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A village in southeastern Prince Edward Island has ordered an investigation into a councillor who displayed a sign on his property denying the existence of residential school graves.

Murray Harbour council voted unanimously on Wednesday for a third-party investigation led by a former RCMP officer into Coun. John Robertson and the sign, which has reportedly been removed. Council did not release the name of the officer who would lead the probe.

Robertson had displayed a sign with the message, “Truth: mass grave hoax” and “Reconciliation: Redeem Sir John A.’s integrity” ahead of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. In response, the village mayor and the rest of council have asked him to resign, as have P.E.I. Sen. Brian Francis and Abegweit First Nation Chief Roderick Gould Jr.

Robertson failed to show up for Wednesday’s meeting, which featured a presentation by Gould on residential schools. Phone calls to the councillor Thursday went unanswered.

Gould told councillors and members of the public of his family’s experiences with residential schools. He said his father was a survivor of one of them.

“As a result of Indian residential schools, my people have been eradicated as people of this country. My language is lost to residential schools and policies of the federal government enacted by the RCMP and enforced by the Catholic Church,” he said.

His voice cracked with emotion as he addressed the councillors and residents.

“How many times do I have to stand before your children in schools? How many times do I have to stand in front of establishments like the RCMP and educate you? How many times do I have to stand on Prince Edward Island and say Islanders are better than that?”

Gould said he takes offence at the statement on Robertson’s sign, “that genocidal practices of this Canadian government backed by an institution that Sir John A. Macdonald helped develop, the residential school system, is a hoax.”

Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, is considered the architect of Confederation and of the residential school system. He championed policies of assimilation and violence toward Indigenous people.

In May 2021, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced that ground-penetrating radar had revealed the possible remains of as many as 215 children around the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia’s Interior. Since then, many other First Nations across Canada have searched school sites in their territories for graves.

Murray Harbour Mayor Terry White said the investigation into Robertson could cost up to $3,000.

“It’s money we don’t have. But it’s going ahead anyway because we have to go through legal procedures,” he said. “Unless the minister steps in and removes him.”

A spokeswoman for Rob Lantz, minister of housing, land and communities, said the province will not intervene.

“We respect the role of local governments and their autonomy to address councillor conduct in the manners they have set out through code of conduct bylaws,” April Gallant said in an e-mail.

White said his village of 350 people has been getting negative publicity because of the sign, adding that the councillor doesn’t speak for the others in the community.

He said he met with Robertson about the sign and told him, “You’re a councillor. You should act like a councillor.”

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