It appears most working Canadians will have to reflect on the meaning of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on their lunch break.
That’s because only two provinces and two territories have followed the federal government’s lead of 2021 and declared Sept. 30 – also known as Orange Shirt Day – a statutory holiday with pay in 2022.
They are Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Creating a national holiday was recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] in 2015.
But business groups have expressed concerns about the cost of a day off with pay while also wanting to be part of reconciliation.
“I haven’t got bent out of shape about whether it’s a holiday,” said Phyllis Webstad, who founded Orange Shirt Day on which the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is based.
“The provinces [and territories] will do what’s best for them.”
Webstad was six years old when she wore a new orange top to her first day at St. Joseph’s Mission School in Williams Lake, B.C. in 1973.
She said the nuns seized all of her clothes, including the orange shirt bought by her grandmother.
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt,” she explains in a short biography on the Orange Shirt Day website. “I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine.
“The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
Webstad is a third-generation survivor of the federal government’s residential school system, which operated for more than a century to assimilate thousands of Indigenous children into colonial culture.
She decided to remake the orange shirt into a symbol of resilience and remembrance for survivors and students who never came home.
But she never called for a national holiday.
“That is TRC call to action Number 80,” said Webstad, who is Northern Secwpemc [Shuswap] from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation [Canoe Creek Indian Band] in B.C.
“I respect the TRC’s recommendations.”
Schools across the country will close on Sept. 30, and federal employees like postal workers, civil servants and bank employees get the day off with pay.
But provincial and private sector workers still have to punch in across most of the country.
Here’s how the move towards a new national holiday looks in Canada:
The Alberta government has left the decision to make Sept. 30 a day without pay up to individual employers. National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is designated an “optional general holiday” along with Boxing Day and Easter Monday.
Sept. 30 is not a statutory holiday but a day of commemoration. The provincial government said many public services will remain open but with reduced hours; some healthcare offices and Crown corporations will be closed.
Manitoba is giving provincial workers the day off, but has not designated Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday. It did introduce a bill to that effect then said it wouldn’t be passed before National Truth and Reconciliation Day this year.
The government of New Brunswick declared Sept. 30 a provincial holiday to recognize National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, but not a statutory holiday making it option for private businesses. City governments in Moncton and Fredericton had already decided to give municipal workers the day off.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a new government holiday but not yet a statutory one as consultations continue. However, government offices will close.
The territorial government amended its Employment Standards Act to make National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday beginning in 2022.
Sept. 30 is not a paid holiday for workers. But government offices will be closed, along with daycare centres. Business owners can decide whether to open their doors or not.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is now a statutory holiday.
Sept. 30 is not a statutory holiday in Ontario. It’s up to employers to give employees the day off.
Prince Edward Island
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a statutory holiday with pay.
Municipal governments in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert have declared Sept. 30 a holiday, but not the provincial government.
It’s not a holiday in the Yukon either, but employers can choose to give employees the day off.
Editor’s Note: The story was corrected on 09/28/2022 to clarify Sept. 30 is a provincial holiday in New Brunswick and not a statutory holiday.