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Province launches new 3rd-party investigation of Murray Harbour councillor who posted sign

A Charlottetown lawyer has been appointed to look into whether Murray Harbour councillor John Robertson (pictured) breached code of conduct provisions in September.   (Village of Murray Harbour - image credit)
A Charlottetown lawyer has been appointed to look into whether Murray Harbour councillor John Robertson (pictured) breached code of conduct provisions in September. (Village of Murray Harbour - image credit)

There's been another twist in efforts to discipline a councillor in Murray Harbour, P.E.I., who posted a sign on his property criticizing how the graves of Indigenous children at former residential schools were being characterized.

The provincial government has hired lawyer Michael Drake of the Charlottetown-based McInnes Cooper law firm to do another investigation into John Robertson's conduct.

"This matter has gone on for far too long and we do not want to delay the outcome of this situation any further," P.E.I.'s minister of Housing, Land and Communities, Rob Lantz, said in a written statement on Wednesday morning. "I have asked Mr. Drake to conduct his inquiry as quickly as possible while ensuring proper due diligence."

Robertson's fellow councillors in Murray Harbour commissioned a retired RCMP officer to review the circumstances around a message Robertson posted on a sign on his property on the weekend upon which National Day for Truth and Reconciliation fell last September.

The message read: "Truth: Mass Grave Hoax" and "Reconciliation: Redeem Sir John A's Integrity."

After receiving the former Mountie's report, the councillors suspended Robertson from council for six months for breaching its code of conduct bylaw, and voted to levy sanctions on him that included a $500 fine and required a letter of apology.

The sign was located on property owned by Murray Harbour Coun. John Robertson.
The sign was located on property owned by Murray Harbour Coun. John Robertson.

On the weekend of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in September 2023, passers-by noticed this sign on John Robertson's property. (Harry Vanden Broek)

When Robertson did not meet the deadline he was given to accept the sanctions, the Murray Harbour council asked the provincial minister to step in, as allowed for in the province's Municipal Government Act.

Lantz at first gave Robertson until Dec. 31 to either comply with the sanctions levied or resign from council altogether, before walking that back and saying he would grant Robertson's request for "a bit of time to consider how he's going to respond."

The posting of the sign led Murray Harbour Mayor Terry White and Abegweit First Nation Chief Roddy Gould Jr., among others, to call on Robertson to resign.

"The decision before me is unprecedented and one that cannot be taken lightly," Lantz wrote in his statement Wednesday.

"As a former municipal councillor, I respect and appreciate the role of democratically elected local governments. We need to follow the letter of the law concerning the Municipal Government Act so that we are confident a decision can hold up."

As Canada's first prime minister, Macdonald is widely regarded as the architect of the residential school system. It is estimated about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools until the last school closed in the 1990s.
As Canada's first prime minister, Macdonald is widely regarded as the architect of the residential school system. It is estimated about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools until the last school closed in the 1990s.

As Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald helped create the residential school system that would go on to remove about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children from their home communities. This statue in downtown Charlottetown was removed after protests from Indigenous leaders and many others. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

In the past few years, First Nations across Canada have located evidence of the remains of more than 2,300 children in suspected unmarked graves at or near former residential schools and Indian hospitals.

That's according to a report from the independent special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves and burial sites associated with Indian Residential Schools that was released earlier this year.

CBC News reached out to Robertson for comment about Wednesday's statement from Lantz but did not receive a response.