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P.E.I. councillor suspended, fined $500 for posting controversial sign

The sign posted by Councillor John Robertson, which is posted saying "Truth: Mass Graves Hoax, Reconciliation: Redeem Sir John A's Integrity." (Courtesy: Gregory Miller) The sign posted by Councillor John Robertson, which is posted saying "Truth: Mass Graves Hoax, Reconciliation: Redeem Sir John A's Integrity." (Courtesy: Gregory Miller)
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MURRAY HARBOUR, P.E.I. -

A municipal councillor in eastern Prince Edward Island has been ordered to pay a $500 fine for displaying a sign on his property denying the existence of residential school graves.

The council in Murray Harbour, P.E.I., has also suspended John Robertson for six months and ordered him to write a letter of apology.

Chief administrative officer Anne Harnesk confirmed Thursday that Robertson has until Friday to comply with the council's orders, which were drafted last month after an independent investigation was conducted by a former Mountie.

In October, Robertson displayed a sign with the message, "Truth: mass grave hoax" and "Reconciliation: Redeem Sir John A.'s integrity" ahead of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Robertson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

On Nov. 18, council held a special meeting to discuss whether Robertson had breached its code of conduct, and the resulting sanctions included his removal from the municipality's infrastructure maintenance committee.

Under the province's Municipal Government Act, the council does not have the power to dismiss one of its members but it can impose fines up to $500.

Harnesk said if Robertson fails to comply with council's orders, the mayor and the province's communities minister, Rob Lantz, will decide what to do next.

Under the act, the minister can order an inquiry and direct council members to "take any action that the minister considers proper in the circumstances." If councillors fail to do as they're told, the minister can dismiss them.

Last month, other members of council asked Robertson to resign, as did P.E.I. Sen. Brian Francis and Abegweit First Nation Chief Roderick Gould Jr.

In May 2021, the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced that ground-penetrating radar had revealed the possible remains of as many as 215 children around the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia's Interior. Since then, many other First Nations across Canada have searched school sites in their territories for unmarked graves.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered a final report that documented the cruel history of those schools, concluding they were devoted to "cultural genocide." As well, the commission compiled a list of 4,100 students who died of disease or accident while attending one of the church-run, government-sponsored schools, which operated for 120 years.

In all, about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended the schools. For those Indigenous families who resisted the system, children were forcibly taken by the RCMP. The 130 schools became infamous as places where many students suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

They were also known for overcrowding, poor sanitation, unhealthy food and menial labour. Harsh punishment was meted out for those who spoke their native language or took part in traditional rituals.

Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, is best known as an architect of Confederation, but he also promoted the residential school system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.

For more P.E.I. news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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