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Manitoba NDP introduces legislation to make Orange Shirt Day a stat holiday

Orange Shirt Day, which honours the victims of residential schools, takes place every Sept. 30. Orange Shirt Day, which honours the victims of residential schools, takes place every Sept. 30.
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The Manitoba government introduced a bill in the legislature Monday to make Sept. 30 -- the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation -- a statutory holiday.

Giving workers under the province's jurisdiction the day off would allow them to remember the impact of the residential school system on Indigenous children, Premier Wab Kinew said.

"I think it's really important that we give all those families a chance to participate and reflect on residential school survivors' experience, the children who never came home, and what we want to do for the future," Kinew told reporters.

"Our government's public stance is that this is an important day to commemorate and honour the experiences of residential school survivors, and that it should also be a day to spend time with the people that you love, in part so that you can honour what was deprived from kids in residential schools."

The day is also known as Orange Shirt Day in memory of Phyllis Webstad, whose new orange shirt was taken away when she arrived at a residential school in 1973 at the age of six. It is already a holiday for workers under federal jurisdiction and those in some other provinces, including British Columbia.

Manitoba's former Progressive Conservative government said it was considering making the day a holiday, but never followed through before the Oct. 3 election. The Tories said they were still consulting business and Indigenous leaders on how the day should be observed almost two years after they started looking at the idea.

Kinew's New Democrats promised during the election campaign to follow through.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce supports the idea of a statutory holiday, with 70 per cent of members who responded to a survey saying they were in favour. But the chamber's president said he wanted to see details of the government's plan.

"We will take a look as the legislation details come out, to ensure that it is a day that allows us to be able to move in the direction we need to on truth and reconciliation, and structured in a way that puts the focus on the discussion and learning as opposed to just a day off," Loren Remillard said.

One desire for Remillard is that workers get Sept. 30 off and not another day if Sept. 30 falls on a weekend.

"It would be not consistent with the intent of the day to have Monday then be a day in lieu of."

The bill is expected to go to a legislature committee for public input in the coming days. Kinew said he hopes the bill will get passed before the winter break begins on Thursday of next week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.

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