Canadian Conservative under fire for using residential schools memorial to push ‘hateful’ anti-LGBTQ+ agenda

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation remembers the devastation caused by Canada's residential schools.

The leader of the Conservative Party in British Columbia, Canada, is facing heavy backlash for comparing the genocide of Indigenous children in residential schools to the teaching of sexuality and gender in schools.

John Rustad, took to X (formerly Twitter) on 30 September to commemorate Canada‘s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation or Orange Shirt Day – a day that acknowledges the terror and heartbreak suffered by Indigenous communities as a result of the residential school system.

But Rustad’s message was tainted when he linked the solemn day to his agenda to ban the education of sexuality and gender in British Columbia schools – a ban he has been gunning for in the name of so-called “parental rights.”

“Parental rights” has become an umbrella term in both the US and Canada in order to campaign for policies that would require parents to be informed if their children want to use different names or pronouns at school, or allow parents to block certain curriculum materials from being used in the classroom.

Taking to social media to acknowledge the National Day, Rustad wrote: “Today is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — or Orange Shirt Day. 

“Today, we remember what happens when the Canadian government thinks it’s better at raising children than parents. I will always stand with parents.”

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Residential schools were introduced as a Canadian government-supported system to educate and convert Indigenous youth to assimilate them into Canadian society. The schools disrupted lives and communities among Indigenous people by removing children from their families and, in many cases, exposing them to abuse. A significant number of Indigenous children died while attending residential schools. Oftentimes, the bodies of the children were buried in mass grave sites.

Naturally, Rustad’s attempt to compare this dark chapter in Canada’s history to educating children on gender and sexuality did not go down well.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or Orange Shirt Day, on 30 September is an opportunity to honour and remember the victims and survivors of residential schools. (Getty Images)

One X user wrote in response to Rustad’s tweet: “No. Shame on you. You don’t get to use my family’s pain and suffering to push your hateful agenda! No.”

A second commented: “Yikes! Trying to spin what this day is about into your own political message is just gross. Incredibly disrespectful.”

And a third horrified user added: “What an absolutely disgusting and inappropriate way to take the intended purpose of this day and use it to fit your right-wing agenda. Not everything needs to be for political gain.”

Residential school survivor and anti-racism educator Celeste George described Rustad’s post as “enraging.”

“It’s not even the comparison, [it’s] the actual idea that he can blatantly use the day for his own hatred, for his own agenda,” she told CBC.

“That was really horrific to me, knowing that hatred has taken so much from us.”

George warned that the post would also likely fuel both anti-trans and anti-Indigenous sentiments.

British Columbia New Democrat Ravi Parmar took to social media to condemn the post.

“This is a disgraceful comparison,” he wrote.

“Today is about reflecting on truth and reconciliation. It’s shameful to co-opt this day to spread fear and attack the rights of queer kids. Stop using this important day to spread hate.”

Rustad has not retracted or apologised for the post.