, people don't stick to their guns and their principles," he said.

"If you truly believe in what you're doing and your cause and it's not conflicting with anybody, it's not there to harm in anyway and we can discuss it like adults, I think we can work things out."

The municipal clerk in Hearst, Janine Lecours, said last Friday, the province "provided the municipality with an alternate declaration to accommodate Indigenous persons." 

Minister Steve Clark said in a statement to CBC News that he became aware of the situation last week.

"I asked my staff to send an alternate form to that individual so that he can swear an oath that better reflects his views as an Indigenous person and take his seat in council," he said.

Baillargeon will be officially sworn in on Tuesday in a special meeting of council.

With files from Kirthana Sasitharan

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