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PEI minister orders inquiry for councillor who posted anti-Indigenous sign

January 24, 2024
PEI’s Minister of Housing, Land, and Communities Rob Lantz speaks to reporters following a meeting with his Atlantic provincial counterparts and Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser in Halifax on Jan. 15.DARREN CALABRESE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Globe and Mail: The Canadian Press – A Prince Edward Island cabinet minister has asked a law firm to conduct an inquiry into a village councillor’s decision to display a sign denying the existence of residential school graves.

Communities Minister Rob Lantz issued a statement Wednesday saying Murray Harbour Coun. John Robertson had failed to comply with a ministerial directive to pay a $500 fine and issue an apology or resign – sanctions that were first imposed by the rural municipality.

Lantz said that under provincial legislation, however, he couldn’t take action until an independent inquiry investigates Robertson’s conduct, even though the municipality has completed its own probe. As a result, Lantz has appointed Michael Drake, a partner with the law firm McInnes Cooper, to carry out an inquiry, saying such a move is unprecedented.

“As a former municipal councillor, I respect and appreciate the role of democratically elected local governments,” Lantz said in his statement. “We need to follow the letter of the law concerning the Municipal Government Act so that we are confident a decision can hold up.”

Robertson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In October, the councillor displayed on his property 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.

Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, is considered the architect the residential school system because he championed policies of assimilation and violence toward Indigenous people.

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 for unmarked graves at school sites in their territories.

In November of last year, Murray Harbour council voted to suspend Robertson for six months and ordered him to pay a $500 fine and write a letter of apology. And on Dec. 8, 2023, Lantz said the council asked him to conduct an inquiry.

Last month, Lantz said Robertson had until Dec. 31 to comply with the sanctions imposed by fellow council members.

But when that deadline passed, Lantz announced on Jan. 2 that the councillor had been granted a two-week extension. The minister said the extension was granted because he had received an email from Robertson on New Year’s Eve indicating the councillor was unaware of the ultimatum because he had been outside the country.

Meanwhile, Robertson has received calls for his resignation from PEI Sen. Brian Francis, Abegweit First Nation Chief Roderick Gould Jr., as well as the mayor of Murray Harbour and other councillors.

“This matter has gone on for far too long and we do not want to delay the outcome of this situation any further,” Lantz said. “I have asked Mr. Drake to conduct his inquiry as quickly as possible.”