Calls for B.C. mayor to resign over residential school book incident

There are growing calls for the mayor of Quesnel, Ron Paull, to resign after revelations his wife has been handing out a book that, according to promotional material from its publisher, questions whether residential schools were fundamentally harmful to Indigenous communities and people who attended them.

More than 200 people marched outside city hall Tuesday evening before packing into an emotionally charged council meeting in the city of roughly 23,000 people, in B.C.’s Cariboo region about 400 kilometres north of Vancouver.

“We can no longer work with this mayor and we will not work with the City of Quesnel until [the] issue has been resolved,” said Lhtako Dene Chief Clifford Lebrun. 

“We can’t have a community that hands out hate literature and expect people to listen to us and to take it seriously.”

WATCH | First Nations, councillors, call on Quesnel mayor to resign: 

Calls grow louder for Quesnel mayor to step down

2 days ago

Duration 2:27

Three city councillors, several First Nations, and some locals are demanding the mayor of Quesnel resign after his wife handed out a controversial book about residential schools.

The meeting also heard from the mayor’s wife, Pat Morton, and one of the authors featured in the book who had travelled to Quesnel to speak to council.

The controversy is a blow to reconciliation efforts, which have been at the forefront of city business.

Starting in 2015, council began a process of working with the Lhtako Dene, formally acknowledging them as partners on whose land the city was built. In the years since, it has taken other steps toward what it calls “true reconciliation,” which include restoring ownership of a downtown park to the First Nation and, earlier this year, being the first city to officially co-host the B.C. Winter Games with an Indigenous community.

A large crowd of people walks down a city street on their way to Quesnel city hall.
A crowd of people head to the council meeting in Quesnel, B.C. (Contributed/Kevin Toews)

But those efforts have been threatened after a March 19 meeting in which council received a letter of concern from the Lhtako Dene about a book being distributed in the community by Morton, the wife of mayor Ron Paull, who was elected to office in 2022 after previously sitting as a councillor.

The book, titled Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools), by authors C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan, contains essays, which its publisher says challenge several assertions made about the harms of residential schools. 

In publicity material for the book, the publishers, True North and Dorchester Books, said statements that residential schools traumatized Indigenous people across generations and destroyed Indigenous languages and culture are either “totally false or grossly exaggerated.”

It also promises to challenge the notion that Indigenous people were forced to attend residential schools and whether the residential school system can appropriately be defined as genocide.

“Whoever wrote that book, they didn’t go through residential school with us,” Lhtako Dene Elder Bryant Paul told council this past Tuesday, while holding an eagle feather. “[At residential school] they beat us, sexually abused us.”

WATCH | Elder Bryant Paul addresses council: 

Residential school survivor calls for Quesnel mayor to resign

4 hours ago

Duration 2:47

Lhtako Dene elder Bryant Paul, who attended St. Joseph Mission residential school, speaks to Quesnel city council on Apr. 2, 2024.

Nazko First Nation Chief Leah Stump choked back tears as she addressed the council table.

“We deserve better than having to come here to prove we went to residential school, to prove that we were hurt and broken,” she said.

In 2021, the federally-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released a report into the schools following six years of testimony received from more than 6,000 attendees across the country.

It found more than 4,100 children died while attending these schools, most due to malnourishment or disease.

It also heard testimony that many of the children who attended the schools were physically, sexually or psychologically abused, ultimately characterizing the system as a “cultural genocide.”

A First Nations chief in glasses and a baseball hat wears a black jacket with his band's name and the word chief embroidered on it.
Lhtako Dene Chief Clifford Lebrun said his First Nation will not work with the City of Quesnel until Mayor Ron Paull steps down. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

The book was unanimously denounced by Paull and council at its March 19 meeting, when the council reaffirmed their relationship with the Lhtako Dene and formally accepted the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The rally held at city hall on April 2 was described as one in support for truth and reconciliation. Aftewrard, council was addressed by First Nations leaders and elders, some of whom held back tears as they described the personal impacts of residential schools.

“We have a whole room full of elders and survivors here,” Chief Lebrun said during the meeting. “They could go on all night and tell you what they went through. It hurts them that much that they would relive that, just to let you know.”

Lebrun said the Lhtako Dene would be stepping back from their partnerships with the city until further notice.

Morton, the mayor’s wife, also stepped up to the microphone to speak.

“I’ll say I’m sorry my actions sharing this book have upset you,” she said. “I’m hurt I’m put in this position. I believe in love not hate.”

WATCH | Pat Morton’s exchange with city council: 

Mayor’s wife gets into heated exchange with Quesnel councillors

4 hours ago

Duration 5:12

Pat Morton, who is married to the mayor of Quesnel, B.C., exchanged tense words with city councillors who are calling for her husband’s resignation. The calls come after revelations Morton has been distributing a controversial book about residential schools in the community.

She asked two of the city councillors why they hadn’t come to speak to her directly if they had concerns about the book, rather than bringing it up during a council meeting.

Frances Widdowson, one of the contributors to the book, also travelled to Quesnel to speak to council. 

She accused the city of spreading misinformation because council had read a letter from the B.C. Assembly of First Nations into the record, which included a reference to unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School. 

In 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced preliminary results of ground-penetrating radar work at that school, which they said showed approximately 200 potential burial sites on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

WATCH | Frances Widdowson addresses council: 

Writer accuses Quesnel council of misinformation

4 hours ago

Duration 3:37

Frances Widdowson, one of the contributors to a controversial book about residential schools, traveled to Quesnel, B.C. after councillors there denounced the publication.

One of the criticisms in Grave Error is that a number of early media reports referred to these sites as unmarked graves without including context that they were unconfirmed, which the authors say have helped shape a false public narrative even as work continues at Kamloops and sites across the country to confirm the preliminary findings.

“There is no evidence of unmarked graves,” Widdowson told council, a statement she repeated as people in the gallery started to drown her out with drumming. “Does council support misinformation?”

In response, Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg pointed out Widdowson had been fired from Royal Roads University in Calgary after espousing the benefits of residential schools.

“You really have no place here,” Roodenburg told Widdowson. “We really don’t want to hear from you.”

Roodenburg was one of three councillors, along with Scott Elliot and Tony Goulet, who formally asked Paull to resign during the meeting.

“Mr. Mayor, you have lost the trust of our First Nations, myself, and the vast majority of our community,” Ellilot said. “I have no choice but to ask for your official resignation, so we can repair the damage done by you and your wife.”

Elliot and Goulet accused the mayor of handing out the book at a local government meeting, a charge which Paull denied, saying he had simply brought it up during a discussion of what books should or should not be available at a local library.

“I have not distributed the book,” he said. “If you’re going to accuse me of a lie – I’m going to fire right back at you because you lied. “

Near the end of the meeting, Paull apologized and said he wanted to make reparations, but that he would not stand down.

“I’m not a quitter,” he said. “Quesnel is in my heart and I’m not about to abandon it.”

“I see this whole incident as being an opportunity … This incident has spawned a whole new desire in pursuing reconciliation,” he said. 

While there is no mechanism to force a mayor to resign, Quesnel council directed staff to report back with options for censure and sanctions.


Posted in CBC