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Union accuses Alberta Health Services of denying staff new statutory holiday

A powwow for reconciliation at Gordie Howe Sports Complex on Aug. 222, 2021. (Francois Biber/CTV Saskatoon) A powwow for reconciliation at Gordie Howe Sports Complex on Aug. 222, 2021. (Francois Biber/CTV Saskatoon)

The union that represents Alberta Health Services workers as well as many other provincial employees says it is filing grievances over the agency's decision to ignore the new statutory holiday, meant to honour the victims and survivors of Canada's residential school system.

The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, announced earlier this year by the federal government, is set to take place on Sept. 30.

While many employers already have agreements to recognize newly created holidays, the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE) says a number of organizations, including AHS, are not planning to observe it.

"To stick their noses up at the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a new level of heartless disrespect," said Bobby-Joe Borodey, AUPE vice-president and chair of the union's Human Rights Committee in a release.

"How dare they refuse to acknowledge a day to reflect on such a serious issue."

The union says AHS as well as Covenant Health, Points West Living and Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) have all refused to recognize the holiday for their employees.


Bill C-5 was passed unanimously in the Senate in early June, leading to the creation of the annual holiday that would take place each Sept. 30.

So far, the holiday will only affect federally regulated industries and allows all workers in the federal public service to take part.

"Like all Canadians, 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," the federal government wrote on its website.

"The Government of Canada is committed to reconciliation and ensuring that the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools is never forgotten."

A rock with the message 'Every Child Matters' painted on it sits at a memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, in Kamloops, B.C., on Thursday, July 15, 2021. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The AUPE says the Alberta Treasury Branch (ATB) is one of a few employers to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a paid holiday.

It added the Alberta government has not yet made a final decision on whether to honour the holiday for its own staff.


The provincial government says it will encourage all Albertans to reflect on the impact residential schools had on Indigenous people and Canada as a whole. Officials said government buildings will have their flags lowered on Sept. 30 and ceremonies are planned to take place.

As for the holiday itself, officials say the decision about whether or not employees will have a day off is up to the employer in cases where a collective bargaining agreement does not expressly say that federally regulated holidays are granted.

Nevertheless, the Alberta government says the memorial for the victims should not take place on just one day.

"Alberta’s government will work with First Nations and Métis communities in establishing a permanent memorial on the Alberta legislature grounds for the victims of the residential school system, so that those who were so deeply affected by the terrible legacy of residential schools will forever be remembered," said Adrienne South, press secretary for Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson in an email to CTV News.

"The government of Alberta is also committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s provincial calls to action, including helping Indigenous Albertans reclaim their traditional Indigenous names."

Meanwhile, AHS says it is reviewing collective bargaining agreements with employees to determine if it is obligated to recognize new federally regulated holidays for its unionized employees.

It is also working on new ways to honour Sept. 30, previously known as Orange Shirt Day.

"AHS has been working with stakeholders, including the Wisdom Council, on how to best recognize the day in a meaningful way and planning is underway," AHS said. Top Stories

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