A Campbell River couple is tired of the foot dragging by the Vital Statistics Agency of B.C. and are taking it to court over the agency’s refusal to register their son’s traditional First Nations name.
Crystal A.J. Smith and her partner Raymond Shaw applied in February to register the birth of their son whom they named λugʷaləs K’ala’ask Shaw, a name derived from both parents’ Indigenous heritage.
“We had to take this step because my son still does not have a birth certificate and waiting nine plus months is not okay,” Smith told the Campbell River Mirror. “They are dragging their feet and causing harm to Indigenous families that may chose to name their children in their languages.”
Smith and Shaw filed a petition on Oct. 5 with the B.C. Supreme Court challenging the agency’s refusal on constitutional grounds.
The couple’s application to register their child’s name was improperly refused, according to court documents, on the basis of the inability of government systems to accept and reproduce the alphabetic characters and corresponding naming standards adopted by the Vital Statistics Agency. Those standards restrict the available options to names composed of Latin alphabetic letters, apostrophes, hyphens, periods and a standard set of French accents. The petition also states that the refusal must be set aside on the basis that it violates sections 2(b) and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
In the petition, Smith and Shaw say they feel forced into this circumstance due to the financial hardship caused by being unable to access benefits that are conditional on an approved birth registration.
A birth must be registered before the parents may apply for a birth certificate, which is, in turn, required to apply for “other important documents like a social insurance number or a passport.” Parents also register for services such as the Canada Child benefit and Medical Services Plan at the same time as the birth registration application. Rejecting λugʷaləs K’ala’ask Shaw’s registration meant his parents couldn’t access those services and, in fact, paid for medical expenses out of their own pockets. They were eventually able to access those benefits in the interim when the agency agreed to register λugʷaləs’ birth by just using his last name.
“They are causing me and our family harm and that’s not okay,” Smith said. “They are harming my nine-month-old by not giving him a birth certificate and that’s not okay. We are done compromising, it’s time for change, time for the government to change.”
λugʷaləs K’ala’ask Shaw was born Jan. 12. His mother is of Ts’msyen and Haisla heritage who has been traditionally adopted into the Heiltsuk Nation. His father, the actual petitioner to the court, is Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ from the Wei Wai Kum First Nation. λugʷaləs’ first name is in Kʷak̓ʷala, the language of the Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ people. λugʷaləs’ second name, K’ala’ask, is Sm’algyax which is the language of Smith’s history.
It’s important to the couple to have a name reflective of their individual cultural heritage and the lands associated with it. The couple also wants to perpetuate the languages of their heritage and naming their child according to their systems of spelling is important to them.
The couple have pointed out that the rejection of their son’s name contravenes the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation as well adherence by the province to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of indigenous Peoples, which the provincial government recently unveiled a five-year action plan for implementation.
“I hope by doing this it causes much needed change,” Smith said. “That Indigenous families can name their children in their languages without this dismissal of our languages. That our languages are accepted. This is for any future Indigenous children, for Indigenous mothers, Indigenous parents, this is for our ancestors who had their names stripped from them. This is for λugʷaləs K’ala’ask Shaw and we will not stop, change is coming.”