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Defenders of denounced book address Quesnel council

Morton, Widdowson have their moments to question municipal leaders on controversy

There were two outspoken defenders of Grave Error who took to the microphones at Quesnel city council, on April 2. With a City Hall surrounded by outspoken critics of the book, loudly proclaiming the opposite view, Pat Morton and Frances Widdowson took a stand in favour of it.

Widdowson was one of the contributing writers to the collection of essays, and travelled to Quesnel especially for the council meeting.

Morton, wife of mayor Ron Paull, was the one who was passing the book around in the community.

It was not a regular meeting of city council. It was established at the start of proceedings that the regular agenda was being deferred and what would ensue would be an extraordinary hearing. Other governments’ leaders were given the chance to speak first, as they represented bodies of people. Those who followed would be permitted to make a brief comment or ask a question of council.

The first in that procession was Morton, to a chorus of boos and jeers. One Indigenous elder sitting immediately behind her stood in place but turned their back on what was about to be said.

“I understand most of you wouldn’t be here tonight if it weren’t for me,” she began. “I will say I am sorry that you’re here due to the actions of this council. I’m sorry if my actions sharing the book have upset you. Now, please listen to me. I listened to you; please listen to me. I have to say I’m hurt that I’ve been put in this position.”

Another wave of boos ensued, and one voice rose above the others saying “you put yourself there.”

“I believe in love, not hate,” Morton continued.

Coun. Scott Elliott and Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg called for points of order directing Morton to make a comment or ask a question as directed.

The conversation became fragmented with jeers from the gallery.

Morton finally asked, as her official question of council, for an explanation as to why the City’s Indigenous liaison (Roodenburg) did not come to her directly “when rumours started spreading in this community.”

Roodenburg responded, “I have no need to have your opinion when I work with First Nations.”

Morton repeated the question.

Roodenburg responded hotly that her actions as councillor were in relation to mayor Ron Paull’s actions and attitudes about the book, due, as was discussed in previous days, to that being a perceived influence on their local government’s directions and relations.

Sitting next to Morton all the while was Widdowson, who spoke next.

“I’m a professor…was a professor…at Mount Royal University,” she began. “And I am a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre For Public Policy and a board member of the Society For Academic Freedom And Scholarship.”

Her first question started by referencing a letter from the Assembly of First Nations that was officially read into the Quesnel city council record as a matter of correspondence. The letter asserted that the site in Kamloops of a former residential school was home to unmarked graves of children who attended there and did not go home.

“Does this council concern itself with misinformation?,” Widdowson asked. “Is it opposed to misinformation being spread, and entered into the record? If so, does it agree that this is misinformation? Because there is no evidence of unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

Roodenburg, as the city’s Indigenous liaison, responded to the question by pointing out evidence that Widdowson was fired from her professorial position for behaviour stemming from, in part, downplaying the traumatic effects of residential school and excusing their presence as a place that intended to educate children.

“You really have no place here asking your questions,” the councillor concluded. “We really don’t want to hear from you.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Widdowson persisted. “Do you think the council should be spreading misinformation?”

On a point of order, councillor Scott Elliott called those asserting evidence of residential school graves, and other anti-Indigenous effects of that school system, were qualified to make such assertions whereas Widdowson was not.

“You are not welcome here,” he said.

Widdowson repeated the question for the third time, but no member of Quesnel council said another word on the matter.

As Morton and Widdowson stood to leave, applause and songs rose from the gallery.

Almost another hour was spent by Quesnel council fielding additional questions and comments from others in the assembly.