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Quesnel mayor censured, banned from First Nation’s land

May 2, 2024

Council voted unanimously to censure Ron Paull and relieve him of duties at an emotional meeting

A crowd of people, some holding cell phones, flags, or drums, form a circle around Indigenous dancers wearing regalia, during a protest march to city hall.
First Nations gathered in early April before going to a Quesnel, B.C., council meeting where Mayor Ron Paull was asked to resign, following revelations his wife has been handing out a book that questions whether residential schools were harmful to Indigenous communities. (Submitted by Kevin Toews)

CBC News: The mayor of Quesnel, B.C., has been stripped of many of his duties and barred from entering land belonging to multiple First Nations in and around his community.

On Tuesday night, Quesnel’s city council voted unanimously to censure Ron Paull and impose multiple restrictions on his ability to represent the city.

The decision is in response to reports Paull’s wife has given out copies of a controversial book about residential schools to people in the community and that Paull himself had offered the book to other elected officials at a local government meeting.

In response, the Lhtako Dene, Nazko and Lhoosk’uz Dené First Nations have said they will refuse to work with Paull, who is also no longer welcome on land belonging to the Lhtako Dene.

The story thrust the community of roughly 23,000 people, located about 400 kilometres north of Vancouver, into the national spotlight as a flash point in the ongoing conversation about residential schools and Canada’s efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

But Paull says while he may have made an error in judgment, he has no plans to leave his position.  

“I have four loves,” he said at this week’s meeting. “My wife Pat, my family and friends, my wonderful community of Quesnel, and my faith…. I wholeheartedly intend on continuing giving back to my community.”

Quesnel city council censures mayor

WATCH | Mayor plans to stay on after being censured:

2 days ago: Duration 2:13

Quesnel city council has voted unanimously to censure Mayor Ron Paull, claiming he damaged relations with First Nations. Paull’s wife distributed a book that local First Nations say minimizes the harms of residential schools.

Click on the following link to access the original article and view ALL the videos in this story:

Paull will continue to serve as mayor, as there is no formal mechanism to force elected officials to resign. He will also continue to chair council meetings.

However, council has formally condemned his actions, removed him from several committees, removed his travel budget and will not allow him to act as their representative with First Nations or other external groups.

They have also asked him to issue a formal apology, something that he has so far not done.

Coun. Tony Goulet said the steps were necessary to restore Quesnel’s relationship with First Nations.

“If we don’t have a working relationship with all Indigenous communities, we’re gonna be in trouble,” he said.

Other councillors expressed concern they would not be able to successfully apply for grants or enter partnerships with other levels of government or contractors without taking strong action.

“Our reputation internationally is being damaged on a colossal scale,” said Coun. Scott Elliott. “All the work that we’ve done to rebrand this city has been demolished.”

Council voted to revisit the sanctions in 90 days.

A sign that reads Lhtako Quesnel 2024 Winter Games
In 2024, Quesnel and the Lhtako First Nation officially partnered as hosts of the B.C. Winter Games, a first for the organization. (Laurey-Anne Roodenburg)

In an interview with CBC News after the meeting, Lhtako Dene band administrator Maynard Bara said his nation was pleased with council’s decision and said from his perspective, “It’s back to business as usual.”

“It’s great to see that city council did the right thing here and now we can move forward,” said Bara, adding the past several weeks have been painful.

Quesnel has taken major steps in working with the Lhtako Dene, starting with a 2015 agreement that formally acknowledged the nation as partners upon 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 being the first city to officially co-host the B.C. Winter Games with an Indigenous community earlier this year.

Book given out by mayor’s wife

Tuesday’s decision came after several weeks of controversy that started at a council meeting held March 19, with a letter of concern from the Lhtako Dene First Nation.

According to the letter, a person related to a member of council — who Paull would reveal was his wife — had been giving out copies of a book titled Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools).

The book is a series of essays edited by C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan, described by its publisher as challenging several assertions made about the harms of residential schools.

Three people walk across the top of a grassy hill on an overcast day.
People walk on the former grounds of St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, on March 30, 2022. Many members of the Lhtako Dene First Nation were taken from their community and forced to go to the school in Williams Lake. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

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

The book is particularly critical of media reports on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation which, in 2021, announced preliminary findings of ground-penetrating radar work at the former Kamloops Residential School.

The nation has said they found anomalies that could be unmarked graves of children who attended the school, while clarifying that that possibility had yet to be confirmed.

How ground-penetrating radar works

WATCH | Learn about ground-penetrating radar: 

3 years ago, Duration 4:51

Ground-penetrating radar is being used by Indigenous communities to pinpoint unmarked graves near former residential school sites. Here’s everything you need to know about the technology behind these discoveries.

However, the book points out many reports from media and other entities failed to include that context, which the authors say have helped shape a false public narrative of what happened at residential schools.

While some of the essays acknowledge abuse and harm to some children, others challenge the veracity of survivor’s accounts as well as the belief that the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide in its attempt to assimilate Indigenous people, as determined by the federally-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

That commission heard testimony from more than 6,000 attendees of residential schools across the country, documenting stories of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, harsh punishments and malnourishment.

The letter from the Lhtako Dene said, weighed against that testimony, the essays in Grave Erroramount to “a slap in our people’s collective faces” by denying or minimizing the harms of residential schools that many of its members personally experienced and which are still felt within the community.

In response, Quesnel council, including Paull, voted to denounce the book and reaffirm their relationship with the Lhtako Dene.

Paull said at the meeting he had not personally read the book and that he does not always share the same opinions as his wife.

Controversy grows

However, that did not quell the backlash and on April 2 more than 200 people marched outside Quesnel city hall and called on the mayor to resign.

Inside, elders spoke of their own experiences at residential schools while Lhtako Dene Chief Clifford Lebrun told council his nation could no longer work with the city until the matter was resolved, a position reiterated by other First Nations in the region.

That notice led to this week’s decision by council to formally distance themselves from the mayor.

Residential school survivor calls for Quesnel mayor to resign

WATCH | Lhtako elder addresses council: 

28 days 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.

Paull opened the discussion about the possibility of being censured with a statement, saying the anger toward him was “all based on a misunderstanding.”

“I was accused of handing out and distributing the book,” he said. “I have not read the book.”

In a written statement to CBC News, Cariboo Regional District Chair Margo Wagner said that in her recollection of events, “Mayor Paull had a copy of the book and asked me if I was interested in reading the book as it was an interesting read. I politely declined and said I was not interested and walked away from the conversation.”

100 Mile House Mayor Maureen Pinkney gave a similar response in an interview with the Quesnel Cariboo Observer, in which she is quoted saying Paull “casually asked if I was familiar with the book and did I want to read it?” 

Paull has not responded to interview requests from CBC News, but at the council meeting he said he was simply trying to use the book as a talking point for discussions about what sort of literature might or might not be allowed in local libraries.

But Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg said the issue had moved beyond the book itself.

“I don’t care if you read the book – I bought it online and I want my money back,” she said.

“It’s about leadership and what’s transpired as a leader.”

A group of seven people.
On April 30, Quesnel city council voted unanimously to censure Mayor Ron Paull. Paull recused himself from the vote, citing conflict of interest. (City of Quesnel)

She and other councillors expressed disappointment that Paull’s story around whether he had ever recommended the book had changed over the weeks, and questioned if he was being truthful.

Councillors also spoke about the amount of scrutiny the episode had placed on them under.

“It has taken a toll,” said Goulet. “We’re all getting calls, we’re getting emails.”

Coun. Debra McKelvie said she had experienced multiple sleepless nights.

Lhtako Dene’s Maynard Bara said he and Chief Clifford LeBrun had also been getting “hate mail” from people who disagreed with the decision from the First Nation and Quesnel’s council.

Among those who have been critical is Grave Error editor and contributor Tom Flanagan, who wrote that what was happening in Quesnel is similar to “totalitarian societies” accusing its members of “thought-crime,” while fellow editor C.P. Champion argued in a press release that council is “preventing the truth from coming out.”

But Goulet reiterated council never attempted to ban the book or prevent anyone from reading it.

“To me, denouncing was we weren’t going to promote the book. We weren’t going to talk about it. We were going to leave it at that.”

Goulet and the rest of council expressed hope that Paull would eventually apologize and his duties could be restored, but said that decision would not be made without first consulting First Nations.


Andrew Kurjata, CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a CBC British Columbia journalist born and based in Lheidli T’enneh territory in Prince George, B.C. He has covered the people and politics of northern British Columbia for more than a decade. You can email him at 

With files from Betsy Trumpener and Daybreak North