Victoria mayor apologizes for lack of public consultation on statue removal
A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Victoria, B.C., Tuesday, January 31, 2017. The mayor of Victoria says a statue of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald will be removed from the front entrance to city hall as a gesture of reconciliation with First Nations. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chad Hipolito
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Wednesday, August 29, 2018 2:05PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 29, 2018 2:06PM PDT
Victoria's mayor is apologizing to residents who felt excluded from the decision to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front steps of City Hall.
In an editorial published in Wednesday's Times Colonist newspaper, Lisa Helps said she has had time to reflect on how City Family, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of which she is a member, handled the decision.
"As Mayor of Victoria, I apologize for not recognizing that the City Family’s process might make some people feel excluded from such an important decision," Helps wrote. "I didn’t recognize the great desire of Victoria residents to participate in reconciliation actions. The process going forward will enable this."
Helps made it clear she wasn't apologizing for the decision to remove the statue, which sparked controversy and generated headlines across the country.
"When City Council voted to endorse the City Family’s decision to relocate the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the steps of City Hall and expressed a desire to work with the community to find a more appropriate public space for it, I knew that Council had made the right decision. And I still feel that today," she said.
She reiterated her position that reconciliation means listening to local Indigenous leaders about how symbols and monuments can negatively impact them.
She said the issue was never about erasing history, as some critics have claimed.
"The statue in its original location was a barrier to Indigenous communities’ engagement with City Hall," she said. "Without relocating the statue, we were not able to invite First Nations to City Hall in good faith and respect."
The City Family, which was appointed by council to address matters of reconciliation with local First Nations, recommended the removal of the statue, citing Macdonald's role in creating the residential school system that separated First Nations youth from their families.
Protesters expressed outrage after council voted to remove the statue with no public consultations, and a small group held demonstrations as the statue was taken down on Aug. 11.
It sparked debate from coast to coast, with some like federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer calling it a case of "political correctness" gone wrong.
A temporary plaque that replaced the statue, explaining the decision behind its removal, was defaced just days later.
When contacted by CTV News Wednesday, Helps reiterated that the United Nations' Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People has challenged every Canadian city to work on reconciliation with First Nations.
"It is a complex journey and there is no road map," she said. "What is important is that we continue to listen and to learn and to try."
Helps has previously said that the statue would be removed and kept in storage until the city finds an appropriate way to relocate and “recontextualize” it.
With B.C. municipal elections under two months away on Oct. 20, it remains to be seen if the controversy over the statue could factor in to Helps' bid for re-election.