'No exception' to pledge of allegiance, province tells elected councillor

A newly elected town councillor in Hearst is giving up his seat after refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen.

Town clerk says provincial law requires councillors to pledge allegiance to the Crown

Gaetan Baillargeon has renounced his seat on Hearst town council by refusing to pledge allegiance to the Queen. (Erik White/CBC )

A newly elected town councillor in Hearst is giving up his seat after refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen.

Gaetan Baillargeon, a member of the nearby Constance Lake First Nation, was to be sworn in with the rest of the town council Monday night.

But when he stepped up to the podium, he had a request for the town clerk.

"I'd like to ask the clerk if she would like to help me and change the wording in paragraph 4 because they conflict with my views with the Aboriginal people of Canada and the Crown," Baillargeon said.

The clerk informed him that under provincial law councillors are required to pledge allegiance to the Crown and if he refused he'd have to renounce his seat.

"I always thought that First Nations were exempt from this law and I just wanted to give a heads up to the clerk I just wanted her to know when I pledge allegiance to Canada, Ontario and the people of Hearst that I'll be using my family feather and if that was ok with her and she said sure that's fine but you have to pledge allegiance to the Queen," say Baillargeon.

He says he was pretty sure there were laws in place to say he doesn't have to since the views of the Monarchy conflict with his views.

Baillargeon says he's spoken with First Nation MPs who were able to work with the clerk to change the wording and were even able to say it in Cree.

He says there is no way he wanted to renounce his seat and will continue to fight this.

Province says there is no exception

In a statement Tuesday night, the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs says he's aware of some instances where a person who was elected raised concerns with the declaration.

Steve Clark says at this time, there is no exception to the requirement to take the declaration of office prior to taking your seat as a local councillor. 

The statement says the declaration is established provincially and there is no local authority to amend the declaration.

Clark says they're looking into the matter further.​

Baillargeon says he will be speaking with the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation as well as other politicians who've asked to change the wording when pledging their allegiance.

Mayor of Hearst says "hands are tied"

Hearst Mayor Roger Sigouin says he's in a difficult spot. While he understands the nature of Baillargeon's request, he is restricted by the law. 

"I would like to support Gaetan, but my hands are tied because I have regulation in place. I just hope it's going to be alright in the future to progress and do better with the First Nation."

Sigouin says he hopes that the provincial government will be able to step in to allow Baillargeon to stay in council. 

Two-thirds of the voters in Hearst selected Baillargeon for their town councillor in this fall's election. He also carried the Liberal banner during the 2018 provincial election in the new riding of Mushkegowuk-James Bay.


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