National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: What employers should know

Ottawa has left it up to provinces, territories to determine if statutory holiday will be recognized in those jurisdictions

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: What employers should know
Nadia Zaman

Up until this year, Sept. 30 was not officially recognized as a statutory holiday. On Sept. 30, also known as Orange Shirt Day, individuals would wear an orange shirt to honour Indigenous children who were forced to attend residential schools.

This year, the Canadian government passed legislation and established a new federal statutory holiday: The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day is to be observed each year on Sept. 30.

This statutory holiday applies only to federal employers and employees who are governed by the Canada Labour Code (for example, banks, federal government, broadcasting and air transport). In other words, federal employees will receive a paid day off from work to honour this day or receive holiday pay if they work on this day.

The federal government has left it up to the Canadian provinces and territories to determine whether the statutory holiday will be recognized in those respective jurisdictions.

The responses are mixed.

For instance, on the one hand, we have Alberta committing to lowering flags on Alberta government buildings on Sept. 30 and encouraging Albertans to reflect on the legacy of residential schools, while provincially regulated employers have the discretion to determine whether they officially close. That said, the capital city of Edmonton has announced that Sept. 30 will be recognized as a statutory holiday for all city staff and the Edmonton Police Service.

On the other hand, we have Ontario announcing that Sept. 30 will not be recognized as a statutory holiday in the province, although there have been indications that “Ontario is working in collaboration with Indigenous partners, survivors and affected families to ensure respectful commemoration of this day within the province, similar to Remembrance Day,” according to the CBC. Put simply, all provincially regulated employers in Ontario have the discretion to determine whether to officially close or remain open on this day, unless it has been negotiated into collective agreements or employment contracts.

This is not unlike other holidays such as Remembrance Day, which is not a statutory holiday in all provinces.

Regardless of whether a business is required to close, chooses to close, or chooses not to close on Sept. 30, the objective of the new national holiday should be considered by all employers alike.

Between 1831 and 1998, there were 140 federally run Indian Residential Schools which operated in Canada. More than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forced to leave their families and attend residential schools. The last school closed only 23 years ago, and the legacy of harms caused by residential schools remains.

From 2008 to 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) worked on providing those affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools policy with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. The TRC released its final report detailing 94 Calls to Action.

This national holiday is one of the responses by the Canadian government to the Calls to Action outlined in the TRC report. Specifically, the 80th Call to Action states:

 “We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

The Canadian government stated that it is “committed to reconciliation and ensuring that the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools is never forgotten” and that “this day provides an opportunity for each public servant to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools. This may present itself as a day of quiet reflection or participation in a community event.”

For those employers who choose to close, or are required to close, that is only the first step. All employers are encouraged to consider how the organization - including management and all staff - will recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools on this important day. 

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