Apology not enough for comparing B.C.'s COVID-19 mask rule to residential schools, say First Nations members

A print shop owner on Vancouver Island has apologized for comparing mandatory mask use in classrooms to the abuse faced by thousands of students at residential schools.

“Using the example of residential schools was completely thoughtless,” wrote Angie Roussin on Facebook. “The suffering and hurt that I caused by my post comparing residential schools to masks in schools was insensitive, inappropriate and disrespectful.

But First Nations on Vancouver Island, in particular in Ucluelet and Tofino, told CTV News they doubt the apology was sincere.

“It’s difficult because seeing the statements that the individual had made prior to the apology, it’s one of those feelings that, ‘Oh, you got caught red handed,’” said Mariah Charleson, vice-president of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.

Roussin made the comparison in an April 2 Instagram post. “Now kindergarten kids are being asked to wear masks all day here,” she wrote. “Or is our government harming our kids on purpose like they have done with so many children in the past. All our schools have become residential schools.”

“It angered a lot of people, including myself," said Chief Moses Martin of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, and a residential school survivor. "People, I don’t think, should be making comments about something they have no experience in."

“I still have scars on my legs from the beatings we had daily,” Martin added.

The Instagram post was soon shared on several platforms and drew hundreds of comments.

Savanah George of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation was one of the first to reply.

“Because it made me sick to my stomach. My grandpa ran away from school,” she told CTV News. “You don’t see kids run away from schools because they have to wear a mask.”

Most agreed that one way to help make amends and heal would be for Roussin to visit and talk with local chiefs.